Companies have been quick to capitalize on marijuana legalization throughout the country, and now the race has begun to be first to market with an effective “breathalyzer” for marijuana.
Hound Labs and Cannabix Technologies both announced late last year that they have respectively finished developing their own impairment testing devices. These devices would be able to detect small amounts of THC on a person’s breath within hours of use.
There are currently drug testing devices that can detect marijuana through blood, urine and saliva, but these tests don’t indicate the timeframe of use. It could pick up marijuana that a person consumed two hours ago or two weeks ago. Now, this new technology will allow law enforcement officials and employers determine whether a subject has consumed marijuana in the past few hours and is currently impaired.
Same outcome, different methods
The two companies have developed very different technologies for detecting THC in the breath. Hound Labs, a company based out of Oakland, Calif., uses a combination of chemistry and fluidics to measure levels to below 500 picograms of THC. According to the Hound Labs website, the device is “programmed to perform a series of automated routines that first chemically isolate the THC molecules from the captured breath sample and then generate a composition for measurement.” The device then generates a measurement of the THC present and displays a value in picograms on the screen.
Cannabix Technologies has a completely different product with a similar outcome. This Vancouver-based company is developing a device using FAIMS – field asymmetric waveform ion mobility spectrometry. Long story short, this groundbreaking technology promises to provide detailed accuracy on the amount of THC in a person’s breath as well as the recency of their use. The breathalyzer would also be able to detect other cannabinoids and THC metabolites.
Both devices would be able to be used by police roadside or by employers in the workplace to determine when and how much marijuana a person consumed.
Breathalyzer testing in progress
Hound Labs has already begun testing its device with police departments around California and is hoping to have the product ready to go to market by the end of the year. The company recently raised $8.1 million from venture capital firm Benchmark, one of the early investors in Uber, Snap and Dropbox, to continue testing and refining the product. The company hopes to sell the device for between $600 and $800. Even after going to market, the product still needs to be approved by courts as use for evidence of impairment in criminal cases.
However, tests thus far have had positive results and the Hound Labs team is optimistic in their timeline for release and the success of the product.
“We tested on so many people now that we’re quite confident,” said Hound Labs CEO Dr. Michael Lynn.
Cannabix also began testing earlier in the year, although their planned product release date is further down the line than Hound Labs. Kal Mahli, the company president, suggested the product may be ready in early 2018 and would sell for between $1000 and $1500. The product would be facing a different market in Canada though, which is in the process of potentially legalizing marijuana in its next election.