Stanford researchers have developed a device they say can detect THC in saliva in less than five minutes. But does it work at detecting intoxication?
It’s safe to assume that most drivers don’t want to share the road with stoned motorists.
To help law enforcement keep marijuana-impaired individuals out of the driver’s seat, Stanford researchers have developed a new device — known as the potalyzer — that quickly provides a measurement of an individual’s marijuana intoxication.
According to a press release, the potalyzer uses magnetic nanotechnology — which has previously been used as a cancer screen — to measure the levels in saliva of THC, the drug’s most potent psychoactive agent. If it’s effective, the potalyzer could be the first practical roadside test for marijuana impairment.
Officers would first need to collect a spit sample from the individual in question. The saliva test reveals THC results in less than five minutes. Stanford says:
“The big challenge is that these spit tests may be called upon to detect superlatively tiny concentrations of THC. Some states have no set limit of THC in the body for drivers, while others set a limit of 0 or 5 nanograms (a billionth of a gram) per milliliter of blood.”
But the effectiveness of the potalyzer is already being questioned. Opponents of the device say using a potalyzer is not nearly as accurate as a Breathalyzer at testing a person’s intoxication level.
Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at New York University, tells NPR, “You can be positive for THC a week after the last time you used cannabis. Not subjectively impaired at all, not impaired at all by any objective measure, but still positive.”
Thomas Marcotte, co-director of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California, San Diego, explains that the reason measuring the presence of THC is not a good indication of intoxication is because the THC isn’t water-soluble like alcohol and it gets stored in your fat cells. He tells NPR:
“Unlike alcohol, which has a generally linear relationship between the amount of alcohol you consume, your breath alcohol content and driving performance, the THC route of metabolism is very different.”
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