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The future of marijuana sobriety tests may be a brain scan

"While it requires further study, we believe brain-based testing could provide an objective, practical and much needed solution," says Doctor Jodi Gilman.

BOSTON — Editor's note: The above video is from Dec. 3, 2021.

Researchers say brain scans may become the new way police test motorists to see if they're too high on marijuana to drive.

In a study published on Jan. 11 by Massachusetts General Hospital, researchers say that by scanning the brain, they can reliably identify people who are impaired due to the presence of the psychoactive chemical in marijuana called THC.

During the study, researchers scanned the brain activity of 169 marijuana users before and after giving them either oral THC or a placebo.

According to researchers, participants in the study who were given THC and said they were intoxicated had a specific signature in their brain activity, while those who said they weren't did not have the same signature.

After training computers to recognize the signature, researchers said the machines were able to match those who reported being intoxicated and those "clinically assessed" as being impaired 76% of the time.

"While it requires further study, we believe brain-based testing could provide an objective, practical and much needed solution," said Doctor Jodi Gilman from the Center for Addictive Medicine.

“Companies are developing breathalyzer devices that only measure exposure to cannabis but not impairment from cannabis,” Gilman continued. “We need a method that won’t penalize medical marijuana users or others with insufficient amounts of cannabis in their system to impair their performance."

Researchers say that while the study did not specifically analyze the technique for testing intoxicated drivers on the side of the road, it did cite "considerable advantages for such an application" with inexpensive, lightweight and battery-powered devices.

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