Right now, no breathalyzer for pot exists. Instead, cops can pull you over on the assumption that you’re high. In some states, certain types or policeman are specially trained to sniff out cannabis – they put the driver through a roadside sobriety test designed for drugs (not merely marijuana but meth, heroin, cocaine, etc.). This works sometimes – police catch people who decided to dab and drive. But it also results in some level of unfairness. It’s not unheard of (or all that difficult) to fail a roadside sobriety test even when you’re stone-cold sober; some people’s nerves get the best of them. Unlike beer or wine, THC lingers in the system for days (sometimes weeks), long after any psychoactivity has passed. This does two things. First, it likely over-inflates how many car accidents are related to weed. Second, it prevents authorities from knowing whether someone was breaking the law. But several companies are working to fix this.
Two Startups Developing a Breathalyzer for Weed
According to CBS, two of the companies tossing their hat into the ring include Hound Labs and Cannabix Technologies. Both of these companies are startups that are developing handheld, small devices complete with tubes. They are designed to be used similarly to alcohol breathalyzers, with the drivers blowing into the tube as the authorities gauge if they’ve consumed cannabis recently…very recently.
This is the company that funded Uber and Tinder, two companies that have seen wild success. With this financial backing, Hound Labs has already begun clinical trials with the help of the University of California, San Francisco.
The Hound device won’t only detect cannabis in the breath, but it’ll detect alcohol too. And, as the trials are proving successful, Hound Labs predicts that they’ll be selling their product by the end of the year. The device will cost between $600 and $800 and will be sold to police departments. Employers who want to purchase them will also be able to. They assume the market for the latter will rest in recreational states, states where employers may want to test bus drivers and delivery drivers before their shifts begin.
Unlike breathalyzers that may simply detect the presence of THC, the Hound Labs device detects the levels of THC in parts per trillion. The way the device works is fairly simple: it detects the THC molecules in the breath, molecules that are present for about two hours after pot consumption. This is vital, as the two-hour window coincides with actual impairment. Other forms of testing, as alluded above, can determine whether a person consumed THC, but not when they consumed it. Urine, blood, and saliva samples might detect THC weeks later, well after any impairment has ended.
A Canadian company is also working to develop the first breathalyzer for pot: Cannabix Technologies is working on a device that measures THC molecules in a manner similar to the one described above. Cannabix has partnered with the Yost Research Group at the University of Florida to design a device based on “high-field mobility” and “mass spectrometry.”
The Need for a Solution
Medical and recreational marijuana use is becoming legal across various jurisdictions in North America and globally. This is presenting a significant challenge to law enforcement to keep our roads safe from drugged drivers. -Cannabix Technologies Inc.
Science still lacks data correlating the presence of THC and actual impairment. Getting such data could cost millions of dollars in human trials, and the effects of the drug vary tremendously between users. “There is understandably a strong desire by both lawmakers and the public to create legal limits for marijuana impairment, in the same manner as we do with alcohol,” said Marshall Doney, head of the American Automobile Association, in a landmark 2016 analysis. “In the case of marijuana, this approach is flawed and not supported by scientific research,” Doney added.It’s not clear exactly how much THC, leads to impairment, but one study showed that drivers under the influence of marijuana had increased weaving with levels 13.1ug/L (micrograms/liter) THC. The breathalyzer also works with edibles, which affect the bloodstream, and which also usually last longer than smoking. With a handheld device, the breathalyzer isolates THC from the breath via a disposable cartridge. When the analysis is complete, the measurement displays on a screen.