Can your mobile detect if you are high?


 | Last revised

Sep, 2021

Technology has come a long way since the days of the indestructible Nokia 3310. While the battery life may still be unrivalled, the advancements we’ve seen with smartphones over the last two decades is nothing short of amazing.

But it may come as a surprise that your smartphone may be able to detect cannabis intoxication through the phone’s sensor data, which is similar to what’s used in GPS systems.

A study conducted by New Jersey’s Rutgers Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Ageing Research, found that a combination of time tracking features and smartphone sensor data provided a 90% accuracy rate in detecting impairment.

The researchers analysed daily data collected from young adults using cannabis at least twice per week. They found that time of day and day of the week had 60% accuracy in detecting self-reporting of cannabis intoxication. When combined with smartphone sensor data, the results showed 90% accuracy [1].

Even though the research is still in its infancy, it does beg the question; can emerging technology be used as an alternative to roadside mouth swabs for detecting impaired driving?

Current drug-driving laws do not encompass medical cannabis use

While medicinal cannabis laws have swiftly moved forward in Australia, the roadside drug testing protocols have been left by the wayside.

Given the current legislation does not have provisions for medical cannabis patients, these outdated rules could be considered unfit-for-purpose and unfairly targeting people who are doing the right thing.

There must be a fair and effective policy that is not a one-size-fits-all approach with regards to driving and cannabis consumption.

Unfortunately, driving legislation isn’t moving forward as quickly as the cannabis industry.

In fact, they seem to be moving backwards in some jurisdictions. A recently proposed South Australian drug-driving law could see medicinal cannabis patients who return a positive roadside drug test lose their licence on the spot.

The proposed legislation infers that you are under the influence if you test positive and your driving ability is impaired. In this system, presence equals impairment, and this is simply not true.

In fact, researchers from the Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics found that CBD is safe for driving and that the effects of THC intoxication lasted up to four hours [2]. Of course, these are based on clinical findings and are subject to variations such as the amount of cannabis consumed and individual physiology.

Cannabis and driving: how long will it stay in my system?

Due to varying physiological factors, there is no accurate answer as to how long THC can be detected.

A recent article published in the Australian Journal of General Practice reviewed the scientific evidence regarding cannabis and driving impairment. The article states that THC is typically detectable in oral fluid 4–6 hours after smoking or vaporising cannabis. However, this is not a hard and fast rule and depends on various factors such as metabolism, how long since your last meal, and even salivary composition and flow rate [3].

In heavy cannabis users, THC may be detectable in oral fluid for up to three days following abstinence. In blood, THC is commonly detectable for anywhere from seven to 30 days after ceasing consumption. THC may be detectable in urine for up to 24 days, depending on the test’s sensitivity [3].

However, the literature suggests that CBD does not impair driving. A recent on-road study showed no impairment to driving ability when given alone in the form of vaporised CBD-dominant cannabis [3].

Driving change and moving forward

The Cannabis Law Reform Alliance is a group of advocates and educators championing cannabis law reform across Australia.

Their first campaign is Drive Change, whose aim is to facilitate drug driving law reform to ensure that it’s fair and equitable for all members of society, including medicinal cannabis patients.

If you’re interested in learning more about the initiative, you can visit the Drive Change website. They also have a helpful resource that provides state-by-state drug-driving laws and rules.

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1. Nicole Swenarton, "Smartphone Sensor Data Has Potential to Detect Cannabis Intoxication".
2. , "Driving".
University of Sydney: Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics.
3. Thomas R Arkell, Danielle McCartney, Iain S McGregor , "Medical cannabis and driving".
Australian Journal of General Practice.


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Disclaimer. While we strive to relay the most factual education available, this shouldn’t replace official medical or legal consultation and recommendation. This is for educational and entertainment purposes only. Happy days.

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