Determining if you're tipsy or drunk is a fairly straightforward task. However, it's not until you've finished off that bag of Doritos and are on your eighth episode of The Simpsons, laughing hysterically because of a joke your dog told you, that you ask yourself that one important question: Dude, am I stoned? Researchers from the University of Chicago are trying to make that easier to answer, with an app that will tell you if you're high. They're appropriately calling the app "Am I Stoned?" and the results showing its efficacy are promising. They shared their current findings at the Experimental Biology conference in California this month.
In their research — a randomized, double blind study — 24 participants were split into three groups, and each had taken no THC (the control group), a pill containing 7.5mg, or a pill containing 15mg. They then completed tests on both their computer and iPhone, challenging their cognitive speed, reaction time, memory, and fine motor ability, says Experimental Biology. For example, one iPhone task had them use two fingers from their non-dominant hand to tap two buttons as quickly as they could, shares Gizmodo. Another task had them shake their phone when a blue dot popped up.
Researchers also measured the participants' ability to assess their own performance.
Here's what they found.
In three out of the four computer tasks, says Experimental Biology, the THC impaired participants' performance, but this happened in only one of the iPhone tasks. The researchers suspected this was because the computer tasks were much longer than the iPhone tasks (15 to 20 minutes, versus five to seven minutes, respectively), allowing more room for error.
In terms of the self-assessments participants performed to guess their own impairment, researchers found they were fairly on point and self-aware.
The goal of this research, they say, is to develop sensitive enough tests that will help people evaluate their own impairment, and also learn when people are and are not aware of their impairment. Co-author Elisa Pabon told Gizmodo in an email they received government funding to create this app to eventually become a field sobriety test. The next phase of the app should be completed this summer.
Some of us have wondered why there isn't already a breathalyzer to detect impairment from weed, the way there's a breathalyzer to determine if you're drunk. This research answers that question: it's because it's incredibly difficult to pinpoint the sometimes subtle ways weed changes our performance and perception.
As the Governors Highway Safety Association points out, unlike the laws surrounding alcohol and drunk driving, those for drugged driving are hard to enforce and differ greatly state by state. Some states have zero tolerance laws for THC or a metabolite, some have zero tolerance laws for THC only, and some states have per se laws, which means you can drive with specified amounts of certain drugs in your body.
The messy laws are just one hurdle. Yet another is the documented research suggesting the amount of THC in one's system doesn't automatically line up with how impaired they are, since we all respond to it differently — which were the findings of one study published in Trends in Molecular Medicine. Factor in the other 500 (plus) compounds in marijuana, notes LiveScience, and you have the makings for quite a complicated conversation.
Could the "Am I Stoned?" app help solve the conundrum? Possibly. As LiveScience reports, there are likely two factors to determining impairment from THC: documenting the impairment, and executing a blood or saliva test to determine if someone has THC in their system — and the app would take care of the former. These two things coupled together perhaps make it less important exactly how much is in their system.
We may be a ways off from a more traditional breathalyzer for weed, but this new app seems promising in helping better determine impairment.