A University of Ottawa study reported a 475.3% increase in road accidents in Ontario that resulted in emergency room visits where the driver had cannabis in their system, following the legalization of cannabis. However, the overall frequency of such incidents is low at 0.04% of total road accidents. Researchers have called for more extensive prevention efforts, including targeted education.
The results of a recent study published in JAMA Network Open claim to have found a link between the legalization of cannabis and an increase in road accidents.
This study stands out as an anomaly in legalization vs. road accidents literature. Another recent study in Canada found that there was no link between traffic accidents and legalization. Another study in the US even found a reduction in incidents following the introduction of legal cannabis.
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Latest Road Accidents Study
This latest road accidents study was conducted by researchers from the University of Ottawa and examined emergency room visits in Ontario, Canada, over a 12-year period (from January 2010 to December 2021).
At the end of this period, they noted a 475.3% increase in road accidents that resulted in an emergency room visit where the driver had cannabis in their system at the time of the accident.
“This cross-sectional study revealed a significant increase in cannabis involvement in emergency room visits for road accidents over time, which may have accelerated following the commercialization of cannabis for non-medical purposes,” the study’s conclusion reads. “Although the frequency of visits is rare, they may reflect broader changes in impaired driving due to cannabis. More extensive prevention efforts, including targeted education and policy measures, in regions where cannabis is legal, are indicated.”
Context and Limitations in Road Accidents Study
At first glance, 475.3% is a significant number. However, the study was only conducted in Ontario, Canada. The total number of road accidents involving injuries due to cannabis over this 12-year period amounted to 426 out of 947,604, or 0.04%.
“Another study also did not find an increase in the total number of hospitalizations for road accidents in Canada in the 2.5 years following legalization. It is essential to note that the slow rollout of the retail cannabis market in Canada and the overlap of the legalization period with the COVID-19 pandemic significantly reduce the ability of these studies to assess the impacts of legalization,” the study notes.
Gender and Age Factors in Road Accidents
The study also highlighted that men appear to be more at risk than women of being involved in road accidents when cannabis intoxication is considered a factor.
“Of the 418 people whose cannabis involvement was documented, 330 (78.9%) were men, 109 (25.6%) were aged 16 to 21 years (average age [SD] at the time of the visit, 30.6 [12.0] years), and 113 (27.0%) had had an emergency room visit or hospitalization for substance use in the two years preceding their emergency room visit for a road accident,” the study states.
“The findings of this repeated cross-sectional road accidents study suggest that serious road accidents related to cannabis have increased over time. The legalization of cannabis for non-medical purposes, the widespread access to retail sales, and the increase in the variety of cannabis products may have increased these visits despite laws specifically aimed at deterring driving under the influence of cannabis,” the study notes.
“Young adults and men appear to present a particularly high risk of road accidents related to cannabis. Intensified interventions, including education on driving under the influence of cannabis, enforcement activities, and policies aimed at regulating access to commercial retail markets, may be necessary.”
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