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Blowing off steam – revolutionary new pot breathalyzer about to hit the market

Published 25-OCT-2019 14:34 P.M.


6 minute read

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A new cannabis breathalyzer test is set to hit markets in 2020 which is said to be billions of times more sensitive than alcohol breathalyzers.

Cannabis breathalyzers have often been the subject of scrutiny due to their imprecision – they could only tell if someone had consumed cannabis in the past few days, and couldn't tell how much or how intoxicated an individual was.

Now, a new cannabis breathalyzer, made by Hound Labs, is set to hit the markets and is said to be billions of times more sensitive than the current alcohol breathalyzers.

The breakthrough would represent a huge shift in the cannabis space, allowing legislators to decide what the appropriate level of intoxication for the drug is. Fears have often surrounded cannabis use while driving, which FreshLeaf Analytics has identified as a key bottleneck to doctors prescribing cannabis to patients.

Though as CBD and cannabis products continue to have the shackles of illegality removed from them, there's an increasing necessity for lawmakers to hone in on their WeeDUI policies. Thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, CBD is federally legal in the U.S., and cannabis is now recreationally legal in 11 states with 33 states that have legalized medicinal marijuana.

This is all also coupled with the fact that cannabis use behind the wheel is increasing, with CBS News estimating that almost 15 million drivers in the U.S. got behind the wheel of a car within an hour after using marijuana last June alone.

Hound Labs' new pot breathalyzer was developed at the University of California at Berkely and San Francisco, and recently secured $30 million in financing from the Philadelphia Growth Equity Fund and Intrinsic Capital Partners. The product is set to hit markets in 2020 and is said to detect if someone has eaten or smoked cannabis within three hours of taking the test.

"It's a game-changer," says John Hudak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "I've been saying for years it's only a matter of time before someone developed the technology and got the science right. That time apparently is now. And they're going to make a hell of a lot of money selling it to law enforcement agencies across the U.S. and Canada."

Smoke and Rear View Mirrors

As it stands, the current test for cannabis intoxication is a roadside saliva test, which will alert the police officer whether or not there's THC in your system. Though saliva tests haven't had the best track record as of late. Roadside cannabis tests have been reported to give inaccurate results, which can only be honed in on through several days of lab testing.

On top of this, a study performed by Sydney University revealed that roadside mobile saliva tests often provided inaccurate results, stating that the study "found the devices frequently failed to detect high concentrations of THC — the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis — with false-negative rates of 9 percent and 16 percent respectively."

"They also recorded positive results when saliva THC concentrations were very low or negligible, with false-positive rates of 5 percent and 10 percent."

In some cases, tests come back positive, despite users having not smoked cannabis in days or weeks. On top of this, the tests can't tell precisely how intoxicated you are, just that you've consumed cannabis. This has meant that even if you had one hit of a joint ten hours ago, you could still be seen as intoxicated in the eyes of the law.

Though unlike alcohol, some studies have shown that cannabis users will actually mediate their intoxication with different driving methods.

A 2010 analysis published in the American Journal of Addiction found that while "cannabis and alcohol acutely impair several driving-related skills ... marijuana smokers tend to compensate effectively while driving by utilizing a variety of behavioral strategies".

While drinkers often underestimate their own impairment, leading to increased speeds while driving, cannabis gives users the opposite effect, making drivers much more cautious and hesitant.

Benjamin Hansen, an economist at the University of Oregon in Eugene and at the National Bureau of Economic Research, has studied marijuana and its effects on users driving abilities. Hansen stated that people who have recently smoked actually become more risk-averse.

"They'll drive slower, they'll follow cars at greater distances, they'll take some actions that at least somewhat offset the fact that they're impaired."

- Benjamin Hansen, Economist at University of Oregon.

Hound Labs – A Breath of Fresh Air

Hound Labs was founded in 2014 by Mike and Jenny Lynn, while there was a lot of momentum behind marijuana legalization. Mike is a former deputy sheriff, physician, and venture capitalist, while Jenny had previously worked for advisory firms as the head of marketing.

Hound Labs has received funding from the creator of the popular crime show "Law & Order," Dick Wolf, along with numerous other venture capital firms to raise a total of $65 million. The company is now preparing for commercial manufacturing.

"With the publication of clinical study results validating breath as the new frontier for testing recent use of THC, investors can see the tremendous value that Hound Labs will bring to the market with its first-of-its-kind technology," said Dr. Mike Lynn, CEO and co-founder of Hound Labs. "We are excited to usher in a new era of more meaningful and fair drug testing now that marijuana is both medically and recreationally available to so many people."

"It's about creating a balance of public safety and fairness," Lynn said. "I've seen the tragedies resulting from impaired driving up close. And I have a good idea how challenging it is at the roadside to know whether someone smoked pot recently. But I believe if someone is not stoned, they shouldn't be arrested."

Hound Labs expects its pot breathalyzer to hit the market in 2020.

As cannabis becomes popularised and increasingly recognized as a powerful medicine, more people will use it for their epilepsy, chronic pain, cancer pain, inflammation, and other ailments. Many of those people, will still need to drive to work and earn an income. This device may push the cannabis industry forward through a more precise understanding of the plant and how it interacts with our motor skills and allow a wider application of cannabis medicines.

Louis O'Neill is a writer based in Sydney with a focus on social and political issues. Having interviewed local politicians and entrepreneurs, Louis now focuses on cannabis culture, legislation & reform. Originally published on The Green Fund.

The Green Fund is Asia Pacific's preeminent media house positioned at the forefront of the global cannabis industry. Committed to driving the industry forward, we spotlight the sector from all angles, explore the companies and the players making headlines, and cover some of the biggest cannabis companies in the world.

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