Sometimes, a product name says it all. A new app, created by scientists from the University of Chicago, is called “Am I Stoned.” The function of the app? To determine if the user is stoned.
As cannabis becomes increasingly available in mainstream America, law enforcement officials are looking for new ways to ensure road safety and some employers are searching for methods to keep the workplace safe.
The new app, funded in part by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, hopes to help achieve these goals. Elisa Pabon, a doctoral student at the University of Chicago, presented the results from initial testing of the app this week at the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics meeting in San Diego.
“The effects of THC on performance may be subtle, so we need highly sensitive tasks to detect impairments,” Pabon said. “It is likely that the computer tasks, which took 15 to 20 minutes to complete, were more sensitive to THC impairment because they provided more opportunity to detect a drug effect.”
Although cannabis has been shown to impair memory, reaction time and attention, it is difficult to assess this impairment in a natural setting. Researchers have developed the prototype app to help cannabis users understand how the drug is affecting them through a series of phone-based tasks.
“One of our long-term goals is for the app to improve the safety of cannabis use by making individual users more aware of their impairment,” said research leader Harriet de Wit, professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience at the University of Chicago. “By gathering data from users in the field, the app will also contribute to the overall scientific knowledge in terms of how cannabis affects users.”
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The researchers examined the usefulness of various tasks in assessing impairment in a controlled laboratory environment. They asked 24 healthy non-daily cannabis users to consume a capsule containing a placebo or 7.5 or 15 milligrams of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the ingredient in cannabis that makes people high. The study participants then completed standardized computer-based tasks known to detect impairment as well as app-based tasks on an iPhone, which could be used for briefer assessments outside of the laboratory. Neither the participants nor the researchers knew who received the placebo and who received THC.
The researchers successfully detected impairments from THC using three of the four computer tasks and one of the iPhone tasks. The study also showed that users were generally aware of their impairment.
Although the app is not intended to predict a person’s ability to drive or engage in activities that may cause harm, the researchers do plan to use what they are learning to develop an app that people can use to assess their own performance. This would require a person to complete the tasks when sober to provide personalized baseline information that could be used in the future to assess their level of impairment after using cannabis.