Marijuana Legalization In Canada Did Not Result In Increased Traffic Injuries, Study Finds – Marijuana Moment

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Canada’s move to legalize marijuana did not result in increased traffic injuries, a new study has found.
In a paper published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers said they sought to investigate claims that establishing the cannabis legalization law, which took effect in October 2018, would make roads less safe, as prohibitionists frequently argue.
But after analyzing Ontario and Alberta emergency department data from April 2015 to December 2019, however, they couldn’t find any evidence to support that hypothesis.
“Implementation of the Cannabis Act was not associated with evidence of significant post-legalization changes in traffic-injury [emergency department] visits in Ontario or Alberta among all drivers or youth drivers, in particular,” the study states.
“Legalization not associated with changes in traffic injuries in all drivers or youth drivers.”
That’s despite the fact that “worldwide momentum toward legalization of recreational cannabis use has raised a common concern that such policies might increase cannabis-impaired driving and consequent traffic-related harms, especially among youth.”
The study’s lead author, Russ Callaghan, said in a press release that his team’s results “show no evidence that legalization was associated with significant changes in emergency department traffic-injury presentations.”
The researcher admitted that the outcome of the study is “somewhat surprising,” adding that he “predicted that legalization would increase cannabis use and cannabis-impaired driving in the population, and that this pattern would lead to increases in traffic-injury presentations to emergency departments.”
“It is possible that our results may be due to the deterrent effects of stricter federal legislation, such as Bill C-46, coming into force shortly after cannabis legalization,” he said, referring to a separate impaired driving bill. “These new traffic-safety laws imposed more severe penalties for impaired driving due to cannabis, alcohol, and combined cannabis and alcohol use.”
While Callaghan said he wasn’t expecting the results that his team ended up with, there is a body of existing research that’s also challenged the idea that legalization leads to increased traffic risks.
A U.S. congressional research body said in a 2019 report that concerns expressed by lawmakers that cannabis legalization will make the roads more dangerous might not be totally founded. In fact, the experts tasked by the House and Senate with looking into the issue found that evidence about cannabis’s ability to impair driving is currently inconclusive.
Other researchers have found on several occasions that traffic fatalities do not increase after a state legalizes marijuana.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association late last year found that small doses of CBD appear to have no significant impact on driving, whereas comparable doses of THC were associated with short-term impairment “modest in magnitude and similar to that seen in drivers with a 0.05%” blood alcohol concentration.
In any case, House-approved report language related to funding for the Departments of Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development addresses drug-impaired driving from substances such as marijuana and urges the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to take steps to address the issue.
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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment’s Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.
People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who use marijuana experience fewer symptoms and recover more quickly compared to people who don’t use cannabis, a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs researcher said in a new podcast posted by the agency.
Hal Wortzel, a VA forensic neuropsychiatrist, talked about the findings of an observational study he conducted during the recent interview. He also discussed how the ongoing federal prohibition on marijuana has impeded essential research.
To learn how cannabis impacts PTSD, Wortzel’s team tracked two groups over the course of several years: 75 people with the condition who said they use marijuana and 75 people with PTSD who don’t consume cannabis. While there are limits to observational—rather than experimental—studies, he said the results provide further evidence that marijuana seems to have therapeutic benefits for certain populations.
An Observational Study of Cannabis and PTSD
— RockyMountain MIRECC (@RMIRECC) December 5, 2021

Specifically, people who said they use marijuana reported fewer “hyper arousal” symptoms—things like anxiously checking over one’s shoulder or overreacting to loud sounds.
“Among persons using marijuana for PTSD, relative to the group that was not using marijuana, we saw those folks using marijuana products get a little bit better more quickly, and they were about two and a half times more likely over the course of the study year to no longer meet criteria for PTSD than those folks who were not using marijuana products,” Wortzel said.
“That was a finding that appears to be predominantly driven by what we call the hyper arousal symptoms of PTSD,” he said. “Those sorts of symptoms appear to be most responsive to marijuana, at least in this investigation.”

