“In the course of that research, I discovered that there was no device that could detect cannabis impairment in real-time. I'm supportive of cannabis legalization, and this seemed like a huge risk for the industry.”
Over two thirds of states in America have legalized cannabis for medical or recreational use. Even as cannabis becomes more mainstream concerns have been raised about the full impact of such a move. And truthfully speaking, it will be another handful of years before we can have the full picture. That said, considerable strides have been made to determine how legalization has so far affected prevalence of use, teen use of cannabis, impaired driving, concomitant use of other substances, crime and suicide rates and public health in general.
As more states move to legalize cannabis, impaired driving and road safety (DUI) have become of great concern . This has precipitated the need to understand the extent to which cannabis use contributes to traffic collisions, injuries, and deaths. As Ken Fichtler shares in this interview, for the longest time there wasn’t any device that could detect cannabis impairment in real-time. But that's until Gaize, seeing the gap, created one that can do the job. Ken is the founder and CEO of Gaize and in this interview he discusses his journey into the cannabis industry and tells us more about Gaize.
As a brief introduction, how did your career path lead you to the cannabis industry?
I served as the Director of Economic Development for the State of Montana for the four years prior to starting Gaize. In that role, I was tasked with understanding what the impacts to the state would be from cannabis legalization (at the time Montana was a medical only state). In the course of that research, I discovered that there was no device that could detect cannabis impairment in real-time. I'm supportive of cannabis legalization, and this seemed like a huge risk for the industry. Without such a device, law enforcement officials had huge, legitimate concerns about impaired driving. Similarly, business owners were concerned about expanding rates of cannabis use impacting the safety of their businesses. The problem looked interesting and like a large market opportunity, so when my job with the state was over, I decided to work on solving it.
Briefly introduce Gaize and the unique role that the company is playing in moving the cannabis industry forward.
Gaize is an impairment detection device that works by measuring eye movement changes that are associated with impairment. Each drug, including cannabis, has a unique way in which it impacts eye movement. We created an automated eye test based on the tests that law enforcement officers have been using for decades. When cannabis users look at Gaize, the first reaction is typically that we're a threat. This is not true, and we're explicitly in favor of cannabis legalization. The real threat is the status quo. What currently happens when someone is pulled over for impaired driving and cannabis use is suspected, is that the person is placed under arrest and subjected to a blood draw. Any regular cannabis user will always have THC in their body over the legal limit that some states have established. There is absolutely no science that shows that any amount of THC in the body is correlated to any predictable level of impairment. Since regular cannabis users will always have THC in their body, this is typically enough to convict them of DUI, even if the person was not impaired at the time of arrest. This is a terrible situation that is manifesting in lawsuits all across the US and Canada (see State of Washington vs. Frazer for an example). Gaize enables the detection of impairment only as it is being experienced. This is a radically more objective and fair solution for cannabis users.
Gaize recently concluded the largest clinical trial on clinical impairment. Can you tell us a bit about the study and whether the results were surprising in any way?
Yes, Gaize recently conducted the world's largest clinical trial on cannabis impairment. It included 350 participants and in the study, we captured a baseline reading using our device, then the participants got high using recreationally available cannabis. We then captured several additional measurements using our device. There have been many surprising findings from the study, but we haven't yet released results in the form of an academic paper. While this is in process and I don't want to blow any of the surprises in it, I will say that we've found that the indicators of impairment that law enforcement officers look for in a Drug Recognition Expert evaluation are not the most accurate measures of cannabis impairment that we've found. Our data has led us down new pathways and we're very excited by the findings.
Car insurance premiums seem to have dropped in states that have a legal medical cannabis program. What can you make of this? https://www.marijuanamoment.net/medical-marijuana-legalization-linked-to-reduced-drunk-driving-and-safer-roads-study-on-auto-insurance-data-suggests/#:~:text=Auto%20insurance%20premiums%20decreased%20in,driving%E2%80%94contrary%20to%20prohibitionist%20 arguments.
This was a fascinating finding, and is something that we're keeping an eye on. First though, it's important to note that it is very clear that driving while high on cannabis is dangerous. There are several studies that verify this, including one that came out last year that seemed to have particularly good study design. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35080588/). That said, it's also clear that cannabis is less dangerous to drive under the influence of than alcohol. That's not particularly surprising, but it is important. We can hypothesize that drivers substitute alcohol for cannabis, and that this may be the cause of the reduced premiums, but I don't think that we have enough data to know for sure at this point. Further research is certainly required in this area, but this is an encouraging direction.
What's next for Gaize?
Gaize has been doing product development and the clinical trial for the last two years. We launched the product yesterday, and are now preparing to ship the device to our first customers. The next steps for the company are to ensure that our product is working well for our customers, and then to continue to advance the product. We intend to do this through more machine learning analysis of our current data, and through acquiring new data in additional clinical trials. We'll add data for each other class of impairing substance, including opiates, alcohol, stimulants, and depressants in order to create a single device that can detect impairment from any substance.
It was a great pleasure to have this conversation with Ken Fichtler, CEO of Gaize . Readers who wish to keep up with Gaize are welcome to visit their website.