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One Toke Too Many: Marijuana Use and Denver Car Accidents

"One toke over the line," went the refrain of an enduring rock song from the early 1970s. Interestingly, however, the puff of marijuana smoke referred to in the song occurred in a railroad station - not behind the wheel of a car.Today, in 2012, research evidence is increasingly quantifying the problem of car accidents caused by drivers impaired by marijuana.If you were injured in one of these accidents, or a family member was injured or killed, a Denver car accident attorney can help you pursue just compensation.

Research on Drugged Driving

In a study conducted at Dalhousie University in Canada, researchers synthesized the results of nine previous studies on cannabis consumption and the causes of motor vehicle accidents. The study's scope included nearly 50,000 people.

The conclusion was that "cannabis impairs performance of the cognitive and motor tasks necessary for safe driving, increasing the risk of collision."

The study found that marijuana users are twice as likely to cause car crashes as drivers who are not impaired by alcohol or drugs. This risk extends to all types of vehicles: cars, trucks, buses, SUVs and motorcycles.

Is even "one toke" enough to increase risk? The Canadian study did not examine what precise amount of marijuana increases collision risk. But the researchers did find that people with elevated levels of a chemical called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in their bloodstreams were more likely to be involved in fatal crashes.

THC levels can be raised by smoking pot shortly before driving, or by smoking large amounts of it hours before.

Marijuana Use and Fatal Accidents

About 18 percent of fatal car accidents - nearly one in every five - may involve illicit drug use, according to the director of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske.

These sobering statistics need to factor into the debate as many American states consider whether to loosen their marijuana laws. In 16 states and the District of Columbia, medical marijuana is already legal. There is also growing support for outright legalization; even the conservative commentator Pat Robertson has joined the chorus of voices calling for it.

As the debate plays out, however, it is important to remember that cannabis, like alcohol, affects driving performance. It slows response times and impairs judgment.

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