Wortzel also told the podcast—which is produced by VA’s Rocky Mountain Mental Illness Research Education and Clinical Center—that there should be a greater investment in controlled, experimental studies on marijuana’s health impacts, but federal prohibition has impeded research.
“In the world of cannabis, because marijuana and marijuana products are still technically federally illegal, to do those kinds of experimental studies, you have to use basically the marijuana product that’s been developed by the United States government for that purpose, which, of course, is not the the product that the vast majority of Americans are utilizing or purchasing in dispensaries like here in Colorado,” he said.
Many researchers—including the head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)—have complained about the fact that scientists are currently dependent on cannabis grown from a single, federally authorized source at the University of Mississippi, with products that do not reflect what’s available in commercial markets.
It’s one of several marijuana research barrier identified in a report that NIDA recently submitted to Congress.
Because Wortzel’s study was observational and didn’t require the administration of marijuana in a controlled, clinical setting, however, its findings are unique in that participants using cannabis were obtaining it outside of the government’s garden.
While the research found that the cannabis group did improve more quickly compared to the non-user group, it surprisingly didn’t find that marijuana was associated with better sleep or other “functional outcomes and activity levels.” That’s despite the fact that, anecdotally, many people report improved sleep with cannabis.
The study author said they felt looking at those factors was “really important because symptoms matter—I mean, PTSD symptoms are unpleasant and a source of suffering for lots of people—but at the end of the day, in addition to sort of alleviating symptoms, we want to see people getting back into life, engaging in work or other sort of activities that are just as important for our overall well-being and emotional health.”
While congressional lawmakers are working to advance legislation to end marijuana prohibition, VA officials have resisted even modest proposals meant to promote veteran access and clinical research into the medical value of cannabis.
One such research bill was approved by the House Veterans Affairs Committee last month, despite testimony from the department opposing the reform. VA’s David Carroll told lawmakers that the legislation was overly prescriptive and argued that the department is already conducting robust research into marijuana.
Some had held out hope that the department would back the reform this session after the sponsor, Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA), said that he’d had a conversation with VA Secretary Denis McDonough about the issue of marijuana and veterans.
Meanwhile, a VA official said in September that the department is “very closely” following research into the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelics like MDMA for military veterans with PTSD.
Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) recently attempted to insert into defense legislation an amendment to require the Department of Defense to conduct a clinical trial into the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics for military members with chronic pain and PTSD. But it was blocked from receiving a floor vote by the House Rules Committee.
Crenshaw, a veteran himself, also recently moderated a conversation with a top psychedelics reform advocate. The congressman said that a veteran’s account of psychedelics therapy with MDMA “sounds amazing.”
During joint hearings before House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees in March, three veterans service organizations submitted written testimony backing a policy change to expand access to or increase research on medical cannabis, and one argued in favor of loosening restrictions to enable veterans to utilize psychedelics in their mental health treatment.
A federal commission tasked with developing recommendations to improve mental health treatment for military veterans determined in a report early last year that Congress and the executive branch should promote research into the therapeutic potential of marijuana and psychedelics such as psilocybin mushrooms and MDMA.
Separately, a bipartisan coalition of congressional lawmakers said in a recent letter to McDonough that the department must urgently institute a policy change to ensure that military veterans can access cannabis for therapeutic use.
The letter comes weeks after McDonough participated in a Veterans Day Q&A where he said that VA officials are “looking at” the possibility of an internal policy change and have discussed it with the White House and Department of Justice. The secretary also talked about being personally moved by stories from veterans who’ve found relief using medical marijuana.
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Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and National Institute On Drug Abuse (NIDA) say they are in favor of a White House proposal to streamline the process of researching Schedule I drugs like marijuana and certain psychedelics.
The agencies testified at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on Thursday, expressing support for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) research plan. While the focus of the meeting was mostly on a controversial move to strictly classify fentanyl-related substances, the Biden administration proposal’s research components would also help address concerns within the scientific community about the difficulty of studying other Schedule I drugs.
