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Fitness for Duty Summit highlights cannabis impairment tests and tools

Angela Gismondi
Fitness for Duty Summit highlights cannabis impairment tests and tools
ANGELA GISMONDI — Connor Page, business development manager at DriverCheck, spoke about impairment testing technologies that are in development at the recent Fitness for Duty Summit.

With the legalization of cannabis coming into effect in a week, there is widespread concern in the construction industry surrounding fitness for duty, but one organization says new innovations in impairment testing are on the horizon.

DriverCheck Inc., which provides medical testing and assessments, held a Fitness for Duty Summit in Milton, Ont. on Oct. 3 and 4, ahead of the Oct. 17 legalization date.

Connor Page, business development manager at DriverCheck, hosted a session billed as the Quest for an Impairment Test, where he discussed available and emerging technologies.

“I’m here to tell you that we’ll get better and I’ll tell you why — because we’re on the quest for an impairment test, a quest I would argue that should have been completed prior to legalization,” said Page. “The future is bright because there are new and emerging devices that are on the market or almost on the market.”

The legalization of cannabis has been a little rushed, he noted.

“Despite extensive industry pressure from a coalition of companies, the government has basically been silent on workplace safety and they have not equipped any of you with the tools you need to maintain a healthy and safe workplace,” said Page.

“It’s going to result in a patchwork of a variety of standards from different industries across Canada. This is all going to have to be resolved through arbitrations and court cases and it’s going to take years to figure out what can we do to maintain a healthy and safe workplace,” said Page.

He discussed a few examples of companies focused on finding solutions for impairment testing and assessment tools of the future. Tests measure the level of THC, the component of the marijuana that impairs, in a variety of ways including oral fluid, breathalyzers and cognitive assessment tools.

“Whatever we discuss today may not go into effect until five years down the road,” said Page. “It won’t be a one-size-fits-all. There are going to be many different solutions.”

Medella Health is developing an oral fluid device using nanotechnology that is an electrochemical sensor instead of the traditional instant tests that are being used today, explained Page.

“They are hoping to get a quantitative result available in 10 minutes, so not just is it negative or is it positive, but an actual quantitative measure of cannabis in the system,” he said.

A program through York University called Innovation York also has an oral fluid device in development. It uses thermal imaging to improve the sensitivity, specificity and accuracy of the instant test.

“What is really cool about this is that we can use the existing instant tests that we have. What they’re doing is producing a new reader to read those tests,” said Page, adding the test would be inexpensive to roll out across Canada. “This could be a game-changer. It could be very effective for workplace programs.”

Cannabix Technologies and Hound Labs are both developing breathalyzers.

“Cannabix uses mass spectrometry technology, the exact same technology that is used in the lab today. They are taking a massive half-a-million-dollar piece of equipment and making it roadside,” Page explained. “Hound Labs is actually combining the alcohol and the cannabis breathalyzer together.”

StannTek is using an electro chemical nano sensor that outputs a signal when the THC molecule is present and the signal changes based on the concentration of the THC.

“That means they are able to get a quantitative level,” said Page, adding it would also be portable. “The window of detection they’re looking for is two to six hours for breath — acute impairment — and it’s focused on workplace applications.”

He also talked about cognitive assessment tools. Workplace Impairment Solutions is taking what law enforcement is doing and trying to apply that to the workplace.

“They have developed a DRE (Drug Recognition Expert)-like training program that companies can use to train designated people in their company,” said Page.

“Their training package is complete but their app is still in development. You use the app to record your observations and it will tell you whether this individual is impaired or not.

“The goal is to have more defensible positions for arbitrations and court cases.”

Another cognitive device is in development by Zentrela, an Ontario Centre of Excellence-funded company. They are thinking of using it as a confirmatory test, Page indicated.

“The whole idea behind this is impairment is impairment. I don’t care how much THC you have in your system, I am going to look at your brain waves,” Page said. “This solves the problem of you of getting an agreed cut off level of THC in the system to be considered impairment.”

DriveABLE has two products, one is market-ready and the other is in development.

“This company evolved from an eight-year research study out of the University of Alberta,” said Page. “The market-ready product is a computer-based cognitive tool that is used as a screening tool to identify driver risk from drug use, medical issues and other forms of impairment.”

In development is a mobile tool that can screen for broader impairment.

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Michael Milburn Image Michael Milburn

I have developed a new public health app that is a general measure of impairment from cannabis or any source–anything that impairs reaction time, hand-eye coordination, balance and the ability to perform divided attention tasks–it is called DRUID (an acronym for “DRiving Under the Influence of Drugs”) available now in the App Store and in Google Play. DRUID statistically integrates hundreds of data points into an overall impairment score and takes just 2 minutes. Our website is http://www.druidapp.com

DRUID allows cannabis users (or others who drink alcohol, use prescription drugs, etc.) to self-assess their own level of impairment and (hopefully) decide against driving if they are impaired. Prior to DRUID, there was no way for an individual to accurately assess their own level of impairment.

After obtaining my Ph.D. at Harvard, I have been a professor of psychology at UMass/Boston for the past 40 years, specializing in research methods, measurement and statistics.

Michael Milburn, Professor
Department of Psychology
UMass/Boston

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