The Twelve Weeks of DRE: Check For Muscle Tone

The next step in the Drug Recognition Evaluation is to check the subject’s body for muscle tone. The rationale behind this is that some drugs will make your muscles rigid and some will make them flaccid, and that will help the DRE officer determine the class or category of drug that a person has taken.

In Canada, this step is combined with the next of the twelve steps, which is to take the subject’s pulse and check for injection sites. However, as we are going by the twelve steps individually, I will deal with that next week.

What is looking for muscle tone anyway? And how does it vary from person to person? There are some people who like to tell you that they do a lot of crossfit, and they are super swol, and so they have really good muscle tone. And there are some people (like me) who really like to sit in bed, writing blog posts, while eating a twenty pack of chicken nuggets. And so their muscle tone is probably a lot more flaccid. Muscle tone tells very little about a person’s recent drug use, much less impairment by a drug, and more about a person’s personal health habits.

But a muscle tone check is also a medical evaluation. They are typically used after a stroke or injury, to see if there is any stretch reflex, contraction of muscles, and issues with movement. If you want to see how a muscle tone assessment is done, for just the arms, you can watch this video.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, at this stage of the series, the DRE does not test for muscle tone using the same method. Instead, the DRE officer simply gropes about the subject’s muscles to see if they are soft or hard. Yes, the evaluation is literally the DRE officer feeling your “guns.”

Oh, but it gets better. There are two categories of drug that supposedly cause flaccid muscle tone: CNS depressants and narcotic analgesics. A rigid muscle tone is caused by CNS stimulants, hallucinogens, and dissociative anesthetics (PCP). If you’ve been following along you know that both inhalants and cannabis are missing. This is because inhalants may cause normal or flaccid muscle tone. And cannabis, in a disturbing trend, will cause normal muscle tone.

Yes, for everyone reading in advance of cannabis legalization, if your evaluation shows that your muscle tone is normal,  as in consistent with a completely sober person, a DRE will equate that with cannabis impairment.

But problems with muscle tone can be caused by all sorts of non-drug related causes. For example, among many others, rigid muscle tone can be caused by ALS, thyroid conditions, herniated discs or spinal cord injuries, MS, calcium deficiency disease, or seizures. By contrast, flaccid muscle tone can be connected to many other sources that are not drugs but that are very common. The most common is muscle paralysis after a stroke. If you’ve read the whole series you may have seen how common stroke symptoms are in the DRE protocol.

The evaluation for muscle tone is a farce. And the results actually tell any rational person very little about whether a person is impaired or on a drug.

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