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DR. GIFFORD-JONES: Too high to drive on less than one joint

A young man smokes a marijuana joint during a rally in downtown Vancouver, B.C., April 20, 2011. Provinces have been protesting the large volume of work and heavy costs they say the Trudeau government has piled on them in its rush to legalize recreational cannabis across Canada by next year.
What will happen to car fatalities now that marijuana has been legalized in Canada and an increasing number of U.S. States? The answer depends on who you ask.

Warren Buffett, one of the world’s most successful investors has sound advice for those who want to become rich. He counsels, “Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.”

This sage advice also applies to many aspects of life. For one, it applies to a recent report in the Canadian Automobile Association Magazine (CAAM), for those who believe they can use marijuana and drive safely. And what should you know about Bill-C 46?

Today, every 50 minutes someone in North America dies in a car accident due to alcohol consumption. And in these fatalities, 30 per cent of drunk drivers are between 21 and 24 years of age.

But this frightening trend could get worse. In Canada, 25 per cent of car fatalities are due to drunk drivers. And 44 per cent of those killed in car accidents are due to drivers who tested positive for one or more drugs

So, what will happen to car fatalities now that marijuana has been legalized in Canada and an increasing number of U.S. States? The answer depends on who you ask.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety claims there will be a 5.2 per cent increase in accidents. Others say this is not statistically significant. Another British Columbia study reports that the risk of a fatal car accident is five times greater with alcohol use and 40 times greater when both alcohol and marijuana are consumed.

There’s an additional problem with marijuana. Everyone is well aware of the dangers of alcohol while driving. But, according to the Canadian Automobile Association, the general public is not aware of the risk of driving when high on marijuana.

This risk does not apply to the CBD component of marijuana which fights pain. But its close cousin, the THC component that produces a high, is classified as a hallucinogen. This is the one that can cause havoc on the road. It tosses a monkey wrench into signals that reach the brain.

The message is crystal clear. If you’re going to use THC marijuana or a combination of THC and CBD, don’t drive. This can cause drivers to vary the speed of the car, decreases their reaction time and commits the ultimate error of weaving across lanes and a fatal head-on collision.

So, what is the penalty if you ignore Bill C-46 and drive while high? In one word, plenty. But it depends on what part of the country you live in, whether there’s a trace of LSD, cocaine, methamphetamine or alcohol in the test, whether it’s your first offence or if someone has been injured or died. So, you can either lose your license to drive, discover that your insurance company will not renew the policy, pay a heavy fine and go to jail for a short period or life.

Buffett was right. You can lose a lot of money investing if you don’t know what you are doing. But drive while using drugs and you can not only lose money, face a prison sentence and tragically end another person’s life.

How will you get caught? Several roadside breathalyzer tests are available that can detect marijuana and other drugs. At the moment I’ve been unable to determine which is the most accurate test and how many drugs it will detect.     

But the message is clear. We all still have to worry about alcohol-related accidents and death. But now we are witnessing an increasing number of fatalities due to a variety of drugs.

This does not surprise me. For instance, it’s appalling that today in North America of those 12 years of age and older, 13 per cent are taking antidepressant drugs.

How much has changed since our ancestors landed in North America. They had no shelter, inadequate clothing and a hostile environment, and large numbers starved to death. Compared to these people we’ve become a nation of wimps.  

It’s taken years for people to learn that alcohol and driving kills. Now young and old have to learn that the use of marijuana and driving can also kill. Humans rarely learn from history.

My thanks to readers who say they enjoy the new website, docgiff.com.

Dr. W. Gifford-Jones is a syndicated columnist whose medical column appears in The Guardian every Tuesday. Check out his website, www.docgiff.com, which provides easy access to past columns and medical tips. For comments, readers are invited to email him at info@docgiff.com. He can also be found on Twitter @GiffordJonesMD.

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