Will Cannabis Breathalyzers Really Work? Probably Not. Here’s Why:

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Cannabis breathalyzers are being made right now, but will they really work? Probably not, but let’s take a look at them.

Cannabis breathalyzers work much like their alcohol counterparts. Hound Labs, one of the companies trying to commercialize this new tech, is developing a simple-to-use breathalyzer device. A person blows into a small tube, and the device picks up any THC in their breath. If it manages to THC, the device sends a signal back to its user. Will this new tech allow law enforcement to accurately test for cannabis-induced impairment? Most likely not, and here’s why.

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Photo by Elsa Olofsson

The Complexities of Cannabinoids in Our Bodies

Alcohol breathalyzers work because there is a clear-cut correlation between blood-alcohol concentration and impairment. If law enforcement catches you with a BAC above legal limits, then you are definitely driving while impaired. But when it comes to cannabis, its relationship with mental and physical impairment isn’t nearly as simple. THC levels in your blood or saliva don’t accurately measure your level of impairment. At best, THC levels correctly reflect your motor and mental functions some of the time. This basically means we can’t rely on marijuana breathalyzers to provide consistent assessments of whether a person is fit to drive.

Hound Labs even acknowledges this fact in the breathalyzer they are developing. Their breathalyzer is designed to examine if we have consumed cannabis within the past few hours, but it doesn’t tell us our level of impairment.

So, will a cannabis breathalyzer ever enter the market and give police officers a quick and easy way to measure impairment? I feel inclined to say no given how cannabinoids interact with our bodies. For example, we could take a blood and urine test to see if we got cannabis metabolites. But whether these metabolites are still having an effect on us is ambiguous. Tests can detect these metabolites in the body long after their psychoactive effects have ended. And if this is the case, a breathalyzer capable of parsing these complexities is pretty unlikely.

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