In recent years, as the legalization and decriminalization of cannabis have gained momentum in various parts of the world, concerns regarding impaired driving have become a prominent topic of discussion. Law enforcement agencies and researchers alike have been grappling with the challenge of developing effective tools to detect and measure cannabis impairment on the roads.
One technology that has garnered attention is breathalyzers specifically designed to detect cannabis use. However, a heated debate has emerged surrounding the accuracy and reliability of these devices, raising important questions about their efficacy in accurately assessing cannabis impairment levels. In this blog, we delve into the latest information surrounding breathalyzers for cannabis and explore the ongoing discourse regarding their effectiveness.
What is a Traditional Breathalyzer?
A breathalyzer is a device used to estimate a person's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) by measuring the alcohol content in their breath. It operates on the principle of infrared spectroscopy or electrochemical fuel cell technology. When a person consumes alcohol, it enters their bloodstream and is eventually exhaled through their breath. The breathalyzer captures a sample of the person's breath, and the alcohol content is analyzed to estimate their level of intoxication.
This estimation is then used by law enforcement agencies to determine if a person is driving under the influence of alcohol and may be legally impaired. Breathalyzers are commonly used in traffic enforcement, roadside sobriety tests, and other scenarios where alcohol impairment needs to be assessed.
Breathalyzers Developed for Cannabis
The development of breathalyzers for cannabis is an ongoing area of research, and various approaches are being explored. One common method involves using advanced technology such as mass spectrometry or infrared spectroscopy to detect and quantify the presence of specific cannabinoids, such as THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), in a person's breath. THC is the psychoactive compound in cannabis responsible for the "high" sensation. When a person consumes cannabis, THC is absorbed into their bloodstream and can be exhaled through their breath.
The breathalyzer device captures a breath sample, which is then analyzed to identify and measure the concentration of THC or its metabolites present in the breath. Some devices may also incorporate algorithms to estimate the level of impairment based on the detected concentration. However, it's important to note that determining cannabis impairment solely based on breath analysis is a complex challenge.
Since cannabinoids can remain in the body for an extended period, it becomes crucial to distinguish recent cannabis use and impairment from residual or historical use. Additionally, THC can be stored in body fat and gradually released over time, leading to potential discrepancies between impairment levels and breath analysis results. As a result, the accuracy and reliability of breathalyzers for cannabis are still subjects of debate and further research.
Researchers and developers continue to refine and validate these devices to improve their effectiveness in accurately detecting recent cannabis use and estimating impairment levels.
Recent Study Regarding the Accuracy of Cannabis Breathalyzer
A recent study conducted by researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Colorado Boulder has shed light on the development of a protocol for measuring THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) in breath samples. Published in the Journal of Breath Research, the study aimed to establish a reliable and reproducible method for assessing THC levels in breath, which is an essential step towards creating a validated field-based approach.
Collecting Breath Samples
To ensure a controlled and compliant research environment, the collection of breath samples was conducted in a mobile lab, ingeniously designed as a well-appointed white van that conveniently parked outside participants' homes. This innovative mobile pharmacology lab was developed by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder, including Cinnamon Bidwell, a co-author of the study and an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience. To adhere to federal laws and regulations, all participants involved in the study obtained and used a consistent type of high-THC cannabis obtained from a licensed dispensary in Boulder, Colorado.
As part of the study protocol, participants entered the van at the designated time and provided a pre-use breath sample along with a blood sample. They then returned to their residences to smoke cannabis according to their customary habits and immediately came back to the van to provide a second blood sample. By comparing the before-and-after blood samples, the researchers could confirm that the participants had recently consumed cannabis, as THC concentrations in the blood spike immediately after ingestion. Approximately an hour later, the participants provided their second breath sample.
The collection of breath samples was carried out by having participants blow into a tube equipped with an "impaction filter." This specialized filter captured aerosols from their breath, which were later analyzed in the laboratory. The researchers extracted the captured material from the filter and utilized liquid chromatography with tandem mass spectrometry, a precise laboratory technique that identifies compounds and measures their concentrations, to determine the levels of THC and other cannabis compounds present in the breath samples.
