Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Baked, Not Stewed

Here’s How Many People Have Fatally Overdosed on Marijuana
The rate has held steady over the years.

The Huffington Post  04/20/2016  Kim Bellware Reporter

In 2015, the rate of absolutely zero deaths from a marijuana overdose remained steady from the year before, according to figures released in December by the Centers for Disease Control. But while Americans aren’t dying as a result of marijuana overdoses, the same can’t be said for a range of other substances, both legal and illicit.

A total of 17,465 people died from overdosing on illicit drugs like heroin and cocaine in 2014, while 25,760 people died from overdosing on prescription drugs, including painkillers and tranquilizers like Valium, according to CDC figures.

Opioid overdose levels rose so sharply in 2014 — spiking 14 percent from the previous year — the CDC described the levels as “epidemic.”
“More persons died from drug overdoses in the United States in 2014 than during any previous year on record,” the CDC reported earlier this month.

Alcohol, an even more accessible substance, is killing Americans at a rate not seen in roughly 35 years, according to a Washington Post analysis of federal data. The more than 30,700 Americans who died from alcohol-induced causes last year doesn’t include alcohol-related deaths like drunk driving or accidents; if it did, the death toll would be more than two and a half times higher.

According to a widely cited 2006 report in American Scientist, “alcohol is more lethal than many other commonly abused substances.” The report further puts the lethality of various substances in perspective:

Drinking a mere 10 times the normal amount of alcohol within 5 or 10 minutes can prove fatal, whereas smoking or eating marijuana might require something like 1,000 times the usual dose to cause death.

Though marijuana has yet to lead to a fatal overdose in the U.S., it does have the potential to be abused and lead to dangerous behaviors like drugged driving — but taking too much will likely lead to, if anything, a really bad trip. 

Despite the changing tide in American attitudes toward marijuana for both therapeutic and recreational uses, legalization is still vigorously opposed by groups like the pharmaceutical lobby (who stand to lose big if patients turn to medical marijuana for treatment) and police unions (who stand to lose federal funding for the war on drugs).
Among the remaining 2016 presidential contenders, Democratic hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is the only candidate from either party to support outright legalization of marijuana by removing it from the federal list of Schedule 1 drugs, which includes substances like heroin and LSD.
Stoned drivers much safer than drunk drivers, and setting legal limits for pot basically useless

Drivers who use marijuana are significantly less likely to crash than drivers who use alcohol, according to a new federal report.

In fact, after adjusting for age, gender, race, and alcohol use, stoned drivers are no more likely to crash than drivers who had not used any intoxicating substances, reported the Washington Post.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study found no statistically significant change in the risk of a crash associated with marijuana use, although drivers with a blood-alcohol content of 0.05 or above were at least seven times more likely to be involved in a wreck.

“At the current time, specific (marijuana) concentration levels cannot be reliably equated with a specific degree of driver impairment,” the NHTSA study found.

The researchers pointed out that drugs are absorbed by the body in different ways, so it’s difficult to measure a specific level of impairment in the same way that blood-alcohol levels can be detected.
“Most psychoactive drugs are chemically complex molecules, whose absorption, action, and elimination from the body are difficult to predict,” the researchers said. “Considerable differences exist between individuals with regard to the rates with which these processes occur. Alcohol, in comparison, is more predictable.”

THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana, can be detected in heavy users of the drug for days or even weeks after use, and long after it would cause impairment.

Several states — including Colorado, where recreational pot use is legal – have passed laws to define driving-related impairment levels for marijuana.

But the blood THC threshold of 0.5 nanograms per milliliter, which is the level set by Colorado, is essentially meaningless in relation to driving impairment.

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