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Volunteers Wanted to Get High For Weed Breathalyzer Study

At Washington State University, researchers are looking for volunteers who are 21 or older – not necessarily students so they can conduct field tests on a breathalyzer capable of detecting Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol – or THC – in potentially drug-impaired workers or drivers.

The Seattle PI found out that participants will be provided $30 for the first hour of their time, then $10 per hour after that. They’ll first be tested to provide baseline THC numbers via blood, breath and oral fluid tests, and then be tested again once they’ve smoked marijuana.

This isn’t an entirely free ride: subjects are required to provide their own weed and smoke it off campus per federal regulations, then they’ll be transported to Pullman Regional Hospital for testing.

Chemistry professor Brian Clowers, is leading the research team that’s attempting to detect the presence of THC using ion mobility spectrometry (IMS), a method developed at WSU that can “identify the chemical makeup of virtually any substance based on the speed of its molecules as they travel through a cylinder.” IMS technology is currently used for drug detection by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.

Professor emeritus of political science at WSU, Nicholas Lovrich says, “Everyone who is working with trying to reduce deaths and accidents and collisions, they’re really interested in having some new tools for law enforcement to use, both as a deterrent
to say — ‘Hey, we can catch you if you smoke and drive’ — and as an aid in prosecution of violating impaired driving laws.”

The immediate goal of the study is to identify THC with the hope that someday a standard can be set that accurately correlates THC levels to impairment. The problem right now is that unlike alcohol, which reacts predictably person to person, the ability for THC to impair drivers or workers depends largely on how frequently they ingest cannabis. “We are not at the stage where we can assess impairment, that is a difficult question to answer given the fact that you have chronic and also casual users,” Clowers said. “What that level is going to be is still an open research question that we hope our tool can shed some light on in the near future.”

Lt. Robert Sharpe of WSP’s Impaired Driving Section (IDS) points out that officers pull people over because of observed impairment, not because they think someone has recently smoked marijuana. But since simply observing someone doesn’t give officers concrete proof, the hope is that the THC breathalyzer will be a tool that makes things a little easier to figure out.

“We know how to identify impairment,” he said, “And so this is just a tool right now to help identify what the thing is that’s causing the impairment.”