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The Dangers of Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana

While headlines often scream the tragic consequences when teenagers decide to drive while under the influence of alcohol, we don’t often hear about what happens when teenagers get behind the wheel under the influence of marijuana.

But, say experts, it can be just as dangerous. In fact, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, driving under the influence of marijuana doubles the risk of being in an accident. And that’s just for “real” marijuana. Synthetic marijuana can be up to 100 times more potent, further exacerbating the risk of getting into an accident.

High Behind The Wheel: The Effects

“Marijuana causes slowed reflexes, impaired short term memory, distorted distance perception, and delayed reaction time,” sums up Heather Sutton, project director at the Metropolitan Drug Commission in Knoxville, Tenn.

Other effects include a strong euphoric feeling, which impacts a teenager’s ability to pay attention and also clouds judgment.

That leads not only to slower reaction times behind the wheel, but other dangerous choices. “People who drive under the influence of marijuana tend to follow the cars ahead of them too closely. And they have trouble staying in their lane,” notes John Perch, a driving safety specialist with

Meanwhile, like alcohol, drugged driving carries sanctions that include heavy fines, jail time, and license suspension.

Still, teenagers are not getting the message when it comes to driving under the influence of marijuana. A study conducted by Liberty Mutual and Students Against Drunk Driving found that almost 20 percent of high school students admit to driving while under the influence of marijuana. In addition, more than 45 percent report getting into a car with a driver that was using the drug.

How to Discuss Driving While High with Your Teen:

Sutton and other experts recommend parents add marijuana to the conversation about driving under the influence.

1. Explain the concerns.

Talk to your teen about the risks associated with marijuana and driving. Educate you teen about prevalence of synthetic marijuana and its affects.

2. Establish expectations.

Discuss the consequences if your teenager chooses to drive under the influence—and add it to your teenager’s driving contract. Driving under the influence of marijuana or any other substance should be met with zero tolerance.

3. Show your teen what can happen.

“Talk to your teen when news reports come out of tragic accidents that happen from driving under the influence,” advises Sue Scheff, author of Wit’s End: Advice and Resources for Saving Your Out-of-Control Teen. “Kids hear us better when they are shown real life incidents. This could be them.”

Michelle Halloran is a freelance writer and frequent Your Teen contributor.

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