Marijuana linked to fatal crashes

By Samone Davis
Contributing Writer

Students who consider smoking marijuana “no big deal” might ponder this: Approximately 6 to 11 percent of fatal accident victims tested positive for THC, the main active chemical in pot.

Those figures come from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The statistics hit close to home just a few weeks ago, when three young Coral Springs teens died in a car accident in which the driver had been smoking marijuana, according to police.

The major active chemical in marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which causes the mind-altering effects of marijuana intoxication.

From the fatal accident, lab results showed “a recent ingestion” of THC by the teen driver, said Michael Wagner, senior toxicologist of the Broward County Medical Examiner’s Office. At the THC level found, he said, “The individual would be under the influence of the drug and would exhibit CNS (central nervous system) impairment.”

Safety officials say that marijuana affects many skills required for safe driving, such as alertness, concentration, coordination, and reaction time. It also becomes difficult to judge distances and react to signals and sounds on the road once a driver has smoked pot.

“If you cause a problem and have any level of drug in your system, you are guilty of using an illicit substance and drug use will be considered a contributing factor,” said Vince Diller, director of Health & Wellness at Palm Beach Atlantic University.

In a 2008 survey, 8.1 percent of the PBA student population reported that they had used marijuana in the past year, and 2.2 percent said they still use the drug. The university used the CORE Survey of Alcohol and Drugs, which is nationally standardized. PBA is one of the few Christian institutions that have made the investment to investigate these issues, said Diller.

“The responses are anonymous and compared to national and institutional averages,” said Diller. He said that only 24.1 percent of PBA students considered marijuana use a health risk.

According to a report on drugabuse.gov, marijuana is the nation’s most commonly used illegal drug.

Many young people smoke marijuana because their siblings, friends or older family members use it, and some because of peer pressure. Others may think it’s cool to smoke pot, unaware of the health risks involved.

Research has shown that when a person smokes marijuana, THC passes from the lungs into the bloodstream, which transports it to the brain and other organs.

When it reaches the brain, THC connects with a certain type of receptor on nerve cells in areas that affect coordination, thought, memory, concentration, sensory and time perception, and pleasure.

This is what causes the user to get “high.”

Short-term effects of marijuana use include impairment in driving skills, impaired memory, difficulty in thinking or solving problems, anxiety attacks, impaired muscle coordination and impaired judgment.

Researchers say that long-term effects include changes in the brain, fertility implications, changes in blood pressure, and emotional problems.

In addition to the health risks, the use of marijuana is illegal in the state of Florida.

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