Protections Needed for Cannabis Users on Their Own Time, Based on Science

I wrote the following in support of two bills in the Oregon State Legislature that would protect cannabis patients and adults who use legally off-the-job from losing employment due to a failed drug test. As all cannabinoid medicine specialists know, presence of THC in the blood, saliva or urine does not equal impairment.

Allowing the termination of an employee because they used a legal substance on their own time should be viewed as a fundamental violation of a citizen’s rights.  If an employee is using a disabling substance at work (e.g., alcohol, cannabis) and is impaired, it should be allowable for an employer to terminate an employee.  To allow the use of a drug test that does not measure impairment to serve as the basis for an employee’s termination is totally illegitimate.

We need to move away from biological drug testing to measuring actual impairment.  Drug testing for cannabis does not measure impairment, just past use that could be weeks prior to the testing.  Drug testing does not reduce drug use.  What is needed is a paradigm shift in thinking about impairment testing.  Please see this article in the Hartford Courant

With the legalization of cannabis, it has become clear that there is no cannabis “breathalyzer” that measures impairment.  The 2017 U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report to Congress acknowledges that THC blood levels do not predict impairment and have no scientific basis (p. 28, NHTSA Report).  Similarly, saliva or urine tests for THC measure the presence of a molecule in the body, but not test whether the person is impaired.

I have developed a new public health app that is an objective 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 measures reaction time, decision making, hand-eye coordination, time estimation and balance, and then statistically integrates hundreds of data points into an overall impairment score. DRUID takes just two minutes.

DRUID was featured on the PBS News Hour and in Wired magazine. DRUID is the Gold Standard for impairment testing.  Cannabis researchers at Yale, Brown, Johns Hopkins, WSU and UC Boulder are using DRUID in their labs.  I have attached graphs that show how DRUID performs (download the PDF below).

Earlier this month the National Institute on Health/National Institute on Drug Abuse awarded me $224,000 in funding for my Small Business Innovation Research grant proposal for DRUID.

My colleagues at Washington State University have developed a THC assay device using ion mobility spectrometry, and together we are working with the Cannabis Alliance in Washington state to implement a workplace safety testing program.  

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.

As the director for safety of a steel mill I was talking to said, when imagining pitching an actual measure of impairment to his workers: “Wouldn’t you like to know that the guy who is sending two tons of steel your way has all his wits about him?”  Instead of using drug testing to try to prevent employees from using a legal substance, and instead of dropping testing for cannabis impairment, why not measure actual impairment?

Dr. Michael Milburn is the CSO and founder of the DRUID Application and retired professor of Psychology at University of Massachusetts Boston. He earned his PhD at Harvard University.