Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana
Teen use of marijuana is increasing. You can learn more about the statistics, trends, effects, signs of use, and prevention techniques in one of our previous blogs, but today we want to focus on how marijuana use is affecting adolescents.
Currently, the perception by many high school students is that marijuana is actually healthy, or if not healthy, at least better than alcohol or cigarettes. One high school student recently interviewed said that she chose marijuana use to take better care of her body!
Contrary to student opinions, doctors say marijuana is especially harmful to youth for two reasons. First, research shows adolescence is a crucial time for brain development and marijuana use can permanently change the teen brain. For example, people who started using marijuana as a teen, but stopped by age 22, still had many more cognitive deficits at age 27 compared to their peers who never used. Second, young people who start using marijuana before age 18 are much more likely than adults to become addicted to the drug. While only 1 in 25 adults becomes addicted to marijuana, 1 in 6 teens become addicted simply because the teen brain is much more vulnerable to addiction.
While high, marijuana users can experience difficulty in thinking and problem solving; problems with memory and learning; loss of coordination; and distorted perception – all of which makes their behavior more reckless and their activities, like driving, dangerous while under the influence of the drug.
A recent study by Liberty Mutual Insurance and Students Against Destructive Decisions, reported in USA Today, showed that nearly 1 in 5 teens say they have gotten behind the wheel after smoking marijuana. Of those teens who have driven after smoking pot, 36 percent say it presents no distraction when operating a vehicle.
Marijuana has serious harmful effects on the skills required to drive safely: alertness, the ability to concentrate and make good judgments, coordination, and the ability to react quickly. Marijuana use can make it difficult to judge distances and react to signals and sounds on the road. These effects can last up to 24 hours after smoking marijuana.
Parents should talk to their teens regularly about substance abuse, and while they are on the subject, it’s important to dispel some of these myths that marijuana is a safe drug and that it does not have an impact on the ability to drive. We should expand our “don’t drink and drive” campaign to include “don’t do any drugs and drive.”