US and Canadian Officials Scramble to Solve Marijuana-Impaired Driving Issue


Robin Lefferts

April 17th, 2018

Exclusive, News, Top News


As legal cannabis use, both medicinal and recreational, spreads farther and wider through both Canada and the United States, one public health concern continues to vex those responsible for regulating public safety. In essence, nobody knows what constitutes impaired driving under the influence of cannabis, what blood levels of THC are acceptable, or even how to accurately test those levels and correlate them with impairment. Compounding the problem is the lack of public awareness of the dangers of drugged driving.

Cannabix Technologies (CSE: BLO) (OTC: BLOZF) is tackling a crucial part of the complex issue head on. The company has advanced its Beta 3.0 Cannabix Marijuana Breathalyzer through several stages of development, hoping to solve the issues surrounding accurate and convenient testing of THC levels.

Alcohol vs. Cannabis Impaired Driving

Alcohol-impaired driving is fairly straightforward in terms of testing, and well understood both by the public and by safety officials. Due to years of scientific study and public awareness campaigns, and to the obvious nature of alcohol impairment, everyone recognizes the dangers and knows the legal limits of alcohol use when it comes to driving. Anything more than one drink an hour and you are risking not only your life but the life of others, as well as legal peril. Either the alcohol is in your bloodstream or not, and there are formulas that can be used to determine the rate at which the body metabolizes alcohol.

Cannabis impairment is not as simple, for a variety of reasons. The plant has been illegal for so long that scientific study has been severely lacking. For instance, regulators are just now realizing that THC metabolizes into various forms in the body, some of which are detectable for weeks after using marijuana.

Cannabix issued an update recently stating, “Marijuana contains several cannabinoids in addition to THC. Many of these have shorter half-lives and are metabolized in the body relatively quickly. 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 Cannabix FAIMS device has demonstrated the detection of THC and related metabolites in MS (mass spectrometer)-coupled testing. 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” and also 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.”

As the science slowly catches up with reality, conflicting studies have been published regarding how much marijuana use impairs drivers. In fact, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published a study in 2015 indicating that stoned drivers are about as likely to get in a wreck as sober drivers. At the same time, the state of Washington’s Traffic Safety Commission announced that marijuana use doubles the risk of being in a fatal crash. It’s no wonder that public sentiment is much more tolerant of driving while high on cannabis than it is of driving while drunk on alcohol.

Need for Reliable Testing

Regardless of where regulators come down on the issue of acceptable levels of THC and impaired driving, one glaring need remains. Accurate, portable, non-invasive testing is still a fairly elusive target. As Sarah Urfer, president and owner of ChemaTox lab based in Boulder Colorado, put it, “Testing for THC in whole blood isn’t actually that hard. Where the issue comes is with interpretation and roadside testing.”

Last year, the Canadian federal government studied the effectiveness of roadside saliva tests. While the tests were easy to use and non-invasive, their accuracy (especially in cold weather) is questionable at best. In fact, 80% of the positive results came in weather colder than the manufacturers’ recommended temperature range. Even after the saliva test, a blood test is still required for further analysis and more accurate results.

Cannabix Technologies believes it has the answer to this part of the problem. The company’s Cannabix Marijuana Breathalyzer is being developed to work both independently in the field and in the lab when coupled with a mass spectrometer. This is important since confirmation of field tests by lab spectrometry will likely be essential for the tests to meet regulatory standards.

The breathalyzer also incorporates a specialized breath temperature stabilizing component that overcomes issues surrounding testing in cold weather. Without this level of reliability in a variety of temperatures and environments, any testing protocol may well prove useless and subject to legal challenges. Additionally, while waiting for a backup blood test, cannabis blood levels decrease up to 80-90% in the first hour after use but THC is still impacting the brain. Getting the test right the first time, in a laboratory-verifiable manner, is essential to providing the best solution.

The company, law enforcement, politicians, advocates… everyone agrees that there is an urgent need to settle on an acceptable method for roadside cannabis testing as legalization spreads across North America. “We’re in the infancy with this, and it’s very much an unknown since we don’t have the data,” Greenwood Village Colorado Police Chief John Jackson said. “We spent 25 or 30 years figuring out where we were with alcohol, and finally got to breathalyzers. There is no field test for marijuana yet.” Cannabix Technologies may have the answer, stay tuned for further developments.

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About Robin Lefferts

Robin Lefferts has been involved in the legal cannabis industry since 2012, sometimes as an active participant and always as an interested observer.


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