Marijuana Breathalyzers: Will They Ever Work?

marijuana breathalyzer cannabis flower

Marijuana breathalyzers are something the industry and law enforcement have been discussing for quite some time. But will these ever become a reality?

Forbes recently published an article discussing why marijuana breathalyzers may never come to fruition. The idea that a hand-held device similar to an alcohol breathalyzer will one day deliver a quick and accurate reading showing the impairment of an individual is farfetched to the author.

But this comes down to how alcohol breathalyzers work.

Alcohol breathalyzers detect the alcohol in a person’s system by measuring the amount of ethanol exhaled from the lungs. This is done through infrared light, which makes it easier to detect when someone has been drinking. The ethanol detected in a breath sample is then converted into a blood alcohol content (BAC) percentage, showing just how impaired an individual can be at a certain time.

It’s challenging to measure the amount of marijuana in a person’s breath because THC – the chemical responsible for giving cannabis its impact – does not stay in a person’s system long enough. This is why law enforcement and marijuana advocates alike are still looking at blood tests as the best method for detecting impairment after smoking weed.

Another reason why marijuana breathalyzers will never become a reality is the fact that THC can break down in a person’s mouth and throat after smoking, making it difficult to determine if someone is impaired or not.

One study from Australian researchers recently published that both blood and “oral THC fluid are relatively poor or inconsistent indicators of cannabis-induced impairment.”

Thus, for a marijuana breathalyzer to prove effective, it would need to analyze a different biomarker. With this in mind, a breathalyzer simply would not show whether someone is impaired by cannabis the same way that an alcohol breathalyzer would.

“This contrasts with the much stronger relationship between blood alcohol concentrations and driving impairment,” says the researchers, whose work was published in the journal Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Review. These findings have the potential to push “implications for the application of drug-driving laws globally.”

Even though the news that marijuana breathalyzers couldn’t become a reality has been uncovered, researchers and entrepreneurs alike still want to breathe life into this dream. At this point, there is no clear indicator that drugged driving has become an issue, despite the fact that there has been an uptick in the number of people found with traces of cannabis in their bodies following accidents.

But there’s no telling as to whether the drivers were high when they got into their accidents.

With this being the case, the call for a quick way to give an accurate indication of THC intoxication is there. But the way the body breaks down THC is not comparable to how alcohol works in the body’s system.

With cannabis, the blood and urine tests detect fat-soluble cannabis metabolites long after they impair the consumer. Thus, it’s unlikely that a breathalyzer will ever measure impairment as these focus on blood or saliva levels that couldn’t be reliable enough to force a conviction from a judge or jury.

Perhaps someday, another method for measuring cannabis impairment will hit the market. But until then, the current tests will continue to indicate use rather than current impairment.

Do you think society will develop a way to detect current impairment from cannabis that will be admissible in a court of law? Leave a comment below!

Louis Levey is the Content Success Manager and Founder at No Strings Content. He's passionate about helping cannabis businesses use content to attract, educate, and convert audiences. His hometown is Boca Raton, Florida, but he currently lives and works remotely in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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