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Gaize’s Virtual Reality Headset Can Tell if You’re Too High to Drive or Work Safely

January 11, 2023 08:00 am ET
Gaize’s Virtual Reality Headset Can Tell if You’re Too High to Drive or Work Safely

Gaize is mastering the art of cannabis impairment detection. The Missoula, Montana-based company is gearing up for the launch of its first science-backed real-time cannabis impairment detection device. Not only this, but Gaize recently completed the largest clinical trial into cannabis impairment, and the results are set to transform the realm of workplace and road safety.

Studies on cannabis have shown that the plant may cause disorientation, sedation, lack of concentration, and impaired judgment. Of course, this depends on a person’s level of tolerance, and while typical THC tests may only scratch the surface in terms of detecting impairment, Gaize has hit the nail on the head.

A study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse learned that 55% more industrial accidents, 75% greater absenteeism, and 85% more injuries occurred among employees who tested positive for marijuana than those who tested negative. A separate study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry found that consumption increased the risk of traffic crashes by 50%.

Fortunately, Gaize is doing final tuning on its producta portable and non-invasive testing device that scans the eyes to determine cannabis impairment. Embedded with eye-tracking sensors, the Gaize device is a specialized virtual reality (VR) headset that carries out a series of automated ocular motion and pupillary reflex tests while capturing high-resolution eye movement data and video. It is expected to be launched before the year is up.

Keen to learn more about the trial and Gaize’s innovative product, I asked CEO Ken Fichtler some questions. Here’s what he had to say.

How do you feel about this being the largest cannabis impairment clinical trial ever?

Fichtler: We feel proud to have been able to complete such a momentous project. The science in this area has been surprisingly nascent, so the addition of this large clinical trial will significantly improve the scientific understanding of how cannabis impairment manifests in the body. Since THC lingers in the body for over a month since the last use, simply measuring THC in the body is not an accurate way to measure cannabis impairment.

Many scientific studies have shown that there is no amount of THC in the body that can be reliably correlated to any predictable level of impairment. That makes THC testing totally inappropriate in places where cannabis is legal. Since legalization is proceeding at such a rapid pace, it’s incredibly important to ensure that cannabis impairment is clearly characterized in the scientific literature.

The lack of robust science and proactive dissemination of information has created an immense educational deficit amongst policy-makers. This has, in turn, directly contributed to the inappropriate THC measurement laws that have been adopted by many states and countries. Gaize is releasing a device that is extremely well suited to directly measuring the experienced impairment of cannabis users via eye movement, rather than measuring a chemical proxy like THC.

In what way(s) do you feel that your science-backed real-time cannabis impairment detection device will have an impact on road and workplace safety?

Fichtler: The core goal of Gaize is to allow for safe use. With cannabis legalization has come a clear friction between the need to maintain safe roads and workplaces and the difficulty of testing for actual impairment rather than prior use. Traditional chemical tests for THC can only show prior use and not active impairment. The need for a rapid test that can precisely measure active cannabis impairment is extremely clear, and that’s exactly what Gaize is bringing to market.

This test will allow for any law enforcement officer or business leader to discover cannabis impairment in real time. That allows for cannabis users to safely consume the substance without fear of a THC test being used against them, and it allows for roads and workplaces to be effectively policed. While impaired driving has always been a problem, the impact of effective technology to discover and characterize impairment cannot be underestimated.

Road and workplace safety aside, what other industries stand to benefit from Gaize’s device?

Fichtler: While workplace and roadside impairment testing is the primary focus of Gaize, there are many other areas in which the technology could be leveraged for societal good. Some examples include military and government use—two areas in which it’s vital that sobriety be maintained while on duty. Another area of interest is schools, where underage use could be discovered and dealt with before it causes developmental problems.

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Gaize received $1.2 million in seed funding amid recreational cannabis legalization in Montana. Why do you think investors placed so much confidence in the product?

Fichtler: Our investors are a diverse group of business owners and market makers who see the need for a real-time impairment test for cannabis. When one performs even a cursory review of the scientific literature on cannabis and the impairment it causes, it becomes very clear, very quickly, that THC tests are an extremely poor fit.

The most precise way that impairment can be measured appears to be through eye movement, so we made that the basis for Gaize. The market for an effective cannabis impairment test is massive, and the roadmap we built, which adds detection for additional substances over time, only makes the opportunity more interesting.

How does Gaize’s technology specifically measure how the eyes are impaired by cannabis? Can you briefly explain how the device works?

Fichtler: Eye movement has been known to change in response to impairment for many decades. In fact, Drug Recognition Expert police officers have used eye movement tests to discover and classify drug impairment for over 40 years. Gaize has leveraged (and massively improved upon) this understanding of how eye movement changes in response to cannabis use to build our technology. In essence, Gaize is an automated eye test that runs in a virtual reality headset.

The product captures eye movement video and data throughout the testing process. The data is then analyzed by statistical and machine learning models to produce an extremely accurate determination of impairment. The characteristics that the product measures include involuntary micromovements, pupil reflex, and response time, among others.

Test administrators do not need any special knowledge or training to use Gaize, and the results are much more accurate than even the best-trained Drug Recognition Expert police officers. The eye-tracking video is retained as evidence, which could be used in court if required.

Since tolerance plays a role in a person’s level of cannabis impairment, do you feel that the eye-tracking device offers a fair evaluation of someone’s ability to drive safely?

Fichtler: Cannabis tolerance plays a major role in the impairment that is experienced. While tolerance is certainly present in other drugs of abuse, including alcohol, cannabis tolerance is particularly pronounced. To describe it simplistically, a heavy cannabis user will experience markedly less impairment than an infrequent user, if the two consume the same amount of cannabis.

Traditional THC tests would treat these two cases the same, and in fact, the heavy cannabis user will have THC in their body for weeks after their last use. That means that, while the heavy user of cannabis could be not impaired, they could still be (and often are) charged with DUI under current rules. This is extremely problematic from an equity and justice standpoint.

Gaize completely solves this problem by only measuring how impaired the user is, and not their body’s THC content. If a user’s eye movement is exhibiting the signs of impairment, Gaize will detect that. Conversely, if a user has a high tolerance and is therefore not impaired even after having used cannabis, Gaize will not flag them as impaired. By only detecting users who are actually impaired, Gaize is a radical improvement in fairness and objectivity.

Does Gaize plan on carrying out any future clinical trials?

Fichtler: Yes, we plan to add the ability to detect additional substances over time, and we will perform additional clinical trials in conjunction with this expanded functionality. We’re planning for the next clinical trial already, and intend to significantly increase both the pace and scope of our research over time.

We are also in contact with many cannabis and impairment academic researchers who are interested in using Gaize in their work. We’re happy to have Gaize used in these clinical trials and support those however we can, including by providing the product at no cost.

Anything else you’d like to say?

Fichtler: There is a lot of confusion and misinformation about cannabis impairment. It’s important to be clear that cannabis is an impairing substance, and it can be extremely unsafe to drive on it. Using cannabis does not make anyone a better driver, and it’s deeply irresponsible to use any drug while driving. While cannabis use appears to be less dangerous than drunk driving, that doesn’t make it safe or legal. Gaize is committed to creating fair and objective technology to allow for responsible substance use.

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