With the increase in marijuana legalization, both for medical use as well as recreational use, the question of how to test for intoxication of drivers has been an increasing concern. A company from California, Hound Labs, may have solved the problem by developing a breath-analyzer that registers THC levels in the breath.
Marijuana legalized for recreational use in 9 states, including District of Columbia
Currently, marijuana has been legalized for recreational use in 9 states, as well as the District of Columbia. It is also legalized for medical use in 30 states as well as D.C. The prevalence of its use has caused concerns about stoned drivers on the roads, potentially putting others in danger. Tools for the assessment of a driver’s intoxication due to marijuana are limited, and not time efficient enough for practical use in the field. Field tests are subject to a great degree of subjective error, as well as they are easily escaped by breath mints or deodorizers.
Hound Labs breathalyzer device
The company, Hound Labs, has created a marijuana breathalyzer. The intention of the tool is to enable the assessment of impairment due to marijuana in a rational and fair manner. 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.
The device looks like a plastic box. It is roughly the size of a mobile phone and uses a disposal cartridge. There is a small plastic tube sticking out from one end, through which a person blows for 30 seconds in order to obtain a reading. The machine is made to detect THC – the active ingredient that gives marijuana its psychoactive effect. The results from the breathalyzer are given within 4 minutes.
How the marijuana breathalyzer works
The breathalyzer can detect if someone has smoked marijuana within the last 2 hours accurately. This is the time frame during which marijuana is considered to produce its “peak effect” – when smoked. The device has to be kept at a constant temperature, and is kept in a small suitcase type “base station” which keeps it at an even temperature. The device can also detect alcohol in the breath, and can be used to screen for alcohol intoxication as well.
The tool could help overcome major obstacles of determining intoxication from marijuana in real time, on the roadside. Present tools use samples of saliva or urine and take days to detect THC. These tests also cannot discern a person who smoked marijuana a half hour ago versus a week ago. Since THC is a fat-soluble compound, it stays in the body for up to a month after it has been used.
The marijuana breathalyzer has been tested to accurately detect THC particles in the parts per trillion range (alcohol by comparison is measured in parts per thousand). The reason for this is that a very small amount of THC actually stays in the breath, so its detection takes more precision.
Some considerations to be worked out before use in the field
There are some considerations that likely will need to be worked out before the machine is used in the field. Calibration for heat inconsistencies, and duration of heat exposure before calibration is lost, is likely to be an issue that could sacrifice the device’s credibility for field use. Additionally, the device does not seem to account for other routes of administration other than the smoking of marijuana. Do the THC levels in the breath follow the same pattern when marijuana is ingested, vaped, drank (tincture)? Also, the company does acknowledge that the device does not currently have the ability to calculate the amount of THC consumed.
But it’s likely a tool that will be further developed and put into field use, especially in states where recreational marijuana is legal.
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Razi Berry is the founder and publisher of the journal, Naturopathic Doctor News & Review, that has been in print since 2005 and the premier consumer-faced website of naturopathic medicine, NaturalPath. She is the host of The Natural Cancer Prevention Summit and The Heart Revolution-Heal, Empower and Follow Your Heart, and the popular 10 week Sugar Free Summer program. From a near death experience as a young girl that healed her failing heart, to later overcoming infertility and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia through naturopathic medicine, Razi has lived the mind/body healing paradigm. Her projects uniquely capture the tradition and philosophy of naturopathy: The healing power of nature, the vital life force in every living thing and the undeniable role that science and mind/body medicine have in creating health and overcoming dis-ease. Follow Razi on Facebook at Razi Berry and join us at Love is Medicine to explore the convergence of love and health.