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New THC Breathalyzer Could Detect Driver Impairment More Quickly

A Virginia Commonwealth University professor and a partner are developing a new THC breathalyzer that could be used to detect quickly if someone is driving under the influence of cannabis, according to Virginia Mercury. VCU professor Emanuele Alves, with a doctorate in forensic science, partnered with Wagner Pacheco, who has a doctorate in inorganic analytical chemistry and is an associate professor at Universidade Federal Fluminense. The device would offer immediate results and produce fewer false positives, Alves says. Law enforcement and employers could test within a certain window of time for impairment that many tests, such as urine or hair analysis, do not offer. A blood test can track cannabis use within a 3- to 4-hour time frame but is not a viable driver impairment option. Current THC breathalyzers take hours to achieve results. The VCU-developed breathalyzer will also distinguish between the presence of THC and CBD, two elements in marijuana that have different effects, in someone’s system. CBD does not get a user high and is often sold as supplemental or personal care products. The device will produce a change in color if a person has THC in their system and a different color for CBD, according to Pacheco. “Our expectation is that this THC breathalyzer could be so useful for society as it is the alcohol breathalyzer,” Pacheco said.


The breathalyzer could improve road safety by holding drivers accountable as it's illegal to operate a vehicle while impaired, Pacheco said. The goal is to have the first prototype of the THC breathalyzer complete by 2025. JM Pedini of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) does not favor the development and eventual use of THC breathalyzer. Studies have failed to prove that the presence of THC in breath is an indicator of either impairment or recent cannabis exposure, Pedini said. NORML has argued against the expansion of drug detection testing and advocated instead for performance-based tests to determine someone’s sobriety. Examples include the DRUID test, which is an app that measures cognitive and motor functioning to test for impairment. The test measures such things as the person’s reaction time, hand-eye coordination, and balance. One reason NORML does not support THC breathalyzers is that the packaging of CBD products does not always accurately reflect their contents and may actually contain THC, according to Pedini. There are still many steps before the breathalyzer is ready for the market. “The VCU Police are constantly evaluating new equipment and I would personally say that any new tool that is evaluated and found could be useful would be of use to officers in any capacity,” said police Detective Frederick Wiggins.

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