With more and more states allowing medical or recreational cannabis use, quick and accurate tests that can reveal if a person is driving under the influence are becoming essential.
Scientists have been working on THC breathalyzers for a long time and it looks like they're finally getting there.
According to a paper published in the Journal Organic Letters, UCLA organic chemistry professor Neil Garg and researchers from UCLA startup ElectraTect Inc. made significant progress in the development of a handheld tool that can identify THC in breath after an individual has smoked weed, according to a paper published by UCLA Newsroom.
Some two years ago, Garg and UCLA postdoc researcher Evan Darzi found out that extracting hydrogen molecules from the larger THC molecule results in a color change in a perceivable way.
The process, also known as oxidation, is similar to the one used in alcohol breathalyzers, which transform ethanol into an organic chemical compound by pulling hydrogen. This oxidation creates an electric current that detects the presence and concentration of ethanol in the breath, which is a part of modern alcohol breathalyzers.
How does this new laboratory-scale THC-powered fuel cell sensor work?
The researchers said that when THC connects with a negatively charged electrode on one side of the device, it oxidizes into a new compound THCQ, sending electrons to a positively charged electrode. When electrons reach the cathode, they generate a measurable electric current. The more powerful the current, the higher the concentration of THC.
This is the first time that THC has been used to power a fuel cell sensor, according to the report.
Researchers say that this simple and reasonably affordable technology could be suitable for mass production.
They are working to make the device more compact in size that can be used by hand to detect and measure THC in exhaled breath. They think it could also be made as an ignition interlock device, or in other words a breathalyzer connected to a vehicle's ignition that would block it from turning on when THC is detected.
The scientists believe that the device could help improve safety on the roads, and that it could potentially help law enforcement be fairer. Even weeks after smoking weed, the test can detect the presence of THC, even though it is not able to determine if a person is high at the time of testing. A THC breathalyzer would be a much quicker and simpler test.
While all this might be true, one must wonder, what is the difference between cannabis edibles and edibles?