New Tech Mirrors “Breathalizer” in Bid for Combatting Cannabis Impairment

By Brian Garcia Brian Garcia has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on January 13, 2019

The national view regarding marijuana legalization is swaying in its favor.

Cannabis use is now legal for medical purposes in 33 states and four US territories, with ten being the current number of states (plus Washington DC and the District of Columbia) having legalized its recreational use for those over 21 years of age.

While many rejoice at the news, law enforcement agencies are voicing concern that these conquests in legalization and reform are increasing the number of impaired drivers and doing so with no adequate testing device available.

The Dilemma

This is certainly a legitimate concern, but how to address it has posed the problem. Unlike other drugs, THC is absorbed into the fat cells and is detectable for weeks after use. On the other hand, the amount of time a person is affected by marijuana use is approximately two hours. Studies have shown that the peak of the high is reached 20 to 30 minutes after smoking. How, then, does one go about discovering if someone is currently impaired by the drug?

“The lack of an effective way to quantifiably measure impairment is a major problem for employers who are faced with ensuring a safe workplace in states where marijuana is legal. While they still are legally justified in conducting drug testing for a variety of reasons, including pre-employment, reasonable suspicion, and post-accident, the current testing methods only identify whether marijuana has been consumed within a certain timeframe. Unfortunately, there isn’t a way to tell whether it was an hour ago or a day ago.” says David Bell, CEO of the national drug testing company, USA Mobile Drug Testing.

To-date, the closest method is the saliva test, utilizing a mouth swab. However, it detects drugs used for 72 hours prior to the test being given.

And, in the case of the marijuana user, more than likely, it had been a couple of hours spent kicked back at home some time after work or over the weekend enjoying the buzz. A traffic stop test that alerts to drug use over a three day period will in no way prove that the driver is impaired at that moment.

That argument has been a major contender in the fight against marijuana legalization.

Seeking Solutions

Enter Hound Labs.

Founded in 2014, Hound Labs, a pioneer in the field of breath measurement technology, caused quite a stir last summer when they announced their success in creating the world’s first alcohol and marijuana breathalyzer. It captures breath once to measure both alcohol and marijuana levels with the same sensitivity of using equipment in the lab. The results are obtained in minutes and results can be printed and in hand immediately.

Scientists have anticipated the coming legalization of marijuana and have been gathering data regarding people who use the drug and the amount of time one is impaired by the effects. Some of the facts are:

  • Marijuana is 5 times more potent than 30 years ago.
  • Marijuana impairs critical driving functions.
  • There is a 200% increased risk of being involved in an automobile accident after using marijuana.
  • No matter the amount of marijuana someone smokes, the detection window for THC in breath is consistent.
  • The breath detection window coincides with the peak window of impairment.
  • Higher THC level detection does not indicate a person is “more stoned.” Any detection indicates recent use of the drug and if detected, impairment is likely.
  • Second-hand smoke is not an issue. If a driver should state they had been around marijuana smokers just prior to being stopped, a short wait of 15 minutes will prove if the truth is being told.

Hound Labs continues to do their own controlled condition testing with volunteer drivers who smoked before getting behind the wheel. In addition, they will work with a small number of police departments for field testing of the device. DOT drug testing may soon be part of an entirely new revolution in the war on drugs.

Hound Labs may be the only company claiming they have a working device ready for testing, but they are not alone in the pursuit of creating a breathalyzer technology for THC detection, Cannabix Technology, a Canadian company, hopes to bring such a device to market in the not to distant future. And, you can be sure, big investors are at the ready to bring these devices to marketable fruition! This device is anticipated to be as essential to law enforcement agencies as alcohol breathalyzers.

The Devil’s in the Details

Even with these remarkable strides made in breath detection, there will be much work to be done at many levels before everything reaches an even keel.

Regarding the Breathalyzers

Even with working technology, questions still remain. Who will set the levels for measuring the accuracy of such devices on the market? Will results of breathalyzer tests even be admissible in court?

Our Lawmakers Have Work To Do

Changes must be made to existing laws regarding the legalization of marijuana and it’s detection. Surely, there will be new ones to put in place. There are decisions to be made and teams of analysts to consult regarding the best route to take. This process takes time.

Where Does Law Enforcement Stand?

The thought of one day having a device in hand to irrefutably detect THC levels in a person’s breath when suspected of impairment is one police departments nation… no… worldwide look forward to with anticipation.

The road to determining marijuana impairment is still rocky at this juncture. The signs of continued change, however, are firmly in place. With the groundbreaking strides in detection technology coming ever closer to reaching marketing levels,you can be sure there is a solution to the issue of detecting marijuana impairment.

It’s right around the bend.

By Brian Garcia Brian Garcia has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Brian Garcia is a contributor to Grit Daily. On staff, he handles tech and branding for Grit Daily. He is an internet rock star in front-end web development, user experience/interface, digital marketing.

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