This meticulous approach allowed the research team to gather accurate data on THC concentrations in breath while ensuring compliance with legal and ethical guidelines. The use of a mobile lab and the inclusion of various samples, including breath, blood, and cannabis products, enabled a comprehensive analysis that contributes to the development of reliable methods for detecting cannabis impairment.
Results of Breath Analysis
Out of the 14 participants who provided both pre- and post-smoking marijuana breath samples, eight individuals, a slight majority, exhibited the expected increase in THC levels after cannabis use, as stated by the study's authors. However, the remaining results were inconsistent and presented variability. The researchers noted that THC was not detected in three post-use breath samples, and in other cases, the post-use samples showed similar or lower THC levels compared to the baseline samples. These observations highlight the ongoing challenge of achieving reproducible collection of breath aerosols.
Interestingly, the study found that blood measurements, specifically THC concentrations in plasma, proved to be a more reliable indicator of recent cannabis use. Even when THC concentrations in the blood indicated compliance with the study's protocol and demonstrated a significant increase immediately after cannabis use, THC concentrations in breath at one hour post-use were not necessarily higher than baseline levels.
Tara Lovestead, a co-author of the report and a NIST supervisory chemical engineer, expressed that the research team had anticipated higher THC concentrations in breath samples collected after participants smoked marijuana. However, the measured THC concentrations spanned a similar range both before and after cannabis use. Lovestead mentioned that in many cases, it would not have been possible to determine if a person had smoked within the last hour based solely on the concentration of THC in their breath.
These findings underscore the complexities and challenges associated with accurately measuring THC in breath samples and highlight the need for further research and refinement in developing reliable methods for assessing cannabis impairment.
CBD & Breathalyzers
While breathalyzers for THC consumption still need a lot of work before being seen out in the field, driving after consuming THC is never recommended. If you're going to be driving soon after consumption, your best bet is to try CBD-rich flower, like that in our stelo line. CBD, also known as cannabidiol, contains all the parts of THC users love but without the psychoactive "high" traditionally associated with cannabis. This property makes CBD a great resource for daily use, even when you might need to drive. A recently published study even suggests CBD does not impair users while they use the roadways.
When trying out CBD, it is recommended to start with a small dose and gradually increase from there. Here at E1011 Labs we have designed our stelo™ flower pods to contain just the right amount of flower for one session, making it easy to start with one stelo before deciding to consume another. Pair the stelo with our heat-not-burn elon® device to have a sublime flower experience as the device heats the flower to the optimal temperature, while avoiding the toxins and ash associated with traditional consumption methods. New users can grab a Starter Bundle to try this match made in CBD heaven and find their favorite stelo flavor!
Those using our stelo need to be aware the CBD flower in our products is full spectrum flower that contains low levels of THC, 0.3% or below. By consuming multiple stelo you are exposing yourself to a large enough quantity of THC to show up on a drug test or in a blood test.
Beware of Breathalyzers?
In conclusion, the topic of cannabis impairment and the development of reliable detection methods continues to evolve alongside the changing landscape of cannabis legalization. While breathalyzers for cannabis remain a subject of debate and ongoing research, studies such as those conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Colorado Boulder contribute valuable insights into understanding the challenges and possibilities of accurately measuring THC in breath samples. Additionally, alternative approaches like the use of CBD and the elon heat-not-burn device offer a potential avenue for individuals to experience the benefits of cannabis without psychoactive effects, alleviating concerns about impaired driving.
As technology advances and scientific understanding deepens, the goal of achieving accurate, accessible, and practical methods for assessing cannabis impairment and promoting road safety remains at the forefront of ongoing research efforts. Ultimately, striking a balance between the potential therapeutic benefits of cannabis and responsible consumption practices is key to ensuring the well-being of individuals and the safety of our roads.