The Next Generation Cannabis Breathalyser

Breathalyser can detect cannabis impairment and accurately detecting the levels of THC in a person’s blood.

Police officers using a breathalyzer

Police officers may soon be able to detect when people are driving under the influence of cannabis

Though more regions are legalising cannabis, the use of motor vehicles and heavily machinery while under the influence of the drug is still illegal. Driving under the influence of cannabis, medical or recreational, is one of the major concerns for the government of jurisdictions where the drug is legal and readily available. Current tests for cannabis can only tell if it has been used or not in the last few days or weeks – they are unable to measure the current level of impairment.

With few accurate roadside tools to detect cannabis impairment, police have to depend largely on field sobriety tests designed for old-fashioned drunk driving observation, which are inaccurate and largely based on guesswork. However, California-based Hound Labs are developing tools that could mean a cannabis breathalyser is not far away.



Hound Labs’ cannabis breathalyser

Hound Labs is planning to develop a breathalyser that can accurately determine if someone is driving under the influence of cannabis or alcohol.


Cannabis breathalyser by Hound Labs. Source

Dr Mike Lynn, the co-founder of Hound Labs, is an emergency room physician and a reserve deputy sheriff. He believes police officers require a tool that can detect marijuana impaired driving accurately. Lynn specialised in medical devices and biotech while working as a partner at Adams Street Partners, a US36 billion private equity firm.

During his free time, while cycling, he often noticed speeding drivers passing him who he suspected of being under the influence of cannabis. This inspired Lynn to develop a cannabis breathalyser.

There are many drug tests available that can tell if someone has used cannabis in the last few days to weeks by looking for THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) in blood and urine. But none of these shows if someone has used recently or someone is currently high.

Lynn claims that its breathalyser will identify recent cannabis use and meet the regulator’s standards to determine whether or not someone was high while driving.



How does the breathalyser work?

As with traditional alcohol breathalysers, users will blow into Hound Labs’ handheld breathalyser. The device will collect breath particles on a proprietary disposable cartridge and analyse it to determine whether the user has smoked or consumed weed within the last two hours.

The breathalyser stores detailed information about the level of THC in the user’s blood. However, it doesn’t provide data instantly because there is no legal limit on the THC amount drivers can have in their body. 

So far, an undisclosed number of police departments have tested the product. More law enforcement testing is planned for the future, but Lynn can't disclose details due to non-disclosure agreements.

Exactly how the Hound Labs’ breathalyser will work is confidential. Many police departments have tested the product, and more law enforcements are planning to test it in the future. At the moment, there is no accepted standard on what level of THC causes impairment, meaning there is no cannabis equivalent of the Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) used by law enforcement.



Breathalyser race among companies

Hound Labs is not the only company working on the development of a breathalyser. Several other companies are developing cannabis breathalysers, and Canada-based Cannabix Technologies is one of them.

According to the California Bureau Chief, David Downs, many companies are developing breathalysers. In addition to accurately detecting the levels of THC in a person’s blood, the devices must function properly in the conditions that police officers often face such as roadside use, at night and in poor weather. Downs says Hound Labs may lead the competition if their technology is able to positively detect active THC in the drivers’ breath within an impairment window.



Final words

Cannabis and police statistics suggest that racism plays a crucial role in cannabis policing, and information collected with the Hound Labs’ device will provide data on whether this is the case. According to a recent New York Times investigation, black residents were arrested at eight times the rate as white residents for cannabis use.

Lynn believes that his device will help both officers and drivers by providing them with an objective tool to measure impaired driving. If Hound Labs are successful at developing a functional and effective cannabis breathalyser, it will be very helpful for road safety, and could help eliminate major roadblocks to further acceptance and normalization of cannabis use. The device will ease the burden on police officers and may prove to be very useful in reducing the crime rate.

As Hound Labs claim that it has the science and technology to develop a useful cannabis breathalyser, it is drawing interest from many parts of the world. The firm is presently courting buyers of their device.  It’s inevitable that a device like this will be created. If the one created by Hound Labs is proven to be effective, it could pave the way for safer roads.