A University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) research will be leading a study on the impact of cannabis legalization on motor vehicle collision injuries among young people.
“My hypothesis is that you’re going to see increased use and that use is going to lead to increases in motor vehicle collision harms,” said Dr. Russ Callaghan, a professor with the UNBC Northern Medical Program.
Interested in building on his work with minimum ages for alcohol and tobacco use, Callaghan applied for and received a $124,00 grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
“When cannabis legalization came about I was interested in how the minimum legal age cannabis laws might affect major harms that might be incurred by young people,” he said.
“I found that these particular minimum age laws [alcohol and tobacco] have a very powerful effect on attenuating harms and substance use behaviour among age-restricted youth.
“The hypothesis is that the minimum age law is going to have a protective effect on underage youth, and then it’s among those young people who are just older than the minimum legal cannabis age that are going to show very pronounced increases in motor vehicle collision injuries. I think you’re going to see increased cannabis use and then subsequent cannabis-impaired driving and injuries related to that in that age group.”
Callaghan and collaborators from Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia and the University of Victoria will gather and examine data from hospital emergency departments across the country. He expects they will have results by the end of this year or early next year.
“I was interested in how cannabis legalization might have an impact on cannabis-impaired driving, because cannabis use is quite prevalent among young people,” Callaghan said. “About a third of all young people have used cannabis in the last 90 days and we know that motor vehicle collision injuries are extremely high in that particular age group.
“It is essential for the public and policymakers to understand the potential problems and benefits of cannabis legalization, and this study will provide important evidence regarding a major area of harm to youth and young adults in our society.”
One benefit of legalization is making more research possible.
“Researchers, if they want to do some studies with people smoking cannabis it’s not an illicit substance so it’s much easier to do research and it’s much more topical now … politicians and public health officials are much more interested in the effects of cannabis right now than they were in the past,” Callaghan said.
“I think there is going to be much more cannabis research in the near future and it’s probably going to be Canadian researchers who are going to be international leaders here because we’re one of the few countries in the world that have legalized cannabis at a national level.”