DEA said in written testimony that “expanding access to Schedule I research is a critical part of DEA’s mission to protect public safety and health.”
“It is critical that the scientific and medical community study Schedule I substances, as some may turn out to have therapeutic value,” DEA Principal Deputy Administrator Louis Milione said. “DEA supports the administration’s legislative proposal’s expansion of access to Schedule I research. DEA looks forward to continuing to work with the research community and our interagency partners to facilitate Schedule I research.”
In general, what the administration is proposing is to align the research requirements for Schedule I drugs with those of less-restricted Schedule II drugs. Scientists and lawmakers have consistently pointed out that the existing rules for studying Schedule I controlled substances are excessively burdensome, limiting vital research.
Rather than having each scientist involved in a Schedule I drug study obtain DEA registration, ONDCP wants to make it so multiple researchers at a given institution would be allowed to participate under a single registration. The administration also proposed a policy change where a research institute with studies taking place over multiple locations would only require one overall registration instead of needing to have a specific one for each site.
Another change would allow certain researchers to move ahead with conducting their studies after submitting a notification to the Department of Justice instead of waiting for officials to affirmatively sign off on their proposals. ONDCP’s plan would also waive the requirement for additional inspections at research sites in some circumstances and allow researchers to manufacture small amounts of drugs without obtaining separate registrations. The latter component would not allow cultivation of marijuana, however.
“Even experienced researchers have reported that obtaining a new Schedule I registration, adding new substances to an existing registration, or getting approval for research protocol changes is time consuming,” NIDA Director Nora Volkow said in her testimony. “Unlike for Schedule II through V substances, new and amended Schedule I applications are referred by the DEA to the HHS for a review of the protocol and a determination of the qualifications and competency of the investigator.”
“Researchers have reported that sometimes these challenges impact Schedule I research and deter or prevent scientists from pursuing this critical work,” she said.
In an interview last week, Vokow said that even she—the top federal official overseeing drug research—is personally reluctant to conduct studies on Schedule I substances like marijuana because of the “cumbersome” rules that scientists face when investigating them.
When ONDCP first announced its proposed Schedule I policy changes in September, some experts tempered expectations about the practical effects of aligning Schedule I and Schedule II applications. The difference is largely a matter of extra paperwork for the more restrictive category, they contend.
Regardless, several lawmakers who attended Thursday’s subcommittee hearing expressed enthusiasm about the prospects of these policy changes.
“I’m particularly interested in eroding existing barriers of federal law that limit researchers at academic medical centers from studying Schedule I substances,” Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) said. “So I’m grateful that our research agencies are working to find effective solutions.”

Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) also weighed in, saying that “we all agree that the current scheduling classification system has made it very difficult for scientists to research the effects of scheduled compounds, which may have medicinal properties.”
“For example, we know that compounds in marijuana have legitimate and beneficial medical uses, despite it being Schedule I,” he said. “So I’m encouraged to see that efforts are being made to allow researchers to study the effects of various compounds. In this proposal.”

ONDCP’s intent to streamline research into Schedule I drugs has been notable and seems to be part of a theme that developed within the administration.
For example, DEA has repeatedly proposed significant increases in the production of marijuana, psilocybin and other psychedelics for research purposes, with the intent of aiding in the development of new federally approved therapeutic medications.
NIDA’s Volkow told Marijuana Moment in a recent interview that she was encouraged by DEA’s prior proposed increase in drug production quota. She also said that studies demonstrating the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics could be leading more people to experiment with substances like psilocybin.
But while the production developments are promising, advocates are still frustrated that these plants and fungi remain in the strictest drug category in the first place, especially considering the existing research that shows their medical value for certain conditions.
There has been at least one recent development in the fight to modernize marijuana research. President Joe Biden signed a massive infrastructure bill last month that includes provisions aimed at allowing researchers to study the actual cannabis that consumers are purchasing from state-legal dispensaries instead of having to use only government-grown cannabis.
