As marijuana is legalized — now, for recreational use in 11 states and medical use in 33 states — researchers are looking at how it’ll affect our society as a whole. People are quick to denounce the dangers of the mind-altering drug, and though toking up won’t cause you to melt into your couch or turn you into a stoner sloth, it has been linked to poor eyesight, reduced sperm count, and daytime sleepiness. Now, a new study in JAMA has found that nationwide legalization could lead to 6,800 additional automotive deaths.
The study looked at traffic fatality rates of just the first four states to legalize marijuana (Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska) which was obtained from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The reason being that these states have two full years’ worth of traffic fatality data available since opening retail pot stores. In contrast, the other 20 states where marijuana wasn’t legal for recreational or medical use, as of the start of 2018, served as controls.
Researchers created a graph that measured the changes in traffic fatalities from 2008 to 2018 (2008 to 2012 was pre-marijuana for all states) of the four states that sold recreational pot against the control. Throughout the decade, the control states saw no little to increase in traffic fatalities per billion vehicle miles traveled. Colorado, Oregon, and Alaska all saw a larger relative increase and Washington and minor increase. All told, the states where marijuana is available commercially saw an increase of 2.1 vehicle deaths per BVMT.
While such a minimal increase may seem irrelevant, the study claims that nationwide legalization for recreational use would equal 6,800 additional roadway deaths per year. Though, the authors acknowledge, “It is possible that another confounder, rather than marijuana legalization and commercialization, caused the observed increase in roadway deaths.” Such as speeding or not wearing a seatbelt.
More than half of the United States already supports marijuana use — the benefits of which include pain management, increased appetite for cancer patients, reduced inflammation, and the treatment of severe epilepsy. Still, legalization is happening at a quick rate, so researchers are essentially playing catch up as they attempt to hypothesize negative outcomes, test them, and provide solutions. This interesting study is just one more important step towards understanding how this soon-to-be everywhere drug will impact our society.