Can An App Tell If You're Too Stoned To Drive?

By Kelly Burch 11/23/16

A Massachusetts professor has developed an app that he claims can determine if you're too high to drive.

Can An App Tell If You're Too Stoned To Drive?

With recreational marijuana now legal for more than 20% of Americans, there is growing concern about how driving under the influence of cannabis will be regulated. In response, one Boston professor has developed a task-oriented app that he hopes will help drivers determine their level of intoxication. 

Michael Milburn, a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston, developed DRUID (short for “driving under the influence of drugs”), an app that instructs people to complete a set of tasks, like standing on one foot. The series of tasks lasts for five minutes, and can help people determine whether they are too intoxicated to drive, says Milburn.

“I could see marijuana legalization was coming eventually,” Milburn told The Boston Globe. “Prior to now, people had no way to really know if they were impaired or not. One of my hopes in this is to create a responsible community of drug users.”

Milburn tracked the performance of people using DRUID as they smoked marijuana and as the drug wore off. However, there has not been any peer-reviewed evidence on DRUID’s effectiveness. 

Unlike saliva swabs that only detect THC in the body (possibly from long-ago use), DRUID can apparently gauge the impairment that an individual is experiencing at that moment. 

Currently, police officers rely on field tests and their own judgement for determining whether someone is under the influence of drugs. 

“You have to prosecute the person based on the officer’s observations and what the officer found during the car stop. It makes it very difficult,” said William G. Brooks III, president of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association. 

Although there is currently no marijuana breathalyzer on the market, companies are quickly pursuing the much-needed device. In September, a California police department tested a marijuana breathalyzer on drivers, and the results were promising. 

The breathalyzer, manufactured by Hound Labs, was praised by Alameda County California Sheriff Greg Ahern last year.

“Current methods for testing THC are not practical for the roadside,” Ahern said at the time. “On top of that, results can take weeks and will only tell us if marijuana is in a person’s system. By measuring THC in breath, Hound Labs, Inc. will help us get impaired drivers off the road and also make sure that unimpaired individuals who happen to have some THC in their system aren’t wrongfully arrested.”

Colorado and Washington have both set a legal limit for the amount of THC that drivers can have in the bloodstream—five or more nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. States that recently passed marijuana legalization, including Massachusetts, are expected to do the same. 

Some people believe that chemical tests, rather than apps like DRUID, are needed to properly identify intoxicated drivers.

"There will be chemical testing that comes out," said Christine Cunneen of Hire Image, a Rhode Island provider of drug testing services to employers, “and to me, that’s more accurate.”

The DRUID app is currently available for the iPad for $0.99. Milburn plans to release iPhone and Android versions soon.

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.