Marijuana Impaired Drivers

Certain prescription and recreational drugs have the potential to impair driving which can lead to minor, or at times fatal, crashes on the road. Marijuana-impaired driving is an issue that is on the rise due to the more lax rules throughout the country regarding its recreational use. Marijuana, or cannabis sativa, is the plant that is ingested through smoking the plant material (leaves, flowers, seeds and stems) or by eating food products laced with an active ingredient of marijuana. The primary psychoactive substance found in marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. THC is primarily associated with the psychoactive effects that occur when ingesting marijuana plant material. It creates this effect by binding with certain receptors in the brain and being the underlying cause of behavioral and cognitive effects. THC is also primarily stored in the fatty tissues of the body which contributes to it continuing to be released back into the bloodstream sometimes long after ingestion, with some studies detecting THC in the blood up to 30 days after ingestion. The difference between alcohol and marijuana is that marijuana is classified as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act. Marijuana, like alcohol, has been shown to affect numerous driving-related skills. It can impair abilities such as reaction time, which could be dangerous in case the need for emergency braking were to arise, road tracking, which causes difficulty in lane position variability, decreased divided attention, which doesn’t allow for target recognition, cognitive performance which impairs the ability to maintain attention and executive functions which affects route planning, decision making as well as risk taking. While many of these studies are still in their infancy, with California still not having instituted any marijuana impaired driving laws, as well as very little on-road traffic accidents that are caused by marijuana impairment playing a major role, the decision to get behind the wheel of a car should always be taken seriously and with every precaution carefully taken.

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