Drink driving has long been a problem in Western cultures where alcohol is easily accessible and relatively inexpensive. Yet now there is something else on the horizon that people have to be worried about – marijuana. Also known as cannabis, marijuana is becoming increasingly popular thanks to efforts by pro-marijuana advocates to legalise recreational use. The US state of Colorado is an example of a region now dealing with the question of driving while stoned.
Statistics from a recent weekend traffic stop in Denver show that the rate of alcohol-related arrests was 21 times greater than cannabis-related arrests. Based only on those statistics it would seem that there is no real concern over drivers using cannabis before getting behind the wheel. However, those statistics only tell part of the story. With the legalisation of recreational marijuana in Colorado, officials expect use of the drug to continue increasing as they move forward. Alcohol is still the drug of choice, but that may not be true forever.
On the other side of the coin is a recently released study from researchers at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Lead researcher Jennifer Whitehall is concerned about her findings, which suggest that university students are ‘much more likely’ to drive after using marijuana than they would be after using alcohol. They are also more likely to ride along with a driver who had previously used cannabis.
Some of this may be due to the perception that cannabis does not impair driving ability as much as alcohol. To some extent, that perception is true. However, any amount of impairment is unacceptable when you are talking about getting behind the wheel of a vehicle. Any vehicle can easily become a deadly weapon in the hands of an impaired driver.
Cause for Concern
As the debate rages over whether or not driving while stoned is a problem, there is cause for concern at a higher level. That concern is based in the fact that the legalisation of marijuana for recreational use invites much bigger problems. Cannabis is not the harmless drug many people make it out to be.
The average cannabis user may be firmly convinced that his or her use of marijuana has not physically affected them in any way. Nevertheless, that is like saying exposure to lead is not harmful because one does not notice any immediate symptoms. Long-term exposure to both cannabis and lead can lead to very negative consequences.
Long-term cannabis use has been linked to a number of mental disorders, including psychotic episodes and schizophrenia. Other studies have linked it to memory loss, loss of cognitive functioning, and lower IQ. And of course, we already know that cannabis is addictive in some people. It is very common for addiction specialists to treat users of the hardest drugs who got started with cannabis and alcohol.
Statistics do show that alcohol related incidents kill more people every year than incidents involving cannabis addiction. However, that does not make cannabis a drug that is okay to use recreationally. Our advice is to stay away from all drugs that are not prescribed by a doctor. This includes alcohol, cannabis, and harder drugs like heroin and cocaine. If you do not use them, it will be impossible to become addicted.
If you are already a heavy user or addict, we encourage you to get help for your problem right away. Detox and rehab are available through the NHS, drug and alcohol charities, private clinics, and support groups. All of them want to see you overcome addiction in order to move into a life free from alcohol or drugs.