Jessica McKeil   |   May 29, 2018

Can Your Phone Tell If You Are High? The Future of Mobile Sobriety Testing

On the eve of legalization in Canada, there are still many questions swirling around field sobriety tests for cannabis. Just like in other jurisdictions with recreational cannabis, regional police forces are trying to grapple with roadside cannabis intoxication without a federally approved breathalyzer-style test.
Jessica McKeil is a freelance writer focused on the medical marijuana industry, from production methods to medicinal applications. She personally found relief through cannabis for the treatment of her panic and anxiety disorder. She is lucky…

 

To date, there is no consistently accurate oral, blood, or other tests capable of determining impairment as it happens, on the side of the highway. While many tests are capable of testing for marijuana usage, they aren’t sufficient for testing sobriety. Unlike the science behind alcohol intoxication, the understanding about marijuana intoxication is still quite fuzzy. Drunkenness, understood by a 0.08 mg blood alcohol level, is easily confirmed via a blood test or a breathalyzer. But unfortunately, it's not so clear-cut with cannabis.

 

Will A Mobile App Determine Impairment in the Future?

Today, there is a push to make it easier for police officers to understand cannabis impairment as it unfolds during traffic stops. There is also a push to educate cannabis users about their own level of impairment. But, soon there may be an app for that. There are already a handful of apps under development, programmed to measure user intoxication through environmental measurements as well as with a series of self-administered onscreen tests.

One of these applications, already available in the Apple and Android app store, is called Druid.

According to one of the leading psychologists behind the app, Druid was created “from a careful examination of the driving impairment literature, building it around things like hand-eye coordination and divided-attention tasks that can suffer under the influence of alcohol and cannabis.”

Another app, Am I Stoned, has received government funding towards their project. In a series of on-device tests, including the use of taping or counting on-screen objects, cannabis users receive measured feedback on their level of impairment compared to a sober baseline. The tasks are challenging because they rely on hand-eye coordination, as well as a short period of mental focus. With more rigorous testing, soon researchers expect that these apps will have a high level of accuracy predicting impairment.

 

Mobile Apps May Benefit Law Enforcement

Self-directed testing will only help so much with levels of intoxication on the road. Inevitably, someone will end up behind the wheel, too high to drive.  Police forces are scrambling to find accurate, affordable methods to test drivers for recent cannabis use. Because of increasing demand, mobile app sobriety technology will likely merge into cannabis impairment detection techniques soon rather than later.

In some municipalities, like in Edmonton, Alberta, the police force was recently granted $1.4 million in funding to combat the expected issues with legal cannabis. The local police force expects at a minimum to spend $300,000 per year, in roadside administered testing for marijuana impairment. Which is why they are also working towards further training for their members in field sobriety testing.

Field sobriety testing could benefit from these recent and mobile technological advancements. Just like with field tests for alcohol impairment, there could be a mobile application with similar benefits for law enforcement officials.

The Worcester Polytechnic Institute has already launched the AlcoGait Project. Although developed for measuring alcohol intoxication, the project offers insight into where cannabis sobriety tests may go. AlcoGait captures a user level of intoxication through measurements taken by way of their cell phone's accelerometer and gyroscope. Essentially measuring the user change in gait, AlcoGait aims to determine drunkenness.

The project has an additional application underway, the AlcoWear, an impairment measuring Smartwatch. It's easy to start seeing the possible future applications of AlcoWear style technology. The researchers behind this project have begun exploring the potential for this technology to take continuous blood alcohol levels. Could this be another tool for law enforcement to prevent convicted impaired drivers from returning to the wheel if they have consumed alcohol?

Mobile apps like Druid, Am I Stoned and the AlcoWear project still have a long way to go. Until they refine their measurements, achieving consistent and accurate predictions of impairment will remain a problem.  It will be some time before police officers have the technology in their hands to give suspected high drivers a mobile directed impairment test. After all, the measurements and predictions of a mobile application will have to hold up in court. Until then, researchers working on these projects continue to fine-tune the underlying methodology to more robust and aggressive user testing.

 

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