With Cannabis use on the rise across the country, scientists and law enforcement are working to develop technology to determine when a driver is stoned and potentially unfit to operate a vehicle.
The Breathalyzer, used to measure levels of alcohol intoxication, was first implemented by law enforcement in 1954. Currently, several university scientists and tech startups are claiming to be close to creating something that resembles the Breathalyzer, but for cannabis.
The challenge is that this technology would need to detect recent cannabis use because, unlike alcohol, cannabis can stay in the system long after the "high" has worn off. Further, science would need to prove that marijuana impairs a person's ability to operate a vehicle. Although evidence exists supporting that cannabis use can affect response times and motor performance, the research is minimal and not necessarily conclusive.
Several scientists believe that they have made developments in detecting THC breath. THC, also called tetrahydrocannabinol, is the compound in cannabis that is psychoactive and gives you the feeling of being high. A University of California-San Francisco study published in Clinical Chemistry showed that THC could be detected in a consumer's breath for up to three hours after smoking. Most importantly, it showed that there is a correlation between THC concentrations and blood concentrations during this initial period after smoking.
So, how will it work?
An individual will blow into the device for a two-minute period, the cartridge will then measure the mass and concentration of specific molecules. If THC molecules are detected, the device will warn the tester.
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Mike Lynn, founder of Hound Labs, the lab working on a version of these handheld devices, clarifies that at this time they "aren't measuring impairment", but instead they are measuring THC in the breath to "provide objective data about THC in breath to law enforcement and employers to use in conjunction with other information they have gathered."