Cannabis has a drastic effect upon ability to concentrate, judgement, motor coordination and reaction time. Two major studies in Europe found that drivers who had tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the cannabis ingredient that makes you stoned) in their blood were twice as likely to have a car crash as other people.

With cannabis now legal in all of Canada and legal for medical purposes in 30 US states and the unstate of the District of Columbia and for recreational purposes in nine states and DC, there has been concern about drivers who are stoned. There was no roadside test for cannabis, so police had to rely upon good old-fashioned observation, which can be defeated by nothing more than a mint. This is no longer the case. The cannabis breathalyser has arrived.

A breathalyser that detects cannabis will soon be available. Photo: KOMUnews

A breathalyser that detects cannabis will soon be available. Photo: KOMUnews

Why, thank you, Hound Labs

The cannabis breathalyser comes courtesy of Hound Labs of California, established in 2014. Mike Lynn, its CEO, remains an A&E doctor and SWAT team deputy reserve sheriff. He takes hold of a plastic box the size of a mobile phone with a teeny plastic tube sticking out and declares, “[T]here’s a whole bunch of science in this cartridge.”

Lynn puts his mouth around the tube and blows for thirty seconds. The gadget can tell if someone has smoked or eaten dope up to two hours ago. It isn’t just a cannabis breathalyser; it detects alcohol, too. As Lynn explains, if there’s THC in someone’s breath “[Y]ou can be pretty darn sure [they] 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.”

Lynn inserts the cartridge to a larger device about as large as a laptop. Results appear around four minutes after. Indicator bars show whether THC has been detected. Until now, it took days for drug tests to yield results, and they couldn’t really tell if someone had smoked half an hour or a week ago.

According to Lynn, his company has spent five years overcoming technical hurdles, making it possible to accurately detect THC in the breath. Alcohol impairment is measured in parts per thousand, but THC is around a billion times less concentrated. Per Lynn, the task of the breathalyser is akin to taking a dozen Olympic-sized swimming pools and finding 10 particular drops of water: “It is ridiculous how little [THC] there is”.

Hound Labs’ cannabis breathalyser will be available in 2020 and cost “several thousand dollars”. Other companies have joined in, with one being Cannabix Technologies of Canada. David Downs is the California bureau chief of the well-known cannabis news site Leafly and regarded as an industry expert. He stated, “One of these guys is going to do it. It’s just a question of who and how adaptable it is for the side of the road, in the middle of the night, in a blizzard.” He considers Hound Labs to be in the lead. Without a good test, he fears that people who are safe could end up behind bars while people who are a real danger are allowed to go free.

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