Cannabis presentations to the emergency department after motor vehicle crashes in the era of legalization for recreational use

Choo, Esther / Nishijima, Daniel / Trent, Stacy / Eichelberger, Angela H. / Ye, Yu / Audett, Ariane / Brasel, Karen / Kazmierczak, Steve / Cherpitel, Cheryl J.
Journal of Safety Research
February 2022

Introduction: The objectives of this study were to examine cannabis and alcohol use among injured patients presenting to emergency departments (ED) in cannabis-legal states to capture an expanded profile of cannabis use and evaluate differences in motor-vehicle collision (MVC) characteristics among those using cannabis alone and in combination with alcohol.
Methods: This was a cross-sectional study of ED visits by drivers in MVC who presented to one of three study sites. Event-related and usual drug and alcohol use information were obtained using a detailed interviewer-administered computerized questionnaire. We also obtained data from blood and breathalyzer tests and the electronic medical record. We examined frequency and types of acute and past-year cannabis and alcohol use and crash mechanisms and characteristics. Our primary method of determining substance use was self-report; we used biosamples secondarily.
Results: Eight percent of drivers reported cannabis use in the 8 h prior to MVC, alone or in combination with alcohol; however, a higher proportion (18%) were positive by biosample. High-risk crash features were common in MVCs associated with cannabis, as they were for alcohol use and co-use of cannabis and alcohol; however, patients injured seriously enough to require admission were less likely to report cannabis use (7% vs. 9%) and more likely to report alcohol use (16% vs. 10%).
Conclusions: Cannabis use was common among patients presenting after MVC in this sample of cannabis-legal states.
Practical applications: Differences between self-report and biosample data for cannabis and alcohol use were significant and supports the need to use both means of assessing acute use.

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