A new speedy spit test could be the breathalyzer's counterpart when it comes to roadside testing for marijuana. The technology, developed by Shan Xiang Wang from Stanford University, can detect the presence of THC (the main chemical in weed that makes you high) in saliva within three minutes. Cops don't even need to bring samples to the lab – the sensor that can detect THC is portable and delivers results to phones via Bluetooth.
Professor Wang told Digital Trends:
The professor's technology works by using nanoparticles that fit THC (or reagent molecules) perfectly. When the results come back, the tester can see how many nanograms of THC there are for every milliliter of saliva. At the moment, Wang's technique is merely a proof of concept, though his lab plans to begin making the actual handheld device law enforcement can use.
"Detection of marijuana from blood or urine in a reference lab is not difficult, but it is difficult or impractical at the roadside. Most law enforcement officers are not authorized to take blood samples, while taking a urine sample on spot is extremely inconvenient. Detection of marijuana from saliva would bypass the trappings with either blood or urine samples."
Lawmakers are still trying to iron out marijuana-related driving rules in the US, since it's pretty tough to say if one is too high to drive. A recent study commissioned by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, for instance, determined that THC in the blood might not be a useful indicator for how intoxicated a person is. Our body absorbs the chemical in a different way than it does alcohol. And since THC dissolves in fat rather than water, it can remain in fatty tissues such as the brain for a very long time. A NHTSA expert told New Scientist that devices like this still need to be tested more thoroughly in order to establish what THC measurements typically lead to bad driving.
This article by Mariella Moon originally ran on on Engadget, the definitive guide to this connected life.