Brain Scans Are Coming Up From Behind!
Multiple companies announce a new era of drug testing that is designed to literally take your breath away… and see what's inside
[DTN] The race for a billion dollar marijuana breathalyzer is heating up in 2020 as a slew of hungry companies and several research facilities compete aggressively to be the FIRST to bring a successful, short-term bud test to market. Armed with a host of new technologies, all the contestants claim to have the precise solution; proprietary, of course. Several new devices are being field tested right now, and at least one will be road-ready by the end of the year.
If we were to handicap this tournament the clear favorite at this time would be Vancouver’s Cannabix Technologies. Preparing to be the breath-test industry leader since 2014, Cannabix has slowly developed a pair of marijuana breathalyzers based on two different technologies.
One is a high-end, high priced unit for law enforcement, and the second is a more competitively priced device for workplace drug testing with an artificial nose rendered by 3-D printers that can sniff out infinitesimal traces of THC. By design, both tests are viable for only three hours after toking. Those three hours correspond to the so-called “window of peak impairment” that the National Highway Safety Administration claims for drivers who smoke weed.
Coming up close behind, snapping at Cannabix heels, is the The Hound, a whimsically-named digitized police dog developed by Hound Labs, an Oakland, California concern that has thus far managed to sniff out $65 million in venture capital.
The Hound acts like a miniaturized mass spectrometer that can measure the mass and concentrations of real THC molecules, not the trace metabolites.
The company got a public boost last summer when researchers at UC San Francisco used Hound technology to demonstrate that THC could be captured and identified in breath for up to three hours after smoking.
Admittedly, Hound Labs sponsored that study but so far the results have not been challenged. The company’s founder Mike Lynn told CNN, “We aren’t measuring impairment. We’re measuring THC in breath where it lasts a very short period of time.” The Hound will “provide objective data” to law enforcement and employers so they can make better-informed decisions, he said.
Both the Cannabix breathalyzers and The Hound’s artificial nose built upon existing medical test technology to target faint traces of THC. A third would-be competitor, the University of Pittsburg, has developed a completely new approach to finding those precious few molys.
A prototype developed within the university’s Sensor Technology Advanced Research (STAR) laboratory uses carbon nanotubes that are 100,000 times smaller than the average a human hair. Errant THC molecules bind to the tube’s surface and disrupts the nano’s passive electrical properties, and the speed at which the current recovers indicates the presence – or the absence – of THC.
Very clever indeed, and researchers say their 21st Century tech is ready to be field tested. They are actively searching for an industry partner with both the resources and expertise needed to bring their nanotec THC breathalyzer to market.
“If we have a suitable industrial partner,” a STAR Lab spokesman told National Public Radio, “then the device by itself would be quite ready in a few months.”
Another start-up that launched last year with funds from the celebrated industry seed accelerator, Y Combinator, is keeping its cards close to its vest. Sann Tek Labs has said very little publicly about its SannTek 315 breath testing device except to confirm that it too will be based on deep-dive nano tech. The company released a pic of the prototype and signaled its hopes to keep the price point between $800 and $1000 to “stay competitive with other options.”
Finding an accurate roadside THC test that can only detect very recent use would be a vast improvement over the current practice of using useless DRE‘s (Drug Recognition Experts) or subjective sobriety tests. But detecting short-term THC use is not the same thing as proving impairment, far from it. To prove impairment, you must maybe look inside the brain, and researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital are trying to do just that.
Using a sensor-studded cap fastened with a chin-strap, the team at MassGen is trying to calibrate an electroencephalogram (EEG) for pot. The device scatters wavelengths of light through a stoner’s skull in order to detect minute changes in blood flow that would effect communication within the brain.
Currently, it’s a two step process that requires a baseline reading of the unbaked mind before a second subsequent reading can discover if the subject just got stoned. Just as the breathalyzers will need to discern the difference between THC and a host of other particulates in the breath like tobacco, so too will the brain caps need to tell the difference between a marijuana high and sleep deprivation or the presence of prescription medicine.
“Whether or not it will be useful, practically, is anyone’s guess,” Jodi Gilman, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School who is one of the researchers running the study, told the Boston Globe.
Motivated perhaps by a capitalist zeal to be first on the shelves, Zentrela, a commercial start-up based in Ontario is getting ready to rollout “The Cognalyzer,” a modified EEG device that uses a “proprietary algorithm” to analyze a person’s brain waves in about five minutes.
Sounds like Scientolgy, doesn’t it? Despite its garish WoodyAllen/Sci-fi name, The Cognalyzer is currently undergoing third-party clinical trials in London, Ont. with a leading international contract research organization.
If all goes well in Ontario, field tests will swiftly follow. Those tests could be the first inevitable step towards modern brain-cap science squealing on the stoned.
IF it works.
No one knows yet if any of this works or, if it does, to what extent?
The drug industry has a terrible history of trotting out new drug test platforms before they’re ready for prime time, and fixing their flawed technologies on the fly (literally, in the case of urinalysis).
Maybe an adequate breathalyzer for pot is still years away, but that won’t stop flawed products from coming out. We’ll find out this year because, sizzle or steak, the race is on and, if any of this works then maybe, just maybe, a kinder gentler pot test might emerge.