Ari Kirschenbaum is a professor of psychology at Saint Michael’s College – informally known as St Mike’s – in Vermont in the northeastern United States. He has developed an app named Indicator that gauges how high you are. This is what he did with the $224,000 National Science Foundation grant he received in September 2020.

Saint Michael's College in Vermont, where an app was developed to measure how high you are. Photo: Meet in Vermont

Saint Michael’s College in Vermont, where an app was developed to measure how high you are. Photo: Meet in Vermont

The app can be downloaded for free. Vermont is one of the 16 states and the unstate of the District of Columbia to have legalised cannabis for recreational purposes.

The app became available to the public this month. It uses what Professor Kirschenbaum terms “neuro games” to measure how high you are on the grounds of the effect cannabis has on cognitive functions and motor skills. THC, the ingredient of cannabis that makes you high, impairs such things as concentration, focus, response time and time perception. These games are the product of around 40 years of laboratory research where participants received controlled doses of cannabinoids. They have been whittled down to “a rapid neurocognitive testing procedure.” People will play these games sober and then while high, demonstrating the difference.

Alcohol intake can be measured. Until cannabis breathalysers take off, the same is not true of cannabis: you can’t reliably tell how high you are. When the state of Noo Yawk recently made recreational cannabis legal, two mayors, one a Democrat, preferred to “opt out” due to fears over the effect of cannabis use on driving.

The motivation for creating the app was to make roads safer, although Professor Kirschenbaum remarked that cannabis “helps to relieve suffering for a wide variety of conditions, and that list of conditions is growing.” He cautioned that the app doesn’t explicitly tell someone if they’re fit to drive or not. Its aim is to “quantify what it means to be high.” All the app does is “collect information about how cannabis and THC alter neuropsychological functioning.” Professor Kirschenbaum just wants to promote safe and informed cannabis use by showing folk how high they are. After all, “a better informed society is a better society, in my opinion.”

Originally, Professor Kirschenbaum undertook the work “as a concerned father of a teenager wanting to make the roads safer.” He became even more interested when he was struck by cancer in 2019. This caused him to realise that many people receive great benefits from cannabis medically, and they might worry about how it could “affect their day-to-day skills and abilities for better and for worse.” He feels that inexperienced users are particularly vulnerable and need to know how high they are.

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