Although there have been some advancements in developing a breathalyzer that could detect for marijuana in the United States, a Swedish team of scientists published a study in the Journal of Breath Research in April of 2013 that they had developed a method to test for 12 drugs by using breath samples. Another Swedish team followed suit and reported in the same journal in December 2017 that they had also found a way to test subjects for the presence of methadone by using a breathalyzer machine.
We all know that drinking and driving is dangerous and illegal, which is why breathalyzers were invented. Of course, so is driving under the influence of drugs like cocaine, meth, and marijuana. In the past, however; there has been a major problem holding drugged drivers accountable and arresting them for driving while they are doped.
Without a blood or urine sample, proving intoxication from illegal drugs has been problematic. There just hasn’t been the technology available to test drivers to determine if they are under the influence of an illicit drug when they get pulled over – until now.
Swedish Team Develops Breathalyzer Machine That Can Test For Methadone
In December 2017, a Swedish team of scientists from the University of Gothenburg reported in the acclaimed Journal of Breath Research that they had developed a method to collect and analyze externally-produced compounds in the lining fluid of the airways to allow for non-invasive drug testing and monitoring.
Lead author Dr. Göran Ljungkvist told Psy.org, “Exhaled breath contains particles carrying non-volatile substances. The main components, lipids and proteins, are derived from the respiratory tract lining fluid. The collection procedure is non-invasive, can be repeated within a short time span and is convenient. The small mass sampled is, however, an analytical challenge. Nevertheless, exhaled particles are a new and promising matrix for the analysis of biomarkers.”
He added, “We took breath samples from 13 subjects who were undergoing methadone management, to explore whether traces of the drug could be detected via their breath, rather than using invasive techniques that disturb the integrity of the subject. We also wanted to discover the best method for collecting methadone particles in the exhaled breath, so our study compared two different sampling methods – electret filtration, and impaction.”
The breath tests revealed the presence of methadone using both methods.
Ljungkvist’s Study Is Not The First To Report That A Swedish Breathalyzer Can Test For Drugs
While Ljungkvist and his team’s report of a drug breathalyzer test might appear to be ground-breaking news, this is not the first report of such a method in Sweden.
In a study published in the Journal of Breath Research in April of 2013, Olof Beck from Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet reported that he was able to detect 12 different kinds of drugs on the breath of 47 patients at a drug addiction emergency clinic. These drugs include methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, morphine and marijuana.
“Considering the samples were taken 24 hours after the intake of drugs, we were surprised to find that there was still high detectability for most drugs,” Beck said in a statement.
The breathalyzer test administered by Beck and his team was able to correctly detect drug use in 87 percent of all cases studied. The study reported the test was equally as accurate as blood and urine tests. However, Beck said future studies could be used to verify breath concentrations of drugs with the concentrations in urine and blood. He suggested that a breath test could be administered and then confirmed with a blood test later.
“In cases of suspected driving under the influence of drugs, blood samples could be taken in parallel with breath when back at a police station,” Beck said.
Although Ljungkvist and Beck have both developed methods for testing breath for drugs, they have not reported any progress on developing and implementing hand-held breathalyzers.
Marijuana Legalization Creates A Demand In The U.S. For Marijuana Breathalyzers
As more and more states are continuing to legalize recreational marijuana use in the United States, there has been a demand from legislators and law enforcement officials for a breathalyzer that will detect for marijuana use at traffic stops. The fear is that people who use marijuana compulsively are guilty of driving stoned.
According to a report by CNN, Vermont Republican Governor Phil Scott vetoed a marijuana legalization bill in May of 2017, because he was concerned about stoned driving. He told reporters he was not satisfied that legalizing marijuana for recreational use until the state could adequately protect public safety.
“I am not philosophically opposed to ending the prohibition on marijuana, and I recognize there is a clear societal shift in that direction,” he said. “However, I feel it is crucial that key questions and concerns involving public safety and health are addressed before moving forward.”
Scott added that He wanted to hear more about impairment testing mechanisms that would detect if drivers were operating motor vehicles under the influence of marijuana. Currently, no such device exists, but two start-up companies are working hard to change that.
Two Companies Are Racing To Develop Hand-Held Breathalyzer Tests To Detect For Marijuana
Hound Labs and Cannabix Technologies have both reported that they are in the process of developing small handheld devices with tubes that people can blow into. These breathalyzer machines would be almost identical to the breathalyzers currently used by police officers at traffic stops that detect alcohol use.
Hounds Lab is a California-based company and Cannabix Technologies operates out of Canada.
Hounds Labs Raises Millions To Develop Handheld Marijuana Breathalyzer
Hound Labs announced in May of 2018 that it had raised $8.1 million from the venture capital company Benchmark, which funded Uber and Tinder, and that it had already started clinical trials in conjunction with the University of California San Francisco.
“Cannabis legalization has created a new global market for employee and law enforcement testing,” said Mitch Lasky, a general partner at Benchmark. “In the past, employers and law enforcement professionals focused on possession and use; after legalization, impairment – whether behind the wheel or on the job – becomes the new enforcement paradigm.”
Lasky added, “Groundbreaking science is necessary to make an accurate measurement of recently used cannabis, and Hound Labs is uniquely positioned to deliver a solution to the market that respects the needs of the enforcement community as well as the rights of legitimate cannabis users.”
According to Hound Labs CEO Dr. Mike Lynn, “Over the past two and a half years, we have extensively tested our device with marijuana users and routinely correlated our results with state-of-the-art forensic laboratory equipment. We are eager to demonstrate the Hound marijuana breathalyzer’s capabilities and to take the final steps toward commercial availability.”
Cannabix Technologies Is Also Working To Develop A Breathalyzer That Can Check For Weed
Cannabix Technologies Inc. is another leader in marijuana breathalyzer development and hopes to market its product to U.S. law enforcement agencies in the near future. According to the company website, “Cannabix is actively developing breath testing technologies in the pursuit of bringing durable, portable tools to market to enhance detection of marijuana impaired driving offenses on roads at a time when marijuana is becoming legal in many jurisdictions globally.”
Cannabix is working to develop a breath-testing device that will detect Tetrahydrocannabinol, otherwise known as “THC,” which is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that causes the user to catch a buzz. This device would allow law enforcement officials to detect THC at traffic stops to determine if a driver was driving while under the influence of marijuana.
According to Cannabix Technologies, the company is “focused on developing breath testing devices for THC detection that would target recent use of THC, (within a two-hour time period at time of testing) in contrast to saliva or urine testing for THC which can be invasive and take a considerable amount of time for laboratory analysis.”
What The Marijuana Breathalyzer Means For America
Once the marijuana breathalyzer is made available in the United States, we will likely see a lot more states legalize marijuana. The issue of stoned driving has been a stopping point for many states making recreational marijuana use legal. Neither Hound Labs or Cannabix Technologies have given any forecast as to how soon their products might be made available.