In August of 2018 the Canadian federal government approved the use of the Drager DrugTest 5000 by law enforcement officials for the detection of THC in drivers. The Drager device is, to this point, the only such device that has made it through the testing process conducted by the independent Canadian Society of Forensic Science. The government has been touting saliva tests as an important tool in the campaign to limit drug-impaired driving, but so far the impact has been limited.
Many factors play into the current state of roadside testing. Even though the Drager device was approved by the Forensic Science commission, one study conducted in Norway found false positive and false negative rates of around 14% for THC when compared to blood samples. The manufacturer recommends using the testing device in temperatures ranging from four to 40 degrees Celsius, presenting problems in Canadian conditions that are often far colder. As a result, many police departments have been waiting to adopt the technology. On top of the $6,000/unit cost, there are concerns that results could be challenged in court.
Recently, those concerns have played out in real life as a Nova Scotia medical marijuana patient is challenging the legality of the test. She was arrested and her license was suspended for seven days based on a positive saliva test for THC during a traffic stop. The charges were dropped and she was released when the police took her back to the station for a behavioral sobriety test that showed her to be unimpaired.
Alcohol is metabolized by the human body at a predictable rate, and certain levels of blood alcohol have fairly consistent effects on behavior. THC, meanwhile, is stored for a long time in fatty tissues and can be detected long after any possibility of impairment. Additionally, drug concentrations in saliva do not accurately reflect drug concentrations in the blood. Finally, the current tests are unable to distinguish between the different metabolites of THC that are processed in the body once the cannabis is consumed.
Eric Dumschat, legal director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada, sums up the reality of the current situation nicely. “We had expected there would have been more devices approved to this point and hopefully in the longer run, the technology is able to be improved. In an ideal world, we would have the equivalent of the breathalyzer, but alcohol is a very simple molecule compared with THC,” he said.
Development of the Cannabix Marijuana Breathalyzer
Cannabix Technologies Inc. (CSE: BLO) (OTC: BLOZF) is deep into its development of the Cannabix Marijuana Breathalyzer, seeking to provide consistent, convenient, and accurate THC detection for both law enforcement and workplace applications. The Breathalyzer utilizes field asymmetric waveform ion mobility spectrometry (FAIMS) technology to detect THC from breath samples. FAIMS is an analytical chemistry technology that filters and identifies substances by separating ions. Cannabix is also working to develop sensitivity for different metabolites of marijuana. By detecting and measuring different metabolites of marijuana, Cannabix is working to provide a much more accurate picture of the recency of cannabis use.
From the company’s recent press release update on the Breathalyzer’s progress:
In addition to THC, Cannabix scientists are using FAIMS to detect two key metabolites of THC, being 11-hydroxy-delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and 11-nor-9-carboxy-tetrahydrocannabinol in standards and in breath.
Marijuana contains several cannabinoids in addition to THC, several of which are metabolized in the body relatively quickly and have shorter half-lives. THC can be detectable in blood for weeks; whereas, metabolites such as 11-hydroxy-delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and 11-nor-9-carboxy-tetrahydrocannabinol are only detectable for a few hours after consumption of cannabis. The detection of THC and its metabolites in human breath provides for real-time pharmacokinetic analysis. Such analysis provides a method for the identification of “recency of use” that will be important for determining impairment at the roadside. Detection capability of the metabolites provides analysis of frequent users of marijuana who tend to retain THC in their body for longer periods of time, relative to infrequent marijuana users who tend to clear THC from their body more quickly. This data and analysis will be important for an eventual court approved device. Furthermore, 11-nor-9- carboxy-tetrahydrocannabinol is the primary metabolite from the liver, which is prevalent from the consumption of edibles.
Should Cannabix successfully bring the Breathalyzer, now in its Beta 3.0 phase, to market, it could provide just the solution public safety experts and advocates are longing for. In the meantime, police and government officials will continue to look for answers to the vexing problem of detecting and preventing cannabis-impaired driving.
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