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CDC Finds 47 Percent Rise in Driving While High on Pot

Health + Wellness
An increasing number of Americans are taking the wheel under the influence of marijuana. JasonDoiy / iStock / Getty Images Plus

The Center for Disease Control's (CDC) latest survey found that an increasing number of Americans are taking the wheel under the influence of marijuana, according to a new report released on Thursday.


As the narcotic becomes more acceptable for recreational use and more widely available, there has been a substantial rise in the number of motorists who apparently feel disposed to drive after consuming it, as USA Today reported. In fact, the number of motorists who admitted to driving after inhaling or ingesting marijuana rose 47 percent over a 4-year span.

The data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that 12 million people admitted to driving under the influence in 2018, which was 4.7 percent of all motorists, as USA Today reported.

In fact, the researchers found that in the 16-25 age group, the percentage of those driving after consuming weed more than tripled, from 3.2 percent to 10.8 percent, according to USA Today.

While that trend alarms public health officials, it is also small compared to the nearly 20.5 million people, or 8 percent of motorists, who admitted to driving after drinking, as CNN reported. The good news is, that number actually represents a decline in drunk driving. In 2014, 27.7 million motorists drove while impaired by alcohol.

Additionally, 2.3 million said they had driven under the influence of illicit drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamine, which totaled 0.9 percent of motorists.

As a caveat, this is also self-reported data, which means the numbers may reflect a growing acceptance of marijuana so people are more willing to admit to consuming it as it becomes less taboo.

"Impaired driving is a serious public health concern that needs to be addressed to safeguard the health and safety of all who use the road," CDC researchers said, according to U.S. News and World Report.

The report found that the most likely group to drive under the influence of marijuana were non-Hispanic males, aged 21 to 25, followed by males aged 16-20. Narcotic use amongst younger drivers is of "special concern" according to the report since that demographic is the most inexperienced set of drivers and most prone to accidents, according to U.S. News and World Report.

The authors of the report found that the increased availability and accessibility to marijuana as more states legalize it for recreational use means public health officials need to develop methods to quickly identify if a driver is affected by pot or another narcotic, as CNN reported.

The researchers also believe there is a need for a nationwide standard for toxicology tests and a need for law enforcement and public health officials to improve their detection and prevention of impaired driving. Unlike the nationwide tests for detecting drunk-drivers through blood alcohol content, there is no nationwide standard for detecting drivers under the influence of drugs, as CNN reported.

"[E]ffective measures that deter driving under the influence of drugs are limited," researchers said, according to U.S. News and World Report.

"Any person who uses cannabis should not be operating a motor vehicle. Period,'' said Robert Glatter, an emergency room physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, as USA Today reported. "It places themselves, other drivers and all pedestrians at risk for death and injury.''

However, Glatter added that he sees many more patients involved in crashes under the influence of alcohol rather than marijuana, which is commensurate with national statistics. Every year more than 100,000 Americans die in alcohol-related traffic accidents, according to USA Today. The CDC does not have a tally of marijuana-related traffic fatalities.

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