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California Company Developing Marijuana Breathalyzer

Credit: Hound Labs

Legal or not, you still shouldn’t be driving while using it.

It should come as no surprise with the legalization of marijuana across the United States that a test would be developed to measure the amount of marijuana in a person’s system. Similar to the breathalyzer for testing alcohol levels, a test to help police determine the level of marijuana in a person’s system is being developed.

Currently, no devices are available to measure the drug. The only way police can test drug levels is through blood testing, use of bodily fluids or hair. The problem with that is the time it takes to get the results, as well as the fact that it can only measure recent drug use, not if the person is currently under the influence.

A couple of companies have been working to change this process. A marijuana breathalyzer device has been developed and is in the works to be piloted by some police agencies. The devices will focus on the levels of THC, which is what gets people high in marijuana.

A company based out of California, Hound Labs Inc., has been developing this technology for years, but their goal is for the device to measure both alcohol and marijuana levels in a person. Last month, the company announced that it has raised $30 million in financing to accelerate the manufacturing and marketing efforts. Their technology can test the levels of THC within a 3-hour window.

What made the development of this technology so difficult was the fact that THC that exists in someone’s breath is about a billion times less than alcohol. It is extremely hard to detect. By using microscopic tubes of carbon (which are about 100,000 times smaller than a human hair), the THC molecules can attach themselves to the nanotubes, which change their electrical properties. The recovery time of the electrical currents taught the breathalyzer to recognize the presence of THC.

In the future, laws will need to be clear to determine what levels of THC should be considered illegal in drivers. But with marijuana on the rise, there is no doubt this kind of technology will be here sooner rather than later.