Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology have made a major breakthrough in the struggle for making a roadside-capable cannabis breathalyzer.
By measuring the vapor of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), marijuana’s active component that get you high, a device that measures blood-THC levels may soon become a reality.
In the first years of legalization in states like Colorado and Washington, cannabis smokers were fearful at the thought of a marijuana breathalyzer.
As time has gone by, it’s safe to say that we agree one has finally become a necessity for police around the country. Using mysterious impairment signs, specially trained officers have been handing out DUI’s left and right to people who have never smoked in their lives.
Not only that, but at-the-time-sober stoners are getting DUI’s after blood results show THC in their blood. Fat soluble THC stays in the blood for a long time, meaning anyone who has smoked in the past two weeks and gets pulled over is at risk for a DUI—no matter how sober they are.
While many scientific breakthroughs have been made, startups companies have swung and missed at this illusive home run. Unreliable salivary tests are prone to several confounders, roadside urine or blood tests are unfeasible and, in many cases, illegal.
THC has proved itself to be a hard molecule to measure at a traffic stop.
Alcohol breathalyzers rely on ethanol’s tendency to evaporate out of any mixture it’s a part of. Whether it’s a strong beer, a bottle of liquor or your blood, ethanol can evaporate from any liquid mixture at a reliable rate due to its high vapor pressure. Blow into a breathalyzer and the ethanol vapor in your drunk ass’s blood goes into your breath at a proportional level and into a special chemical reaction in the machine that gives the cop a reading, sending you to jail.
Researchers found that THC has a much lower vapor pressure than ethanol, meaning much less of it passes from your blood to your breath.
Detecting such small amounts is certainly possible but will take scientists years to create the technology and manufacturing capabilities.
Another difficulty lies in the new legislation this would require; how high is too high? Will it really only work for people who are high, or will people who smoke regularly, but just not right then, still get busted?
This important discovery will take cannabis one step closer to being an accepted and regulated substance just like alcohol, something you can do with friends or use as a medicine.
Regardless of how much safer it is for your body than alcohol, there’s not doubt you should not be driving under the influence of it, and cops need a reliable way of identifying those who are truly guilty.
Who knows, maybe we’ll all be riding around in driverless cars by the time the THC-breathalyzer is invented!
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