Cannabis Breathalyzers, The New Way to Test for DUI’s

January 29, 2020 02:00 pm ET

Just like drivers aren’t allowed to be under the influence of alcohol while driving, cannabis consumers should not be driving while under the influence of cannabis. Detecting when a driver is under the influence of alcohol is easy, they simply take a breathalyzer. As the legalization of cannabis continues to rise, so does the need for methods to test whether drivers are under the influence of THC.  

The breathalyzer has been around since the 1950s but there is currently no device like that for cannabis. However, there are several technology startups and university scientists that say they are close to commercializing something like the breathalyzer but specifically for cannabis. 

With the alcohol breathalyzer, it must simply pick up whether there is alcohol in the drivers’ system as well as whether the amount is over the legal limit. If the driver has a score over the legal limit, they’re in trouble, whether it impaired their capabilities or not. For cannabis, the device they use will need to detect recent cannabis consumption and it must be able to pick up whether the cannabis in their system is impairing their abilities. Keep in mind that there are countless strains of cannabis and each one affects its’ consumer differently. Perhaps, the device simply needs to pick up whether the driver has consumed it at all. 

How Will Law Enforcement Test for THC?

This may be tricky to obtain as cannabis can remain in a persons’ system long after the “high” has worn off. Hypothetically, they can’t set a quantity level either as each person responds differently to different quantities and tolerance. For instance, if my mother and I had to take the same quantity of the same strain, she would be more “high” than myself. This is probably due to my tolerance but could also be explained by differences in what our bodies are equipped to handle. 

The findings of a University of California study showed that THC could be detected in breath for up to three hours after smoking. The company that sponsored this study, Hound Labs, has managed to raise more than $60 million to develop a breathalyzer that can detect alcohol and cannabis. What is significant about their study is that they were only able to detect cannabis in the breath after a certain about of time but it couldn’t pick up intoxication levels per se. 

Hound Labs has stated they are not trying to test for levels of cannabis intoxication either, they simply want a warning that cannabis has been consumed within the last 3 hours. This device is certainly progressive but neglects to cover edibles and the other methods of consumption. Despite that, Hound Labs remain ahead in the race. 

How is THC Detected Using Hound Labs Breathalyzer

  • The driver blows into the handheld device for 2 minutes.
  • A separate bay acts like a mini mass spectrometer that measures the mass of specific molecules, such as THC. 
  • If there is any THC detected, the word ‘warning’ will be displayed on the screen.
  • The device is intended to capture those THC particles to confirm cannabis consumption under 3 hours. 

There is minimal research on how to test for drivers that are under the influence of cannabis. Perhaps if more research was done, we could figure out the criteria for what we should test drivers for. There is not much success behind applying the rules of alcohol to cannabis, which doesn’t play by the same ones. 

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