New Marijuana Breathalyzer Could Make Roads Safer

Driving under the influence of marijuana can impair a driver’s abilities and create unsafe conditions on the roadway.

For law enforcement, testing drivers for suspected marijuana use has been difficult, usually requiring a hospital visit for a blood sample. However, a new test developed for detection of THC – the main psychoactive chemical in marijuana – in the breath of marijuana smokers will likely change that.

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) scientists have developed a simple marijuana breath test, similar to the breathalyzer currently used to detect the presence of alcohol. According to published research, the new THC breath test can detect the presence of marijuana used in the last ½ hour to 2.5 hours, depending on the frequency of use.

How the THC Breathalyzer Works

NIDA researchers collected breath samples from volunteers who were considered “chronic” smokers (more than four times per week) and “occasional” smokers (less than twice a week) before and after smoking one joint. They found THC is a major cannabinoid in the breath, detected on specialized breath pads. This makes breathalyzer testing an optimal testing alternative for “recent driving under the influence of cannabis.”

The only drawback, according to NIDA, is the limited and short detection time.

The Truth About Driving while High

While many people believe marijuana makes drivers slower and safer, new research shows there’s a much darker side to driving stoned. THC causes serious impairment in motor skills, judgment and perception; none of which make for safe driving conditions.

A report published in the American Journal of Epidemiology examined marijuana use and car accidents, noting that fatal crashes involving marijuana have tripled over the last decade. According to their research, the number of car crash victims with verified THC in their blood work spiked from just 4.2 percent to an astounding 12.2 percent in 2010.

Dr. Guohua Li, director of the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention at Columbia and co-author of the study, told HealthDay that “one of nine drivers involved in fatal crashes would test positive for marijuana." Li also warned that, should the trend continue, THC will overtake alcohol to become the most commonly found substance involved in impaired driving fatalities.

According to another report published in the British Medical Journal, when compared to drivers who are not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, drivers high on marijuana are twice as likely to cause a car crash. The authors found the consumption of cannabis impairs motor skills vital to safe driving, dangerously increasing the chance of collisions.

If you or someone you care about needs help with marijuana addiction, we can connect you with the best treatment options through our toll-free helpline at 1-800-928-9139.

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