"When you find THC in breath, you can be pretty darn sure that somebody smoked pot in the last couple of hours,"
A California company said it has created the first marijuana breath analysis test, which has the potential to be used by police to detect whether drivers have used the drug.
As more states legalize marijuana for recreational and medical use, law enforcement officials have grown increasingly concerned about individuals driving while high. Until now, police officers in the U.S. did not have any roadside means to determine whether a driver had consumed cannabis.
They have depended mostly on field sobriety tests developed to catch alcohol use, or on personal observation, which is subject to deception. But Oakland-based Hound Labs wants to make testing for marijuana as easy as testing for alcohol.
“We are trying to make the establishment of impairment around marijuana rational and to balance fairness and safety,” CEO Mike Lynn explaining that his company has created a breath test to detect THC, the principal psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.
“This is a disposable cartridge. And there’s a whole bunch of science in this cartridge,” Lynn explained to NPR, showing the reporter the product. The company says the cartridge can detect marijuana use within the past two hours, which many experts consider the peak time for the full effects of THC to kick in. The device also doubles as an alcohol breathalyzer, giving police an easy-to-use roadside for both intoxicants.
“When you find THC in breath, you can be pretty darn sure that somebody smoked pot in the last couple of hours,” Lynn said. “And we don’t want to have people driving during that time period or, frankly, at a work site in a construction zone.”
The company has overcome the technical and scientific hurdles and can accurately measure THC in breath molecules in parts per trillion. That’s “kind of like putting together more than a dozen Olympic size swimming pools and saying, ‘Hey, go find those 10 specific drops of water and in those 10 pools put together.’ It is it is ridiculous how little [THC] there is” in breath.
Alcohol impairment is measured in parts per thousand. “THC is something like a billion times less concentrated than alcohol. That’s why it hasn’t been done before because it’s really hard. It’s taken us five years to overcome those scientific obstacles.”
A few police departments plan to start testing Hound Labs’ breathalyzer this fall. “They’re interested in it providing objective data for them at the roadside,” says Lynn. “That’s really the key, objective data at the roadside — just like we have for alcohol.”
Image – Hound Labs