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Cannabis Breathalyzers Might Be Missing the Mark

A biotechnology company is developing an impairment test that uses a VR headset.

Cannabis use, both recreational and medicinal, has increased dramatically in the United States. As more people incorporate it into their lives, businesses remain concerned about protecting their workforce from impaired employees on the job. To combat cannabis intoxication, some companies have turned to breathalyzers; it's a familiar tech, and they are accurate when testing for the presence of THC.

However, according to Ken Fichtler, CEO and founder of Gaize AI, the problem isn't the presence of THC. He says it all comes down to impairment. Fichtler says that while breathalyzers can detect THC, they don't detect impairment. This is because studies have shown that measuring THC in the body cannot be correlated to a predictable level of impairment.

Fichtler is currently developing the Gaize Cannabis Impairment Test, a video evidence impairment test that uses a VR headset to provide automated field sobriety tests. 

Each substance impacts eye movement differently, and Gaize has automated the tests to take human error out of the equation and improve accuracy. 

According to Fichtler, a human officer in lab conditions is only accurate 60%-85% of the time. He expects to detect cannabis impairment with greater than 90% accuracy with his automated test. The tech will also use machine learning to become more accurate over time. 

The device is a VR headset outfitted with eye-tracking sensors and cameras. It records video of the eye movement throughout six tests that take about five minutes to complete. Then, it takes another two minutes to analyze the data. Gaize runs the same tests as drug recognition expert officers, like tracking a stimulus moving at a prescribed rate across the field of vision and pupillary rebound dilation.

According to Fichtler, Gaize's headset provides more of a proactive solution in which safety-critical personnel could, in theory, be screened at the beginning of each shift. 

Breathalyzers only look at prior use, and cannabis affects everyone differently. For some medical uses, like anxiety, cannabis use helps people get back to their baseline. Further, THC can linger in the body for up to a month after it was last used, which confounds current testing methods.

While Gaize is focused on cannabis impairment, the company will add substances like alcohol and opiates as over-the-air software updates as they become available. 

The company hopes to have its cannabis product on the market by late summer 2022. It is currently undergoing clinical trials and in the regulatory approval process. The cost structure will be a subscription model with an upfront cost for each device. It looks like $1,000 per device and $125 per month for the software, videos and data storage. 

One of the biggest barriers for Gaize, outside of proving the tech, is education. From employers to law enforcement, people need to understand that THC doesn't behave like alcohol in the body. 

Aside from addressing workplace concerns, Fichtler believes that the lack of driver impairment technology is one of the biggest roadblocks to federal cannabis legalization. 

Gaize's Cannabis Impairment Test could be the more accurate answer to the longstanding problem.