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Marijuana and the rise of car accidents in the US

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With more and more states legalizing marijuana, either medically or recreationally, citizen and experts around the country have theorized what impact this plant might have on car accident statistics. A new study claims to have found a link between marijuana and the rise of accidents in the U.S., but there’s more to the research than headlines suggest. Here’s what you need to know. 

The Studies

A recent study published in the BMJ Open journal examined the increase in automobile accidents in Colorado following the legalization of marijuana. New York and Oklahoma were also examined by researchers at the University of California in San Francisco. Both studies examined hospital admission records for changes in the number of car accidents. 

It was found that Colorado had a 10% increase, while other states saw a 6% increase after legalization. More studies and news reports gathered information from other statics, using car accident personal injury claim data and other metrics to show an increase in accidents. 

The result, as headlines claim, is that legalization of marijuana leads to a sharp increase in accidents. That isn’t the full story, though, and even the creators of these studies point out the flaws and lack of research. 

The Short-Lived Effects of THC

It’s essential to remember that legalized states have the same DUI laws around marijuana as they do alcohol. Citizens are not supposed to drive under the influence of anything, risking fines and jail time if they do so. 

That being said, states are still struggling to find a way to test drivers for THC levels. Some of these studies attempted to pinpoint marijuana as the cause by asking those in the hospital if they smoked in the last ten days, but the effects of THC only last anywhere from 20 minutes to 9 hours depending on the amount taken and the form used. 

Correlation and Causation

All of these reports focus on correlation, saying that there is an increase in accidents in these states as well as legalized marijuana. However, not a single study finds marijuana as the cause of these increases. Even a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conducted in Virginia found no increased risk for accidents when marijuana was legalized. 

No news report proves a direct link showing marijuana as the cause of increased accidents in any state, despite what their headlines read. So, what is causing this spike in car crashes and does marijuana play a part at all? 

The Hidden Factors

What these studies fail to take into account is an increase in population in these states as well as distracted driving. Colorado, especially the city of Denver, has a seen an explosion in its population since legalizing marijuana and decriminalizing psilocybin mushrooms. The same has happened in states decriminalizing and legalizing marijuana. 

More people means more accidents, which shown by statistics on car accidents in metropolitan areas as opposed to rural ones. There’s no current evidence to prove marijuana plays a part in any of these crashes, but there are plenty of facts and studies on the number of drivers killed by distracted driving, especially when the party at fault was texting. 

The studies also include four states where marijuana has been legalized, ignoring the other seven. They also exclude states where THC is medicinally approved, totaling 33. With those numbers, in addition to a lack of causation, it’s clear that more comprehensive studies need to take place before anyone can fully understand if marijuana even has an impact on automobile accidents. Until then, keep an eye out for deceptive headlines.