The App That Tells You When You’re Too High to Drive
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For decades, testing a drunk driver has been easy: give a driver a blood test and if they have a high blood/alcohol concentration, you know they’re impaired and could cause an accident. But cannabis is different. THC levels can spike and leave the bloodstream in less than three hours, but its impairing effects can last for up to three times that. So, if blood tests don’t work, what does?
To find out, we spoke to Andres Kukawka, Founder and CEO of Otorize Ltd., an app company that has developed the “first proven solution for detecting cognitive impairment”.
Leo Bear-McGuinness (LBM): The Otorize app is available internationally, but doesn’t every country have their own driving under the influence laws?
Andres Kukawka (AK): Yes, in North America, the UK, and most of Europe, they have what is called the legal limit when you talk about alcohol. In the US, it’s 8%, in Israel it is 2.4%, in Canada it is somewhere in between, Europe is 4%, and England is 3.4%. So that means a cop can stop you, measure your alcohol levels with a breathalyzer and know if you are above or below the limit. But that limit is not a scientifically set measure, it is a political one. The fact that in the US it is 8% and in Israel is 2.4%, doesn’t mean that Americans can physiologically drink more than Israelis without impairment. For instance, some people are impaired after two or three drinks, and some others can drink eight or nine beers before they’re impaired. LBM: Is cannabis any different? AK: Well, the chemistry of alcohol and the chemistry of cannabis are completely different. In cannabis, the THC gets attached to protein in fat cells; and in that case, every one of us is completely different. So that means that the THC stays in your body and physiologically affects the individual differently from person to person. So, if you look at what they are doing in Canada, they measure five micrograms of blood, which is a miniscule amount, and if it’s below zero outside, it won’t be recordable because it freezes before it gets to the equipment. The physiology plays a massive role. So two people can smoke at 8 am, one could be fine two hours later while the other person will have to wait twelve hours, simply because it affects their systems differently.
LBM: So how does the Otorize app address these issues?
AK: We use a cognitive test - 100% digital. So, when we test an individual, we can say that they are cognitively impaired at this moment. If they go to get water, a coffee, eat something, they’re fine. After five drinks, not so. And the same is with cannabis. How long have you been using cannabis? What strain? How strong have you smoked it? What time of day? What did you eat before? All these things are so important, for example, if you ate some fatty foods, you’ll react differently. Some people are impaired fifteen minutes after they smoke, others take hours. At Otorize, we say “let’s get the technology and science to a place that we can measure impairment”, because if the individual is impaired, he or she cannot drive or operate heavy equipment or enter sensitive labs etc. The issue is health and safety.
LBM: The Otorize app is the “first proven solution for detecting cognitive impairment”. What does that mean?
AK: We use a test from the field of psychiatry and psychology, which measures from cognitive status to IQ. When we came up with the idea for Otorize, we wanted some kind of dramatic solution to all these people being killed by drunk drivers or in the workplace and we started searching. We researched about 100 different people from psychiatry and neurology until I found Dr. Netzer Hiram, who is our partner today. I said, “Look, let’s find a scientific solution”, and we learned that a study in Australia did six cognitive tests and they tested individuals against blood/alcohol concentration and they found a direct correlation between failure in the cognitive tests and higher measurements of blood/alcohol concentration. When we reviewed that science, we saw that these tests are easier to implement digitally, on mobile phones, tablets, etc. So, we did a field test of our own. We invited about 200 people to come into a pub in Jerusalem and we told them that the only condition is they have to test themselves every time they get a new drink. You come, you get a coupon, you get a drink, before that you test yourself. And if you leave the premises, we test you on the way out; we even had some people be completely impaired and we ordered them a taxi to go home. We found out that 57% of the people are impaired after one drink. But the issue is that without our app, they wouldn’t be able to measure that. Now we can give our app to an individual and they can have a drink, they can test themselves and they can see that they’re impaired.
LBM: And what are your long-term goals? Will you move into lobbying?
AK: If we are invited today to talk to a regulator or law enforcement, then we’ll go. For example, we are currently running a pilot with the Royal Gibraltar Police. We’ve been running this pilot for about a month and a half and every week they are adding more and more individuals to the pilot. Then we are talking to the road safety agency here in Israel. Our goal is to, within five years or so, be strategically partnering with a series of insurance companies across the globe.
LBM: Are you talking to insurance companies about cannabis?
AK: Yes, we are. We are in very early discussions with different organizations that are in the same neighborhood as insurance companies and they have influence. An insurance company will say, “oh, this is great, but come back to us when you have ten thousand users”. They thrive on data and statistics, so at this moment we are trying to close some strategic partnerships with the fleets or with other organizations that promote the use of cannabis, we simply ask them to promote our app. Parents of young drivers are benefiting by making sure that their sons and daughters are safe, and fleet managers are benefiting from the fact that their drivers are safe, they are not causing accidents, and their business reputation is kept clean. It’s a health and safety issue, ultimately.
Andres Kukawka was speaking to Leo Bear-McGuinness, Science writer for Analytical Cannabis.
The Otorize app is currently available for free on the Google Play Store.