Colorado is undoubtedly one of the most progressive states regarding the movement to legalize pot. Along with Washington, Colorado was one of the first states to legalize the recreational use of this drug in 2012.
Colorado has even recently passed the somewhat controversial Initiative 300, which allows businesses to apply for permits to let their customers get high on the premises.
However, this increasingly lax view on pot may be to blame for the startling rise in fatal car crashes involving marijuana related traffic accidents in Colorado.
There are several options and approaches to addressing marijuana addiction, and it’s essential to understand what best suits your particular lifestyle or situation. Contact us at the AspenRidge Recovery Center for more information. We would love to be part of your success story. Call us at(719) 259-1107
How Bad Has High Driving Gotten in Colorado?
In a recent large-scale study by The Denver Post, researchers have found that the number of driving deaths involving marijuana-intoxicated drivers has skyrocketed in recent years.
In Colorado alone, the number of fatal crashes from 2013 to 2016 rose by 40% from 627 to 880. Of those fatal crashes, alcohol-related crash deaths grew from 129 to 151, a 17% jump.
While these numbers indicate a dangerous rise in fatal car crashes, one telling is the spike in marijuana driving deaths during the same period – 47 in 2013 to 115 in 2016 (a 145% increase).
While these stats still don’t stand up to the lethality of drunk driving (which killed 10.25 thousand people across the country in 2015), it does point to a sharp increase in pot-related driving deaths in the state.
Moreover, the number of stoned drivers who died in car crashes is probably even much higher than the reported statistics. In Colorado, coroners aren’t necessarily required to test for marijuana in deceased drivers. If alcohol levels are already high enough, they’re charged with a DUI without further substance testing.
A Few More Startling Statistics on Driving Stoned
The Denver Post article also found several other concerning stats regarding marijuana and driving stoned as well. They help to paint a picture of a bad habit that may not be getting as much attention as drunk driving but could end up being just as deadly.
- Fatal crashes in 2016 involved more drivers intoxicated by pot alone compared to 2014. More specifically, 52% of drivers in 2014 had zero alcohol in their system, which grew to 69% in 2016.
- Fatal crashes involving marijuana are surging in Colorado. Two thousand thirteen numbers show that only 10% of deadly crashes involved marijuana. In contrast, in 2016, a whopping 20% of drivers tested positive for the drug.
- It isn’t just young drivers being affected either. Deadly car crashes in 2015 involving marijuana involved drivers with an average age of 35. This is consistent with data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which shows that marijuana use among older adults has risen from 1.1% of the population to 6.1% from 2002 to 2014.
- Current marijuana use (within hours) was detected in 61% of drivers in fatal crashes who tested positive for pot. Moreover, 63% of those drivers were over the state’s legal limit of 5 nanograms per milliliter.
Pot Use in Colorado
These numbers can be incredibly troublesome, to be sure. And while the official position of many authorities in the state is that the rise in fatal crashes can’t yet be linked definitively to legalized marijuana, the trend seems to suggest it without question.
Part of the reason for this spike is undoubtedly a growing number of marijuana users in general.
The 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that marijuana use has grown quite steadily since the drug’s legalization in 2012. For example, among young adults aged 18 to 25, 31.75% of Colorado residents confirmed that they used pot in the last month, a 5% rise compared to 2012.
Beyond that, 14.65% of adults aged 26 and older had used pot in the past 30 days. Compare that to 12.4% in 2014 and 7.6% in 2012.
But the startling statistics on drug use in Colorado don’t end there. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment found that of all residents above 18 years, 13.6% regularly used pot. Of those users, 33.2% used it daily. In comparison, a jarring 18% admit to driving while using it (compared to the 2% of Americans that admit to drunk driving).
It seems clear, then, that an increasingly intoxicated population may contribute to the rise in fatal car crash deaths related to marijuana use.
National Reports on Marijuana Legalization and Driving
While the numbers speak for themselves, the data from different sources seem conflicting.
