Hounds Labs Incorporated, a company based out of Oakland, California, has developed a breathalyzer it says can simultaneously measure for use of both alcohol and marijuana - one the company says is one billion times more sensitive than other modern alcohol breathalyzers. The device works by measuring THC in breath, which will remain through a 2-3 hour window of "peak impairment". It can detect THC, regardless of how it was taken into the body - through smoking, or by consuming edibles.
Co-founder of Hound Labs, Jenny Lynn, told Wikileaf that the Hound Marijuana Breathalyzer is used in the same way as alcohol breathalyzers we are accustomed to seeing. Lynn explained, "A driver or employee breathes into the mouthpiece attached to a disposable breathalyzer which attaches to the handheld breathalyzer.
The disposable cartridge on the breathalyzer simultaneously captures two breath samples. After capturing breath, the administrator removes the cartridge and inserts it into a portable base station. The results for both alcohol and THC are displayed on the screen of the base station." That cartridge can be saved, so the second sample can be analyzed in the future.
Hounds Labs was founded in 2014, but this is its flagship product. The company says testing a person's breath for THC provides better information on peak impairment following smoking because other existing tests that analyze a person's blood or urine are not effective for determining whether a person was high when the test was administered. In California, although recreational use of weed is now legal, you can still be charged for driving under the influence of drugs, including marijuana. It is also illegal to smoke or eat a cannabis product while driving or riding in a car. Unlike the 0.08% blood alcohol limit for drivers, currently, there are no laws regulating the exact amount of THC a person can take in before becoming too impaired to drive.
"The Hound Marijuana Breathalyzer measures THC in breath which indicates marijuana use in the last few hours – which correlates with the peak window of impairment. Thus, even without laws specifically related to breath levels of THC, a measurement from the Hound breathalyzer provides critical data about recent use which can help inform officers’ and employers’ decisions," explained Lynn.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health says the effects cannabis has on a person varies more widely than alcohol does because of the various ways to take in THC and because of differing tolerance levels from person to person. The UNC explains, "Detrimental effects of cannabis use vary in a dose-related fashion, and are more pronounced with highly automatic driving functions than with more complex tasks that require conscious control, whereas with alcohol produces an opposite pattern of impairment."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says every day, 29 people in the United States die in car crashes involving a drunk driver. That breaks down to a person dying every 50 minutes due to DUI crashes. The CDC's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System shows annual self-reported alcohol-impaired driving episodes in the United States haven't changed all that much on average since 1993 - aside from a spike between 1999 and 2008.
"For historical context, alcohol breathalyzers were used before per-se limits were standardized. They provided useful information to law enforcement at the roadside until independent researchers established the standards," added Lynn. The Hound Marijuana Breathalyzer is fairly small and stored in a compact case that looks like an industrial-strength briefcase. That case is "temperature-controlled with automatic heating and cooling mechanisms [that] ensure accurate and reliable performance across a wide temperature range," according to the product's website.
The portable size allows for analysis of the results in the field. It's intended for use mostly by law enforcement, or for employers who feel the need to investigate workers. The website for the product says after the test is administered, the results are encrypted on a cartridge. The results are stored on a handheld unit, and identified by a unique ID.
When asked what the scope of impact could be for law enforcement, as well as for drivers, Hound Labs answered, "It will balance safety with fairness by providing objective data to law enforcement to inform decisions at the roadside. Law enforcement officers will use the measurements of THC as one more piece of data in conjunction with an officer's observations of the driver and field sobriety tests.
During field testing of the marijuana breathalyzer, law enforcement officers stated that one of the reasons they were excited about the Hound marijuana breathalyzer is because it can corroborate a driver's story that he or she has not used marijuana recently.
This is critically important for drivers because by measuring THC in breath where it only remains for a few hours, drivers can prove with a negative breath test that they have not used marijuana recently. This is not possible with current marijuana drug tests of saliva and blood because THC can remain saliva for up to 24-48 hours and THC can remain in blood for days or weeks — long after impairment subsides.
Only a marijuana breathalyzer can provide objective data about recent marijuana use, and this information is not currently available to law enforcement with other marijuana drug tests." Hound Labs says its breathalyzer measures THC in a user's breath as low as 5 picograms per liter of breath. The Environmental Protection Agency says a picogram is a unit used in laboratory tests, which can be converted into results applied to the Code of Federal Regulations.
The Hound Marijuana Breathalyzer will be available in 2020, and will cost "several thousand dollars," according to Hounds Labs. The company explained, "These units are intended only for law enforcement and employer use."