But that’s just one of numerous research barriers that scientists have identified. A report that NIDA recently submitted to Congress stressed that the Schedule I status of controlled substances like marijuana is preventing or discouraging research into their potential risks and benefits.
A federal appeals court recently dismissed a petition to require the DEA to reevaluate cannabis’s scheduling under the Controlled Substances Act. However, one judge did say in a concurring opinion that the agency may soon be forced to consider a policy change anyway based on a misinterpretation of the therapeutic value of marijuana.
Meanwhile, DEA has given hemp businesses that sell delta-8 THC products a boost, with representatives making comments recently signaling that, at the federal level at least, it’s not a controlled substance at this time.
Separately, the Washington State attorney general’s office and lawyers representing cancer patients recently urged a federal appeals panel to push for a DEA policy change to allow people in end-of-life care to access psilocybin under state and federal right-to-try laws.
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Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.
The head of the nation’s top federal drug research agency says that she’s yet to see evidence that occasional marijuana use by adults is harmful.
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow made the remarks in an interview with FiveThirtyEight that was published on Tuesday. It’s a notable admission given that the agency has historically gone to great lengths to highlight the potential risks of cannabis consumption.
“There’s no evidence to my knowledge that occasional [adult] marijuana use has harmful effects. I don’t know of any scientific evidence of that,” Volkow said. “I don’t think it has been evaluated. We need to test it.”
The quote stood out in an article that generally attempts to highlight possible risks of cannabis use while providing an overview of studies that run the gamut on marijuana health impacts. Volkow also said she found it “surprising” that research has indicated that cannabis consumers tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI).
“BMI is lower in marijuana users, and that was very surprising, and yet we know that high BMI, particularly the older you get, can have negative effects,” she said. “This is why we need to study it.”
This is certainly not to say that the NIDA director supports marijuana commercialization efforts. But to advocates, it’s encouraging to see a federal health official rely on the science and acknowledge that, as it stands, the evidence hasn’t pointed to serious harms for adults who occasionally use cannabis.
She did tell FiveThirtyEight that she is “absolutely” concerned about use by young people and said that daily consumption of high-THC products ““can have harmful effects even on the adult brain.”
But Volkow has taken a fairly level-headed approach to marijuana, pointing out potential dangers for adolescents and pregnant women, for example, while at the same time acknowledging that her expectations about the impact of state-level reforms haven’t always come to fruition.
For example, she recognized in a podcast interview released in August that cannabis legalization has not led to increased youth use despite her prior fears, and she spoke about the therapeutic potential of certain psychedelics that have long been deemed “dangerous” under federal law.
The official has also emphasized the need to address substance misuse with a public health lens, rather than subject people to criminalization for using drugs.
She said in an op-ed earlier this month that “stigma remains one of the biggest obstacles to confronting America’s current drug crisis,” and the government bears some responsibility in perpetuating those stigmas.
“Government policies, including criminal justice measures, often reflect—and contribute to—stigma,” she said. “When we penalize people who use drugs because of an addiction, we suggest that their use is a character flaw rather than a medical condition. And when we incarcerate addicted individuals, we decrease their access to treatment and exacerbate the personal and societal consequences of their substance use.”
Volkow also talked about how decriminalization, coupled with increased treatment, would represent a superior alternative to incarcerating people over drugs in a recent interview with Marijuana Moment.
In other recent remarks, she argued that there’s no need for further research to prove that the criminalization of drugs has disproportionately impacted communities of color.
And when it comes to marijuana research, the official has said that scientists should be allowed to investigate products from state-legal dispensaries instead of using only government-grown plants.
NIDA separately submitted a report to congressional lawmakers emphasizing that the Schedule I status of controlled substances like cannabis is preventing or discouraging research into their potential risks and benefits.
It also said that current restrictions that block scientists from studying the actual cannabinoid products that consumers can purchase at dispensaries is impeding research to an extent that constitutes a public health concern.
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Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.

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