Two studies, in particular, one conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), as well as another published in the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH), found some seemingly contradictory results.
For example, the IIHS study looked at collision rates within Colorado, Oregon, and Washington while using neighboring states as controls to measure the collision rates before and after legalization. Colorado had almost a 15% increase in claim frequency among the conditions tested from 2012 to 2016.
Other states where marijuana has become legal saw an increase as well. For example, Washington reported a rise of over 6% in the same period, while Oregon saw almost a 5% increase.
“The combined effect for the three states was smaller but still significant at 3 percent,” said Matt Moore, senior vice president of HLDI.
However, the researchers who conducted the study published in the AJPH found different results.
“We found no significant association,” the researchers reported, “between recreational marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado and subsequent changes in motor vehicle crash fatality rates in the first three years after recreational marijuana legalization.”
However, it’s worth mentioning that these two significant studies looked at two different variables – collision rates and fatal car crashes. As such, these two studies may seem contradictory at first glance, while comparing the two directions may be problematic.
More National & Global Stats on Marijuana & Driving
Although the numerous studies involving crash rates due to marijuana legalization may still be a bit too recent to prove anything one way or the other, pot has been shown to impair driving ability, even if the collision stats don’t necessarily demonstrate that.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that “studies have found a direct relationship between blood THC concentration and impaired driving ability.”
A few separate studies seem to back up this assertion. Two large-scale European studies found that drivers with THC in their system could be responsible for a fatal crash that was twice as high as a sober individual.
What’s more, when marijuana abuse is combined with alcohol abuse, the risk of causing an automobile collision is even higher – three to seven times higher—combining these two substances is much more dangerous than using either alone.
And finally, marijuana use increases the risk of just being in a crash which doubled or rose even higher according to several meta-analyses of multiple studies.
How Does Marijuana Intoxication Affect the Ability to Drive?
While there are hordes of proponents of the idea that marijuana doesn’t lead to intoxicated driving, the truth is that this drug has a number of both short-term and long-term effects that can significantly impact your ability to operate heavy machinery.
Moreover, many people also believe that marijuana is considered a “lesser drug,” even causing some to feel that marijuana use in recovery still qualifies as being sober.
Just looking at some of the short-term effects of marijuana, according to NIDA, demonstrates this point quite well.
For example, marijuana use has been shown to result in the following:
- Altered senses (for example, seeing brighter colors)
- Altered sense of time
- Changes in mood
- Impaired body movement
- Difficulty with thinking and problem-solving
- Impaired memory
- Hallucinations (in high doses)
- Delusion (in high doses)
- Psychosis (in high doses)
While impaired body movement may be the only effect that sticks out to you when it comes to driving (slowed reaction times, etc.), the truth is that each of these can significantly impair your ability to stay safe on the road.
Brighter colors can distort your vision, an altered sense of time may lead to improper lane usage, mood changes can impact defensive driving skills, and thinking and memory difficulties can easily result in a fatal miscalculation. Beyond that, high doses are even more dangerous for obvious reasons.
Long-Term Dangers of Marijuana Abuse & Driving
While the short-term effects of marijuana use are the most concerning (and dangerous) ones to be aware of, there are also several long-term side effects of continued marijuana abuse that may contribute to a less safe driving experience.
For instance, NIDA reports that marijuana has been proven to affect brain development when abused by young adults, teens, and preteens. The agency says it may impair thinking, memory, and learning functions while impacting how the brain builds connections during these crucial stages.
One study found that individuals who used marijuana heavily in their teens lost an average of 8 IQ points between the ages of 13 and 38.
What’s more, long-term marijuana use has been linked to several additional mental effects, including:
- Temporary hallucinations
- Temporary paranoia
- Worsening symptoms in patients with schizophrenia
- Possible connections to some other mental health problems like depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts among teens (co-occurring disorders)
Last but not least, marijuana has been proven to be addictive. Therefore, it can result in developing a substance use disorder. Studies have shown that 9% and 30% of marijuana users may create a substance use disorder at some point.
