New cannabis breathalyzer developed by UCLA scientists

Nov 4, 2022

Earlier in September, researchers at UCLA and ElectraTect, a UCLA startup, published new research which describes testing a prototype of a “cannabinoid fuel cell” that could lead to the development of a cannabis breath analyzer similar to those used for testing alcohol on a person’s breath.

According to the research article published in the journal Organic Letters, the device is able to detect THC and measure its concentration in a solution. In contrast to other methods, this new technology could allow more accurate measurements of THC levels in a person’s system.

Currently, saliva, blood, and urine THC tests can provide confusing results, since THC can stay in body fluids for several weeks after smoking cannabis, and is not necessarily indicating impairment. Currently, the prohibited blood levels of THC are over 2 ng (nanograms) but under 5 ng of THC per milliliter (ml) of blood for the straight summary conviction offence, at or over 5 ng of THC per ml of blood for the drug-alone hybrid offence, and at or over 2.5 ng of THC per ml of blood combined with 50 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood for the drugs-with-alcohol hybrid offence

“As such, there exists a need for a fair forensic tool capable of detecting THC in the short window of impairment,” the article states. “This is particularly true in states and countries where [cannabis] has been decriminalized or legalized, given that traditional testing could lead to fines, prosecution, imprisonment, or loss of employment, even if the individual is not impaired at the time of testing.”

The innovative device functions similarly to alcohol breath analyzers, which involves the process of oxidation that generates an electric current that can be evaluated. As a result, the strength of the current corresponds to the amount of THC present in the sample.

Initially, this electrochemical oxidation process was described by the researchers in a study published in 2020. Furthermore, the research team is now trying to make the technology smaller to create a handheld device for rapid and inexpensive THC testing. The researchers also said that such future devices could be used to test for both alcohol and THC. Finally, the devices could also be designed to connect to a vehicle’s ignition to reduce impaired driving by preventing a car from starting if the device detects THC at certain levels, according to the researchers.