February 9, 2012

Multi-platform news purveyance medium The Guardian this week revealed disturbing new evidence that smoking cannabis before or during the act of driving a motor vehicle may not be a terribly good idea. This will surely come as jolt to the three million Brits aged 16-59 reckoned to partake in the Rastafarian sacrament on a more or less regular basis.

According to research carried out at Canada’s Dalhousie University and published this week in the Brutish Medical Journal, those getting behind the wheel within three hours of smoking specialty cigarettes are almost twice as likely to be involved in a collision resulting in serious injury or death. However the effect of cannabis consumption “on the risk of minor crashes remains unclear,” researchers reported.

Previous studies have found that cannabis users experience an “exaggerated sense of their degree of impairment” – accounting for behaviours such as driving at 30mph on the motorway with arms rigidly extended, teeth gritted and bloodshot eyes staring fixedly ahead – whilst alcohol users tend towards a more relaxedly optimistic assessment of their functional abilities.

Some have argued that cannabis users’ heightened sense of peril actually makes them less likely to be involved in accidents, that any statistical evidence of greater propensity for misadventure stems from the fact that most users are young males and therefore almost certain to have frequent accidents as a matter of course, and that indeed cannabis should be forcibly administered to such individuals to calm the down a bit behind the wheel.

This is plainly madness. Even so, it is highly unlikely to become official government policy any time soon. What such views fail to recognise is that cannabis use is often a gateway activity to other behaviours that can significantly increase the risk of accidents whilst driving.

Picking up a drive-thru MacDonald’s, for example, can temporarily deprive drivers affected with the so-called “munchies” (cf. the character Shaggy in the well-known children’s TV series Scooby Doo) of the use of one or more hands whilst they struggle to contain a slippery meat-based filling between two slitheringly non-aligned sesame-seeded bun-halves. In extreme cases it can lead to drivers staring protractedly and lamentingly at their lettuce and ketchup spattered thighs and seat upholstery when they should be looking out for hazards up ahead.

Combine this with activities such as mobile phone use, texting, putting on dark glasses, rolling up another kingsize dooby etc. and the additional risk of being involved in a serious accident can quickly increase to 50% or more. Add a spot of “pancreatic relief” and you’re looking at a virtual certainty. So the simple advice to young people today has to be: I don’t know, ask your mother/father.


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