The significance of this fact is that a substance use disorder is often defined by an increased likelihood of putting oneself at physical risk of abusing the substance. As such, individuals addicted to marijuana may be more likely to drive impaired than others, putting them and other drivers at risk.
Increasing Strength of Marijuana
Another relatively recent aspect of marijuana use that may be impacting the rate of deadly car crashes is that pot has generally seen a steady increase in potency over the past several decades.
One large-scale study found that potency levels of modern marijuana may be as much as 300% higher in some strains.
Moreover, the growing popularity of edibles in legal states may also cause a problem. This form of the drug usually takes far longer to take effect. This may lead some people to doubt the potency and take a double dose, resulting in a significantly stronger experience once both doses kick in.
For individuals that are not frequent marijuana users then, the risk of adverse effects from larger-than-expected doses could impact their ability to operate a motor vehicle, leading to more collisions.
The Misleading Safety of Legality
The growing national trend toward marijuana legalization has brought with it many pros and cons. It’s helped create a slew of new jobs, kept prisons much more manageable, and removed some stigma surrounding marijuana use, leading to a more informed and safer population of marijuana users.
However, legalization comes with several challenges as well. One of the most difficult challenges is finding ways to inform the public about the inherent dangers of this drug if it becomes a substance of abuse.
As with the opioid epidemic, which is highly influenced by the abuse of legal prescription painkillers, the “LEGAL” stamp on marijuana may be leading people to believe it isn’t as harmful as it is, especially among the younger population.
After all, how dangerous can a substance be when it’s approved by the Food and Drug Administration, prescribed by licensed physicians, and used by hundreds of thousands of people across the country?
The truth is, however, some prescription drugs are far more dangerous than their street counterparts. Fentanyl, for example, is an increasingly popular prescription opioid that is 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin and has a death toll that’s risen by 540% in just three years.
It isn’t the legality that makes a substance safe; it’s your education about it and your willingness to hold back from overindulging, especially regarding marijuana.
The Problem of Testing
Finally, another impact of the legalization of marijuana on driving is the fact that there still isn’t a completely reliable method of testing drivers for marijuana use.
While many testing strategies can ascertain whether an individual has THC in their system, the psychoactive compound in marijuana stays inside the body for days at a time. As such, someone wrongfully pulled over for marijuana intoxication may still test positive for the drug. This is problematic because it can lead to false arrests and imprisonments.
Moreover, marijuana is still a grey area because it’s still federally illegal. This can make it hard to research what levels of THC in the bloodstream qualify as intoxicating.
As legalization becomes more common and states get through the growing pains associated with it, testing methods will become more sophisticated and accurate. For now, however, we’re left with an imperfect system that’s still learning how to navigate this brave new world.
Marijuana & Car Crashes: A Growing Problem for Colorado
As Colorado has become increasingly comfortable with using marijuana regularly, the danger of being on the road seems to be increasing. What’s more, the legality of the substance and the increasing strength of current products are making it even more difficult for users to control just how intoxicated and incapable they are.
Suppose you or someone you know is struggling with marijuana addiction and is continually putting themselves and others in danger by being stoned behind the wheel. In that case, it’s essential to consider a treatment program that works.
Rehab For Marijuana Addiction At AspenRidge Recovery Center
Marijuana addiction and abuse often cause the individual to have anxiety, paranoia, and depression. The abuse of marijuana leads to marijuana use disorder which can also lead to schizophrenia and psychosis. Marijuana usage in teenagers often alters their brain development, leading to short-term memory loss and the need for rehab.
Rehab for marijuana addiction provides treatment for individuals struggling with addiction. These individuals can choose a treatment program of their choice for adequate recovery.
At AspenRidge Recovery Center, we provide efficient outpatient treatments in Colorado to help you recover.
At AspenRidge, recovery is possible through the various treatment programs we provide. To learn more about our treatments and programs, contact us today via our telephone at (719) 259-1107.