Medical tech could help police detect if drivers are using marijuana

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Medical technology used to determine cognitive impairment could help law enforcement determine if a driver is impaired by marijuana.

Legal blood level limits for drivers under the influence of alcohol have been around for decades. This is not the case with marijuana.

The same goes for road tests. As marijuana use becomes more acceptable, the number of Georgians driving high in THC, the active chemical in marijuana, is increasing.

A CDC report found that from 2014 to 2018, the number of people who admit to driving under the influence of marijuana increased by nearly 50%.

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Kristin Weber is director of strategic business accounts for medical technology company Cognivue.

Weber said Channel 2’s Tom Regan the tests must be different because THC affects each person in a different way.

“They can say at 0.08 your ability is impaired for driving. but with THC, it affects people differently, whether you’re a regular user, a new user, or have other drugs involved. All of this will affect you differently,” Weber said.

Cognivue is behind a research effort on cognitive screening to help determine if a driver is impaired by marijuana.

Cognivue’s technology is currently used by healthcare professionals to analyze brain function and detect early signs of cognitive decline and dementia.

Dr. Jason Agran is Cognivue’s Chief Medical Officer. He explained the computer program screens for cognitive disorders.

“If there is a suggestion of cognitive impairment, that could potentially guide therapeutic applications or further testing,” Agran explained. “An MRI tells you gross brain dysfunction or changes in the volume of structures. It tells you more about the actual process going on in cognition.

The test is self-administered. Patients move a steering wheel on a screen through a series of tasks including matching symbols, patterns, letters and words.

The tasks measure visual acuity, short-term memory, and executive functioning. All of these factors can be mitigated in impaired drivers, including drivers who use a lot of marijuana.

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Tom O’Neill, President and CEO of Cognivue, gave Channel 2 a first-hand look at how technology works.

“We’re using the expertise we have to identify and test for cognitive impairment, and we’re trying to use this technology to help law enforcement keep roads and highways safe,” O’Neill said.

As expected, a police road cognitive test would be conducted on a laptop computer, such as a tablet.

Agran said that would not be the only factor in deciding if a driver is intoxicated.

“As part of the field sobriety review, this gives another independent and fair data point to our colleagues in law enforcement,” Agran said.

This type of cognitive screen has been effective in the medical field for years, but a prominent DUI lawyer, William Head, told Channel 2 he doesn’t think it would be a useful tool for law enforcement.

“I don’t think it will prove a deficiency at all. I don’t think it can do that,” Head said.

head says Channel 2 that about 5% of its cases involve THC alteration. He said a computerized roadside test, apart from being voluntary, would also be impractical.

“How are you going to focus totally on that screen when a tractor-trailer is driving by? ” He asked.

He also said that this type of test would not hold up in court.

“You might be able to show that they have some slowing in reaction time, but you can’t quantify how that’s someone using marijuana,” he said.

Cognivue tested the screening device on drug-impaired participants last year and is now working with police and the New York State Legislature to get the program approved.

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