As more states legalize medical and recreational cannabis use, law enforcement and opponents of cannabis reform argue that marijuana legalization will lead to increased rates of cannabis-impaired driving and traffic incidents. But while police officers can easily test for alcohol impairment using breathalyzer tests, there are currently no standardized tests to check for THC impairment via the breath.
Furthermore, research has uncovered that THC blood levels are not a reliable indicator of intoxication and impairment levels. Studies have found that the base THC blood level of long-term cannabis users can be higher than the legal limit set in several states. THC can also remain in the blood for hours after consumption and indicate impairment long after its effects have faded.
As such, authorities have been interested in developing technology that would allow police officers to accurately test for THC impairment onsite. The federal government plans on investing more than $1.4 million in studies designed to determine how the concentration of cannabis compounds changes in people’s breath over time after they consume cannabis.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently posted a “sources sought,” stating that it is searching for a vendor that is able to help run a study that would collect blood and breath samples and then test those samples for evidence of acute cannabis use by checking for cannabinoids such as delta-9 THC and their metabolites.
NIST acting director of media relations Richard Press says that the nonregulatory agency is looking for a contractor that will recruit study participants, collect breath samples after the participants consume their own state-legal marijuana and then send the samples to NIST laboratories for analysis. He said that the purpose of the sources sought notice was to notify potential contractors of the study requirements.
Over the past decade, researchers have tried to develop machinery that would allow them to test for THC impairment the way breathalyzers test for alcohol. However, the industry hasn’t been able to develop an efficient standard testing method for cannabis impairment. With dozens of states now allowing cannabis consumption, the need for a standard device that can test for cannabis impairment has grown.
Titled Breath Measurements of Acute Cannabis Elimination (BACE), the upcoming study will research how the cannabinoid concentration in a person’s breath changes hours after they consume cannabis, Press says. The study’s objective will be to determine whether or not THC can remain in cannabis users’ breath even after they abstain for long periods.
The entire cannabis industry, including entities such as Flora Growth Corp. (NASDAQ: FLGC), would support a reliable way to detect impaired drivers, so the effort by NIST to study this matter is a welcome one.
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