Wait! What? Your Smartphone Can Tell When You Are High?

Wait! What? Your Smartphone Can Tell When You Are High?

Posted by Lori Ann Reese on 10/13/2021 in News

Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer

Smartphone Cannabis Test

Most people love technology. I will admit to being a little creeped out when Google Home wished me a Happy Canadian Thanksgiving. How did it know? I haven’t lived there in seven years. Cool, but slightly eerie. Because like most people, my smartphone goes everywhere with me, except for the bathroom.

Okay, sometimes the bathroom.

There was a new research paper that was published in a medical journal that may surprise you. Apparently, researchers have been studying ways to use sensors that already exist in your smartphone to tell if you are high.

It is not the first time that smartphones have been studied for their ability to administer a sobriety test. Phones today are miniature data centers that monitor many of our daily activities already. So, it’s not really much of a stretch.

But would you use an application on your smartphone that alerts you when you are too high? Because it could be lifesaving in a “Dude Where’s My Car” moment, when you may not realize how impaired you are. Or would you think it was the ultimate invasion of personal privacy?

Could lawmakers require people who have a medical card to operate a monitoring app on their smartphones? Many people have concerns about the reliability of sobriety testing for THC. And the question we all want to know the answer to? How can your phone tell if you are high?

Smartphone Research at Rutgers University in New Jersey

In September, the study published in a health journal may have everyone looking at their smartphone with a little more paranoia. First, because who would have imagined our smartphones already have the capacity to determine whether we are sober or not. And second, could those features be used without our knowledge?

The “Mobile phone sensor-based detection of subjective cannabis intoxication in young adults: A feasibility study in real-world settings” was published in the Drug and Alcohol Dependence Journal. It was completed by researchers at Rutgers Institute for Health, Health Care Policy, and Aging Research in New Jersey. And the purpose of the study was to demonstrate that smartphones were able to detect whether someone was intoxicated by cannabis.

The findings from the study revealed that with remote sensing (present already in most mobile phone models) your smartphone can:

  • Track your location and destination, i.e., trip to the dispensary
  • Calculate travel times
  • Calculate travel patterns
  • Predict intoxication with 90% accuracy

Data from the accelerometer and the GPS sensors allow for an accurate prediction. The algorithm that the researchers studied was right in tests, 9 out of 10 times. The subjects were aged eighteen (18) to twenty-five (25) years from Pittsburgh. They were also adults who smoked cannabis at least twice per week.

Smartphone Cannabis Sobriety Test
(Canva)

How Can Your Phone Tell If You Are High?

There are a few different built-in sensors in every smartphone, which can register physical and geographic input. For example, did you know that your phone can tell if you drop it? Some sensors in mobile phones can. Creepy, right?

Other indicators of intoxication are in the patterns of movement. Does your phone think you are high if you walk more slowly? Yes. If you immediately visit a restaurant or convenience store for food after the dispensary? Yep, it can extrapolate the probability of an attack of the munchies and correlate it with other data.

The collaboration included faculty from the Stevens Institute of Technology, Stanford University, Carnegie Mellon University, University of Washington, and the University of Tokyo. Because as many countries are considering the federal legalization of cannabis, the risk of impaired driving increases. And researchers look at smartphone technology to combat collisions and injuries.

The plan for the technology is not to give it to law enforcement. But instead to develop an app that will create alerts. For example, if your smartphone suspects you might be intoxicated, it can start sending you messages. Like “call an Uber” to help prevent impaired driving.

Why Is It Hard to Test for Cannabis Sobriety?

There have been some field devices invented that are supposed to be like a weed breathalyzer. But accurately detecting THC levels if you are pulled over hasn’t been perfected yet. And that is because sobriety for cannabis is much more complicated than alcohol.

One of the first challenges is people who use medical marijuana. Because if you use even a small amount of cannabis medicinally (not enough to get impaired), you will assess positive for THC even though you may be completely alert and safe to drive.

Long-term cannabis users can intake no THC and test positive for the drug. People who have only consumed a small amount of cannabis (but have a low tolerance and body weight) can become more easily impaired.

But marijuana is absorbed by the body in different ways than alcohol is.  In terms of THC blood levels, they can drop quickly. However, that is because cannabis is rapidly absorbed and hangs around in fat and brain cells.

Don’t guess whether you are cannabis sober. Call Lyft or Uber if you must go somewhere. Or just follow the time-honored tradition of grabbing a snack, some water, and sitting on the couch. Rather than going out if you are not sure how high you are.

Featured Image: Canva

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