Comparison of Results from Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFST) and Roadside Saliva Drug Tests in Detecting Cannabis Use

"The SFST was mildly sensitive to the effects of cannabis alone. A dose of 400 ?g/kg body weight THC significantly increased the percentage of participants displaying impairments in OLS compared to baseline performance from 21 to 50 %. THC also increased percentage of individuals showing impairment on HGN from 0 to 15 %, relative to baseline, but this change only approached statistical significance. WAT [Walk And Turn] and the overall score on SFST did not discriminate between THC and baseline. These findings appear in line with previous studies that have reported a relation between impairment on the SFST and presence of THC in blood. A study that assessed which signs of the Drug Evaluation and Classification evaluations predicted various drug categories (including cannabis) at best showed that OLS [One-Leg Stand] contributed significantly to the prediction, but HGN [Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus] and WAT did not (Porath-Waller et al. 2009). Papafotiou et al. (2005a) assessed SFST performance in 40 healthy participants who received low and high doses of THC in a placebo-controlled study. On average, blood THC concentrations obtained after the highest dose were comparable to serum THC concentrations achieved in the present study after smoking cannabis. Yet, THC significantly affected performance on OLS, HGN, and WAT and appeared to be more prominent as compared to the current study. For example, in that study THC produced impairments on overall SFST performance in up to 50 % of the participants (Papafotiou et al. 2005a) but in only 30 % of the participants of the present study. These differences may be explained in terms of differences in cannabis use history. In the study by Papafotiou et al. (2005a), the reported frequency of cannabis use of the participants varied from once a week to once every 2–6 months. The present study however only included heavy cannabis users, who smoked cannabis on at least four occasions per week. Previous studies demonstrated that heavy cannabis users develop tolerance to the impairing effects of THC on neurocognitive measures (Hart et al. 2001; Ramaekers et al. 2011). It is likely that many of the participants who participated in the present study, in part or in total, developed tolerance to the impairing effects of THC as well. In such a scenario, the failure of the SFST to demonstrate robust effects of THC is not necessarily an indicator of poor sensitivity, but may reflect the chronic cannabis use of the participants."


Bosker, W.M., et al., "A Placebo-Controlled Study to Assess Standardized Field Sobriety Tests Performance During Alcohol and Cannabis Intoxication in Heavy Cannabis Users and Accuracy of Point of Collection Testing Devices for Detecting THC in Oral Fluid," Psychopharmacology (2012) 223:439-446.