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New app tests how stoned you are

May 8th, 2018 | by Christopher Little
New app tests how stoned you are
Science
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If you’re a fan of the Great British Bake Off then you’ll know how difficult it is to tell when something is actually baked. Well, that same principle applies to people too. That’s why scientists from the University of Chicago have developed a prototype app that’s designed to test how stoned a cannabis user really is.

Whilst there are numerous ‘tests’ that purport to do just this scattered across the Internet, it’s safe to say that most have not been scientifically approved. BuzzFeed’s Can We Guess How High You Are Right Now?, for example, uses such rigorous questions as, “Which one weighs more? One pound of gold or one pound of dog food.”

This app, however, has not been designed with the aim of inducing the ‘giggles’. It has instead been created by researchers to help users assess the effects of cannabis on their cognitive ability.

As you’re probably aware, getting stoned can make one rather inert. In order to test just how baked somebody is the app provides cannabis users with a series of tasks that test memory, reaction time and attention span. It’s still in its development stages, but it’s already been given the catchy name of Am I Stoned (so probably best not to have it on your home screen).

The research was carried out at the University of Chicago and was funded by the United States National Institute of Drug Abuse. Co-researchers Elisa Pabon, a doctoral student, and Harriet de Wit, professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioural neuroscience, presented the app at the Experimental Biology conference in California in April.

Whereas cannabis is a Class-B drug in the UK, and has been completely illegal since 1971, the United States has been gradually relaxing its legislation on marijuana in recent years.

Pabon and de Wit explained that they carried out their research on 24 irregular marijuana users. Each participant in the trial took a capsule containing a placebo or 7.5 or 15 milligrams of terahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the active chemical in cannabis that makes people high. The participants then completed a number of computer-based tasks and app-based tasks on an iPhone that were designed to detect impairment. For example, one of the app-based tasks required the participant to use their non-dominant hand and tap two dots as fast as they could for 20 seconds.

The researchers revealed that they successfully detected impairments in THC subjects in three of the four computer-based tasks and one of the iPhone tasks.

“The effects of THC on performance may be subtle, so we need highly sensitive tasks to detect impairments,” said Pabon. “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.”

“The app will also contribute to the overall scientific knowledge in terms of how cannabis affects users”

Whereas cannabis is a Class-B drug in the UK, and has been completely illegal since 1971, the United States has been gradually relaxing its legislation on marijuana in recent years. It is now legal in nine states and Washington D.C. to use marijuana for recreational use, whilst it is legal in a further 29 states to be used for medicinal purposes.

“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 de Wit. “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.”

More research is needed, but they hope to improve the sensitivity of the phone-based tasks and have another prototype app ready by summer. Then it’s just a matter of seeing who gets the highest score…

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