Health & Wellbeing

New marijuana breath test promises accurate readings of THC levels

California's Hound Labs says its proprietary breath testing technology can measure THC levels to within 500 picograms (one trillionth of a gram).
California's Hound Labs says its proprietary breath testing technology can measure THC levels to within 500 picograms (one trillionth of a gram).
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California's Hound Labs says its proprietary breath testing technology can measure THC levels to within 500 picograms (one trillionth of a gram).
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California's Hound Labs says its proprietary breath testing technology can measure THC levels to within 500 picograms (one trillionth of a gram).

Detecting marijuana by way of a road-side test seems an obvious enough measure as the legalization movement gathers momentum, but an effective technology is yet to really be established. Current approaches relying on blood and urine samples are unable to distinguish between somebody driving under the influence, and somebody that has simply used the drug sometime in the last month. But one US company now claims to have developed a breathalyzer system that can measure levels of THC in one's breath to determine how much a road user is impaired when behind the wheel.

The journey toward an effective road-side breath test for marijuana has been a slow-going, with a number of private companies and research groups making gradual but important progress. These have included teams from the University of Akron and Washington State University who are working on small devices that through breath and the saliva can quickly measure THC, the psychoactive ingredient of marijuana.

Canadian company Cannabix is a private firm that claims to be closer to a market-ready product, recently announcing an alpha prototype that it says can detect THC use within a two-hour window to offer on-the-spot positive or negative readings. But other than a lot of huffing and puffing, Cannabix is keeping its cards close to its chest in terms of how its technology actually works.

In claiming a major scientific breakthrough today, California's Hound Labs isn't giving away a whole lot more. But based on just one or two breaths, its proprietary technology developed with scientists from University of California, Berkely is claimed to measure THC levels to within 500 picograms (one trillionth of a gram). Through a mix of chemistry, microfluids and engineering, it says its technology is at least one million times more sensitive than that used to measure alcohol on the breath.

"What we can tell you is that our device utilizes precise chemical reactions to isolate THC and measure the actual level of THC in breath," Hound Labs' CEO Dr Mike Lynn, tells Gizmag. "After it is optimized for a hand-held device it will be very similar to current roadside alcohol breathalyzers used all over the country."

A breathalyzer that gauges the actual levels of THC, rather than producing simply a positive or negative reading, would be a great step toward an effective solution. But there is still some conjecture over exactly what level of THC represents an unacceptable impairment for drivers. In Washington, for example, five nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood is the legal limit, while other states have taken a zero tolerance approach.

Hound Labs tells us it has tested its technology in the laboratory, with clinical trials and law enforcement roadside tests to begin soon. It will be built into a hand-held breathlyzer just like those used to test for alcohol, with the device to carry a similar cost and be unveiled early in 2016.

Source: Hound Labs

7 comments
Anne Ominous
It doesn't matter in the slightest until a REASONABLE measure of "under the influence" is determined. The Canadian government did this kind of double-blind test in the 70s, and determined that it required a massive amount of THC to produce impairment similar to the legal alcohol level.
Mel Tisdale
As I understand it, the body can take up to a month to be clear of cannabis enough to pass a zero tolerance test. I just hope for the sake of those who use cannabis for medicinal purposes that it will be possible to define a more realistic limit if this article is correct. If autonomous vehicles are ever to be let loose on the open road, let us hope that DUI limits can be raised to more humane levels for their 'drivers'.
piperTom
No chemical test will ever measure impairment, whether for marijuana, alcohol, or sleep deprivation. As to "zero tolerance", a picogram sensitive test is just going go positive on people who have merely been in a room with others who used a drug the previous night. It's heartless, arbitrary, and stupid.
ezeflyer
I wish this company the very worst of luck. This promises to be another tool to keep the oligarchy's jackboots on our necks. By criminalizing an harmless medicinal and recreational herb that competes with Big Alcohol and Big Pharma's profits, the oligarchy plans to keep its publicly traded private prisons full and paid for by taxpayers money. Try as they might, their studies have never shown driving impairment by cannabis users. In fact, users tend to drive more slowly, carefully, and are more aware of their surroundings.
christopher
Good on them! I personally know 2 different families who's entire lives have all been screwed up after this evil drug induced permanent skitzo in one member. Yeah, it's low, but 1% of everyone can suffer this permanent brain-disabling damage, and it's not just YOU that affects, but all your friends and family who then have to deal with your screwed-up headspace for the rest of their life! And that's not starting on the other permanent damage it causes to your brain (eg: 10% to 20% memory loss, etc). If you life is so bad you need to get high on drugs to handle it, maybe you should work on *fixing* your life instead, instead of trying to hide from it with chemicals.
telocity
This is going to be such a great boost to the penitentiary system! They need a new influx of people to fill the spots of those just getting out. This will really help. Good job.
Stradric
@christopher: citation needed. Something about "permanent skitzo" tips me off that maybe you don't have your facts straight. And also this: "If you life is so bad you need to get high on drugs to handle it, maybe you should work on fixing your life instead, instead of trying to hide from it with chemicals." Millions of people consume cannabis responsibly without issue. It's enjoyable and even has some positive health effects like stress reduction. Don't be so judgmental. People avoid reality in many, many ways including drugs, alcohol, books, movies, tv and video games. It's part of the human condition. Pretending that you don't have your own ways of avoiding reality is avoiding reality. Think about it.
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