As 33 states and the District of Columbia have legalized pot in some form, Breathalyzer-type devices that could aid police enforcement have begun appearing in various stages of development. Legal experts and scientists say there’s a long way to go before those devices can actually detect a driver’s impairment. University of Pittsburgh researchers have announced the latest tool to detect THC — delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive component in pot — in breath, NPR reports. The university’s Star Lab, led by Alexander Star, began developing the box-shaped device in 2016, in the midst of a wave of pot legalization. Star, a chemistry professor, partnered with Ervin Sejdic, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, to build the prototype. The device uses carbon nanotubes, which are 1/100,000 the size of human hair, to recognize the presence of THC, even when other substances are in the breath, such as alcohol. The THC molecule binds to the surface of the tubes, altering their electrical properties.
“Nanotechnology sensors can detect THC at levels comparable to or better than mass spectrometry, which is considered the gold standard for THC detection,” says a news release from the university’s Swanson School of Engineering. The device is nearly ready for mass production. “If we have a suitable industrial partner, then the device by itself would be quite ready in a few months,” Star said. The remaining steps include testing the prototype and correlating the device’s output to the driver’s level of impairment. See Also: Marijuana and Driving: A Cop’s Perspective, by Howard Wooldridge, The Crime Report, Jan 17, 2019.