Fewer teens use marijuana than alcohol, and it’s less of a factor in car crashes. But the drug still poses real dangers when teens are behind the wheel.
How so? Marijuana is typically smoked, and when it is, the chemicals pass very quickly from the lungs to the bloodstream to the brain. This releases dopamine in the brain’s reward center creating the pleasurable feelings or the “high” from the chemical. However, other effects impact a number of critical driving skills including:
Changes in perception and mood
Difficulty in thinking and problem solving
Lack of coordination and reduced reaction time
Disrupted learning, memory, alertness and concentration.
In 2013, the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that 40.7 percent of high school students have used marijuana in their lives. That compares with 66.2 percent who drank alcohol at some point.
However, across all age groups, the proportion of drivers testing positive for marijuana and other illegal drugs is on the rise according to the latest national Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers. More than 17 million people in the United States use marijuana, and the number will likely grow as more states legalize medical and recreational use.
On the road, teens are more likely than drivers as a whole to be using pot. A national survey conducted in 2007 of more than 10,000 drivers on week-end nights showed that 6.9 percent of all drivers had marijuana in either their saliva or blood. However, 12.0 percent of drivers aged 16-to-20 had marijuana in their systems -- by far the highest percentage in any age group.
High school seniors who smoke marijuana are twice as likely to be cited for a traffic violation, and 65 percent more likely to get into a crash than those who don’t smoke it.
Even the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) advocates “no driving” when using marijuana. And that attitude is carried over to the public. In 2015, The Allstate Foundation published research that showed:
More than 91 percent of teens strongly/somewhat agreed that it is dangerous to drive after using marijuana.
About 68 percent of teens and 74 percent of parents said it is definitely/probably likely that using marijuana can cause an accident.
Seventy-five percent of teens would say something if they were in a vehicle with a teen who was driving after using marijuana.
In light of all this information, it’s not surprising that the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation recommends that states enforce the minimum purchase and possession age of 21, adopt illegal blood levels of marijuana for drivers, and combat drugged driving using roadside saliva testing to detect drugs.
Marijuana Laws By State
- Caulkins, JP, Hawken, A, Kilmer, B &Kleiman, MA (2012). Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know. Oxford University Press, New York, NY.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (2015). Marijuana: Facts for Teens. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/marijuana-facts-teens/
- Johnston, LD, O’Malley, PM, Miech, RA, Bachman, JG &Schulenberg, JE (2014). Monitoring the Future: 2014 Overview, Key Findings on Adolescent Drug Use. National Institute on Drug Abuse. http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/pubs/monographs/mtf-overview2014.pdf
- Volkow, ND, Baler, RD, Compton, WM & Weiss, SRB (2014). Adverse Health Effects of Marijuana Use. New England Journal of Medicine, 370:2219-2227.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2014). Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance—United States, 2013. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 63 (4), June 13, 2014. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/ss/ss6304.pdf?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=youth-risk-behavior-surveillance-united-states-2013-pdf
- Lacey, JH, Kelley-Baker, T, Furr-Holden, D, Voas, RB, Romano, E, Ramirez, A, Brainard, K, Moore, C, Torres, P &Berning, A (2009). 2007 National Roadside survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers: Drug Results. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Washington, DC, Publication # DOT HS 811 249. http://www.nhtsa.gov/Driving+Safety/Research+&+Evaluation/2007+National+Roadside+Survey+of+Alcohol+and+Drug+Use+by+Drivers
- Compton, RP &Berning, A (2015). Drug and Alcohol Crash Risk. Traffic Safety Facts, Research Note, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Washington, DC, Publication # DOT HS 812 117. http://www.nhtsa.gov/staticfiles/nti/pdf/812117-Drug_and_Alcohol_Crash_Risk.pdf
- Strat, YL, Dubertret, C & Le Foll, B (2015). Impact of age at onset of cannabis use on cannabis dependence and driving under the influence in the United States. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 76: 1-5.