Quirks and 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.


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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