Quirks & Quarks

Canadian smarts behind 'driving while high' breathalyzer

When it comes to drugged driving blood tests won't cut it.
In this Dec. 31, 2013, file photo, partygoers smoke marijuana during a Prohibition-era themed New Year's Eve party at a bar in Denver. (Brennan Linsley/Associated Press)

One of many concerns raised as the legalization of marijuana in Canada draws near, is that of "drugged driving".  At present, a roadside breathalyzer to detect the presence of THC in a driver is not available, but that will soon change. 

The Vancouver based company Cannabix, together with scientists from the University of Florida's Chemistry Department, are working on a hand-held breathalyzer that may soon be available for use by police departments around North America.

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Prototype of a pot breathalyzer (Cannabix)

One of those scientists is Dr. Jared Boock.  He says new technology that uses mass spectrometry, ionizes chemicals by their mass. Ionized chemicals — including THC in pot — display a molecular signature that is unique, and can therefore be isolated from others, in this case separated in a human breath. 

The challenge is making this technology work in a hand-held device, but a couple of prototypes have already been developed. So far the pot breathalyzer can detect the presence of THC several hours after smoking.  In the future, such a breathalyzer could detect the amount of THC in a person's system.     

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