Marijuana edges alcohol as Canada's most-used impairing substance in injured drivers, study suggests

Among those injured in driving accidents who had an impairing substance in them, 16.6 percent had cannabis in their blood stream, while 16 percent had alcohol.

Marijuana edges alcohol as Canada's most-used impairing substance in injured drivers, study suggests
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A six-year study of over 10,000 Canadian drivers involved in motor vehicle collisions indicates that cannabis has surpassed alcohol as the most commonly detected impairing substance in post-crash blood tests.

The study by the University of British Columbia analyzed blood samples from drivers in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador from 2018 to 2023.

The National Drug Driving Study found that 54 percent of those who were injured while driving tested positive for at least one impairing substance. Among those, 16.6 percent had cannabis in their blood stream, while 16 percent had alcohol.

"Driving after cannabis use appears to be an emerging problem in Canada and may now be more common than driving after drinking alcohol," says the study.

“However, given the very high crash risk associated with alcohol, and the fact that most ‘cannabis positive’ drivers had low THC (the active substance in cannabis) levels, it can be concluded that driving after drinking remains a bigger problem in Canada.”

Atlantic Canadians were found to be the most likely to have been injured while driving and using marijuana.

Among the 624 injured drivers from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador tested during the study period, 26% tested positive for cannabis, while 22% tested positive for alcohol. Overall, 70% tested positive for either drugs or alcohol, a rate higher than the national average.

Lead author Dr. Jeff Brubacher of the university's department of emergency medicine said that the prevalance of weed in Atlantic Canada was particularly striking.

“I would say it’s a problem across the country, but it does seem to be worse in Atlantic Canada.” he said.

“I would still say that good, old-fashioned alcohol is still probably the biggest problem of a single substance,” Brubacher said to Global News. “But a new problem is the combination of alcohol and cannabis, and that’s a bad combination.”

Brubacher said that the study's target audience was emergency room physicians, public health officials, and police to help spread safe driving messaging.

“It’s just to warn people of the risks of driving while impaired, of the risks of combining alcohol and cannabis,” he said. “I’m really hoping we can continue to collect this kind of data, and I’m hoping that … police can use it to guide enforcement, and injury prevention people can use it for public education.”

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