Marijuana is being increasingly legalized across several states and its use is also on the rise. While 9 states and District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana, 30 states and D.C. have legalized medicinal marijuana use.
This has worried law makers about stoned drivers on the roads and highways putting lives of other people in danger. There are however very few tools that could be used roadside to detect a person under the influence of marijuana. Field tests can be escaped using breath mints and thus many drivers under the influence escape the law.
In a new development, a company from California - Hound Labs, has created a marijuana breathalyzer. CEO Mike Lynn in his Oakland, office has said, “We are trying to make the establishment of impairment around marijuana rational and to balance fairness and safety.” Lynn is a practicing emergency room trauma physician in Oakland and is also a SWAT team deputy reserve sheriff for Alameda County and is thus close to the effects of drunk driving and driving under the influence.
Hound Labs is a scientific research and device company that has developed ultra-sensitive technology for non-invasive breath measurement. The Hound® marijuana breathalyzer is the world’s first breathalyzer to rapidly, accurately, and inexpensively measure recent marijuana use and alcohol in a person’s breath.
Lynn demonstrated the use of his device. It looks like a small plastic box that contains a disposable cartridge. The device is around as big as a mobile phone and has a small plastic tube sticking out at one end. The person has to blow into the plastic tube for the necessary 30 seconds. There are indicator bars that show if the machine can detect any THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol – active ingredient of marijuana) in the breath. THC is the component of pot that provides the high. The results come in within 4 minutes after Lynn blows into the device.
The device can detect a person who has smoked marijuana within the previous two hours accurately. These two hours is considered to be the “peak impairment time frame”. Lynn said, “When you find THC in breath, you can be pretty darn sure that somebody smoked pot in the last couple of hours... And we don't want to have people driving during that time period or, frankly, at a work site in a construction zone.” He explained that the device needs to be kept at a fixed temperature to provide accurate results. It is kept within a small base station at consistent temperatures. This device can also detect alcohol in breath and thus can be used as a convenient hand-held tool that the police can use on roadsides to detect offenders who are driving under the influence of either of the two intoxicants.
Lynn explains the main requirement is a roadside device to detect the intoxication at hand. At present the tools used to detect marijuana use samples of saliva and urine and may take days to detect THC. Further the lab tests cannot detect if a person has smoked marijuana half an hour ago or a week ago. THC is a highly fat-soluble compound and thus stays dissolved within the fat cells of the body for up to a month after it has been used.
According to Lynn this new device has overcome the hurdles and can accurately detect THC in breath molecules in parts per trillion (alcohol in breath is detected in parts per thousand on the other hand). He explained how little THC remains in the breath and the science behind its detection using the breath-analyzer. He said that this device took five years to develop to overcome the practical hurdles.
Lynn added that the machine cannot calculate the amount of THC consumed however. The purpose of the device is to detect a driver who is impaired and this device can help do that. Some of the police departments would start testing the Hounds Lab device from this fall. Lynn said that this would provide the makers real-life data.
There are a few other companies that are also in the race to develop a hand-held breath analyzer device to detect cannabis use on the road sides.