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Marijuana's 4/20 holiday tied to rise in fatal auto crashes

Marijuana's 4/20 holiday tied to rise in fatal auto crashes

The study, which was published on Monday on JAMA Internal Medicine's website, analyzed U.S. government data on fatal traffic accidents from 1992 through 2016. "Impairment with drugs and alcohol increases the risk of a crash".

The study conducted at the University of British Columbia looked at US government statistics from 1992 - the year after an article in High Times magazine popularized the informal event - through 2016.

The simplest explanation for the increase in fatal crash risk is that people are getting high and then getting behind the wheel, he suggested. "There should be very clear messaging to the public: Don't drive high".

Marijuana advocates celebrate "4/20" annually by smoking pot.

Still, he said the study offers an important message. Researchers can not not fully determine if marijuana-intoxicated drivers caused the rise in vehicle deaths on 4/20, but they appear to be the most likely culprits, according to John Staples, an internist and researcher at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

Most accidents had no police data on drug testing so there's no way to confirm that marijuana was involved, but researchers think the drug was responsible for some crashes.

John Staples, a professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia, and Donald Redelmeier, of the University of Toronto, compared the number of drivers involved in deadly crashes from 4:20 p.m.to midnight that day - long celebrated by stoner culture - to the same time span on a day a week earlier and a day a week later.

Staples works at St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver, which is located near one of the major North American sites for 4/20 celebrations.

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With recreational marijuana use now legal in nine states and the District of Columbia, and medical use legal in dozens more, the once underground, counterculture 4/20 gatherings in the US have become more mainstream in recent years; 4/20 is a counterculture code word for smoking cannabis.

Either way, it's safe to say that driving stoned is generally less unsafe than driving drunk, but alcohol and pot used together can substantially increase the effects of both substances, mainly because alcohol increases the absorption rate of THC while marijuana delays the effects of booze. The program runs through April this year. While the study can't directly tie the crashes to pot use, the findings add to a growing body of research that suggests stoned driving can be risky.

In 2013, there were 18 such fatal incidents in Colorado; by 2016, that number had risen to 77. The overall increase led to 142 more deaths during that quarter-century, Dr. Staples said. "Unfortunately, we don't have a good way of knowing for sure which of those are contributing".

Despite this, other studies assessing the risks of marijuana relative to other legal and illegal substances have shown it is around 114 times safer than alcohol. Armentano pointed out that none of the three has legalized recreational marijuana use.

J.T. Griffin, chief government affairs officer for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, agreed that the study is flawed, but added that it raises larger questions worth pursuing.

But it's hard to know how closely the two are linked because US federal prohibition on marijuana limits the types of research that can be done on it, Staples said.

Governments contemplating policies to deter so-called drugged driving in the wake of cannabis legalization should pay special attention to young drivers, he said. Many policymakers are trying to figure out what that means for traffic safety.

Since High Times popularized the date in a story the magazine published in 1991, thousands of Americans have been celebrating the intoxicating properties of cannabis on April 20, the authors write in JAMA Internal Medicine.


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