A marijuana breathalyzer may not be far off

The year 2015 has seen all sorts of advances in tech, from the Apple Watch to “hoverboards.” Late in the year, a tech manufacturer out of  California (where else?)claims that they’ve got another game-changing gadget on the way. Unlike most silly toys, though, this one has the potential to really help keep people safe, and put at ease the minds of legalization skeptics everywhere. It’s a marijuana breathalyzer, and it’s close to becoming reality.

New gadget shows promise for identifying intoxicated drivers

The company in question is called Hound Labs, and they product they’ve been developing shows serious promise. The Oakland-based tech firm has been working with scientists from the well-respected University of California, Berkeley on the project. Their goal is simple: to create a handheld tool that law enforcement officials can use to determine whether a motorist is currently under the influence of marijuana. It’s a simple goal, but not an easy one.

The trouble with breathalyzing for marijuana

The main hurdle that Hound Labs needed to overcome involves some basic organic chemistry. Although marijuana has many different compounds and metabolites, the psychoactive substance that police want to test for is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). As you may know, THC has a very long half-life; traces of it can be found in various body cells long after its psychoactive effects have worn off. THC tests will come up positive whether a person used marijuana an hour ago, yesterday, or even weeks prior. Thus, any marijuana breathalyzer would need the ability to determine not just that a person has THC in their system, but that they’ve used marijuana recently enough to still be impaired.

Furthermore, the only accurate THC tests to date have relied on blood, urine, or saliva – not exactly quick and easy for a police officer who’s just pulled over an erratic driver. The need for a tool that is not only handheld, portable, and non-invasive, but also accurate, precise, and reliable is an urgent one.

The next steps for important marijuana law enforcement technology

While prototypes will reportedly be available in 2016, the product must prove its consistency and reliability before it becomes commonplace. Successful clinical trials are critical to the acceptance of any new medical product or technology; they’re scheduled to begin in the first quarter of 2016, with the cooperation of University of California, San Francisco and San Francisco General Hospital.

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