UF Working To Develop Marijuana Breathalyzer

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A inside look on the testing process for the THC breath detection device. The Yost Research Group is using high-field asymmetric waveform ion mobility spectrometry to analyze Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). (Edwin Exaus/ WUFT News)
A inside look on the testing process for the THC breath detection device. The Yost Research Group is using high-field asymmetric waveform ion mobility spectrometry to analyze Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). (Edwin Exaus/ WUFT News)

The University of Florida is working with a company to create a THC breathalyzer.

Cannabix Technologies Inc., a Canadian technology company specializing in breath-testing technologies, has paired with UF’s Yost Research Group to develop a mobile THC breath-detection device.

The company plans on using the device to identify drivers who may be impaired by marijuana, as well as for random drug test in the workplace where THC impairment can be hazardous.

The device will favor an alcohol breathalyzer and be used by law enforcement.

Chad Holway, University of Florida police officer and breath-test operator, said he believes a THC Breathalyzer could be beneficial, especially with the amount of states that have legalized marijuana. And, the fact that Florida may be next.

But one of his concerns is that the detection device will not be able to compete with the rapid rate at which states are legalizing marijuana.

“We need to be ahead of the law and by the time it becomes legal we need to have a Breathalyzer already in place,” Holway said.

Florida Statute 316.193 lays out the rules to determining if a person is impaired while driving under the influence. It states the legal limit for a person’s blood-alcohol level but doesn’t give limits to how much Tetrahydrocannabinol can be legally impairing.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re using it for recreational or medicinal purposes, there is a threshold,” Holway said. “When you take more than prescribed that is misuse of the drug. There will be a legal limit.”

“The concentrations [of THC] will be much lower, so we’ll need devices that are more sensitive, but for THC in some ways it’s much easier because we know the molecule,” said Richard Yost, UF professor and director of analytical chemistry.

The breathalyzer will only focus on detecting the amount of THC in a person’s breath. It will use high-field asymmetric waveform ion mobility spectrometry to analyze Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), said Richard Yost, UF professor and director of analytical chemistry.

According to Yost, he and his research group are still in the early stages of the project. They are developing the hardware in the UF chemistry lab, looking at biomarkers and how to measure them, as well as design work for the device.

The UF chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws helps move public opinion on campus to legalize the use of marijuana by adults responsibly. Brandon Harvey, president of the club, thinks the THC Breathalyzer can be both positive and negative.

Harvey said the device has the potential to expand the research framework on THC and marijuana overall, and alternatively it can be misused and abused.

“I believe that through regulation we can understand more about the plant, but there are a lot of things that need to hammered out before I can say how it will affect the community,” Harvey said.

Holway said there hasn’t been a set date for when the THC Breathalyzer will be complete, but added there are more legislative issues that need to be sorted out before the device will appear in communities.

About Edwin Exaus

Edwin is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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