cannabis-breathalyzer
cannabis-breathalyser

Cannabis breathalysers are not far off. Photo: SharonaGott

California legalised cannabis for recreational purposes on January 1 2017. Hound Labs of Oakland, in the Golden State, is working on its third and final version of the world’s first cannabis breathalyser – a device that detects tetrahydrocannibinol (THC), the psychoactive bit of cannabis, on the breath. This would revolutionise the ability of law enforcement to identify stoned drivers, given the limitations of urine and hair tests. Testees will exhale to a disposable cartridge, whereupon the result is displayed on a screen. The gadget is smaller than some mobile phones.

The problems of testing drivers for cannabis use currently

Existing tests are, for starters, not convenient. Apart from this, habitual smokers of many years’ standing will fail urine tests more than two months after their last consumption, despite being stone cold sober, because traditional tests don’t account for how long THC has been in a person’s system and whether a driver was impaired when they were pulled over – when news reports gush that a driver had cannabis “in their system,” they can’t be sure the person’s skills were impaired. But a cannabis breathalyser will catch THC on the breath for only around two hours. On the other hand, cannabis that is eaten rather than smoked is metabolised by the liver and not the lungs, introducing only 10 to 20 percent as much THC into the bloodstream, although its effect can be stronger and longer-lasting.

Enter Hound Labs

Hounds Labs garnered $8.1 million from Benchmark, the venture capital company that backed Uber and Tinder, which have been wildly successful. Dr Mike Lynn, this company’s CEO, boasted that its cannabis breathalyser, named the Hound, is so sensitive it is akin to “measuring a few drops of water in a hundred swimming pools put together.” He devised the idea when he worked as a doctor in the accident and emergency department of a hospital and a reserve deputy sheriff.

This product will be available some time between April and June of 2018 and cost somewhere from $500 to $1,000. The cannabis breathalyser detects cannabis that has been eaten and not smoked, which Hound Labs called “truly groundbreaking.” It also detects alcohol. The company is currently receiving calls from law enforcement organisations and employers every day – in states where recreational cannabis is legal, there will be a desire to test bus and delivery drivers.

Just how bad is it to drive while stoned?

Experts disagree over the effects of cannabis upon cognition and competence, although federal statistics will tell you that it doubles the risk of a driver having a crash. A minuscule amount of cannabis can exert significant effects upon an inexperienced user while leaving a veteran user undisturbed. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that the performance of some stoned drivers actually improves because they over-compensate. Being under the influence of alcohol is much worse than cannabis, since stoned drivers have mental capacities that drunk drivers don’t, for instance, short-term memory and problem-solving. One study discovered that if the crash risk for a sober driver is one, it’s two for stoned drivers, seven for those who have taken alcohol – and 23 for people who text while driving.

Header Photo – USAF

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