As the cannabis industry booms, cannabis users, law enforcement officers, parents, and business stakeholders are all revisiting the issue of marijuana use detection. Some parents are concerned about a child who may be using too much cannabis and want to know the signs of use (or confirm them) in order to keep that loved one safe. In professional and law enforcement circles, policies and practices exist to detect marijuana use even as legislation of medical and/or recreational marijuana evolves. This article will explore some physical and behavioral signs of a person under the influence of cannabis as well as the latest technologies used for detection.
Everyone is affected differently by marijuana use, and there are many factors that determine how high someone looks or acts. A person’s weight and physical health intensify the effects of marijuana, as well as whether he or she has been drinking, his/her level of hydration, the kind of strain used, the amount of weed taken, the method used to ingest, and other factors. Although physical and mental signs may strongly suggest a person is stoned, some effects might be caused by use of other drugs or alcohol, or they may be symptoms of a health condition.
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Physical Signs of Someone Who is High
First of all, the smell of weed usually indicates a person has just used. Cannabis has a distinct smoky yet sweet smell, and it tends to cling to clothing. If a person smokes in a non-ventilated place, he/she will smell skunky. However, someone can smoke outside, change clothes, ingest edibles, use a tincture, or vaporize; in such cases, it would be impossible to confirm a person used cannabis based on the scent alone.
Looking at the eyes is often a good indication of someone who is high. The eyes are usually red and bloodshot, or they can be watery. Some people are more prone to these effects than others, yet it is possible to be incredibly high without this ocular sensitivity. Of course, someone with allergies can look high, so without a more invasive test (such as saliva, blood or urine collection) confirming cannabis in the person’s system, one cannot assume that he/she has used marijuana. Pupils may also be slightly dilated, but again this depends on the user and possible use of other drugs.
Image: Example of red eyes after cannabis use
Cannabis tends to make a person hungry, so increased appetite is another key sign to look for. Affectionately known as the “munchies”, most weed users might experience an intense hunger after ingesting even if they have just eaten a substantial meal.
Another sign to look for is someone fumbling with physical tasks, since marijuana can impact physical coordination and reduce response time. Usually law enforcement officers or managers supervising employees in work settings that tend to be hazardous are trained to look for specific signs and how to intervene according to policy. Some users do experience physiological responses that might go undetected unless they tell someone else, such as an increased heart rate.
Behavioral Signs of Someone Who is High
Some of the behavioral signs range from subtle to pronounced. High people may be noticeably giggly, relaxed, and calm, while some might be energetic. Cannabis can reduce perceptive abilities, so a person who seems to be overlooking visual cues that might seem obvious to others just might be under the influence of marijuana. Unfortunately, a small percentage of people experience paranoia after using weed, so this might be an easy sign to spot. Of course, it would be important to distinguish if there is another source of the paranoia such as mental illness or another drug used in conjunction with the marijuana. Anxiety is another potential behavior that might manifest; the person may or may not express this anxiety.
Historically, testing was dependent on laboratory analysis involving saliva, urine, hair, or blood samples, and they required some turn-around time awaiting the results. However, there are companies like Hound Labs and Cannabix Technologies which are redefining detection and currently in the clinical trial stage with cutting edge digital detection devices. Their products make the tests of yesteryear look simplistic and outdated, but they may not be cost friendly options for many smaller companies. Hound Labs (https://houndlabs.com/product-overview/) claims to have the first alcohol and marijuana breathalyzer; it collects one sample for immediate analysis and one for future analysis. Hound Labs’ device also identifies the peak point of a person’s impairment. Cannabix Technologies (http://www.cannabixtechnologies.com/thc-breathalyzer.html) is developing mobile breath testing equipment that promises results within minutes. Both Hound Labs and Cannabix Technologies products are small, battery-operated devices and are leading other companies in detection innovation. They are targeting law enforcement agencies and work organizations as potential markets for their products.
The Draeger Drug Test 5000 (https://www.draeger.com/en-us_us/Home) has received both acclaim and criticism. Draeger’s model is also another high-tech device designed to detect THC using saliva. It can detect THC in someone’s system up to six hours after use, and it tests for several kinds of drugs. However, pilot studies revealed a significant number of false-positive and false-negative results when some studies were conducted in colder climates. This product suggests advanced detection testing still has a long way to go to catch up with other developments in the cannabis industry.
Examples of some “middle of the road” testing kits include various urine and saliva tests that are suitable for home and workplace use. Panel T-Cup Urine Strips that cost about $156 are quick and effective for employers and parents to use, but the drawback is that it is unhygienic and requires supervision to ensure that the suspected person is providing the urine (rather than a friend). The 6 Panel SalivaConfirm Premium Salvia Drug Test costs $173.75. Like other saliva drug tests, it monitors for a few drugs such as cocaine and opiates. Such tests provide affordable options to markets who need quick spot checks when drug use is suspected by random employees.
Knowing the physical and behavioral signs of cannabis use is important, and there are many detection tools available whether you are a parent, guardian of a child, professional, or law enforcement agent. The push for detection testing will continue to be based on the health concerns of individuals, driving safety, and workplace safety. Given the cannabis industry’s growth and upcoming developments in cannabis law and drug testing employment policies, we will most likely see technical advances in specialized devices that solely focus on marijuana use and exclude other substances like alcohol or cocaine; can distinguish between the strains of sativa and indica; identify levels of THC at different times prior to a critical incident; and account for other subtleties of use and effects.