In the U.S., marijuana is one of the most used federally illegal drugs. There are no federal regulations governing marijuana use, leaving law enforcement with the challenge of identifying impaired driving.
A team of researchers at the University of Texas in Dallas has developed a biosensor that uses saliva to detect the levels of THC on a subject in one minute.
Their study was published in Nature Scientific Reports in September. The biosensor device will help in the roadside assessment of THC consumption. It works the same way as those testing for alcohol-impaired driving.
Dr. Shalini Prasad, who is one of the researchers and an interim department head of bioengineering in the Erik Johnson School of Engineering and Computer Science, said that even though marijuana is not legal in Texas, there are conversations geared towards that end. She furthers says that there are no devices that can accurately determine the levels of THC in a subject.
THC is the active component of marijuana that has the potential to affect memory, mobility, focus, coordination, decision-making, sensory and time perception of the consumers.
According to Dr. Prasad, marijuana effects vary from person to person and determining how it affects the population as a whole is much more complicated than it is for alcohol. However, there are several studies on the metabolism of marijuana.
Previously the team had developed a biosensor that uses sweat to determine the level of glucose in the body. But, it takes too long for marijuana to leave the body through sweat, thus, testing sweat for marijuana is not suitable for ensuring road safety. Testing impaired driving through blood tests is also time-consuming, invasive, and requires medical expertise, which not all law enforcement members are equipped with.
Prasad further said that time is crucial when developing technology meant for public-assessment. The team set out to develop the device after noticing a gap when they reviewed the existing technology. She also explained that the faster the test is conducted, the better and the easier it is to ensure public safety.
Using saliva is the best alternative as it is not invasive, and it does not require much time to get accurate results. Just get a swab on the cheek, and you have your testing sample. Some kits can even be used at home, but they require more caution when handling them, said Prasad.
The biosensor uses the electrochemical activities of the molecules to determine THC concentration. However, the method still has its complications, such as the presence of other molecules in saliva, which makes it difficult for the biosensor to pick THC metabolites. Another complication is acidic saliva, as it tends to camouflage electrochemical signals, but they overcame this hurdle by designing a lubricant that amplifies the metabolite signal.
The team worked for a period of three years, on and off to develop the saliva biosensor, which has a 95% accuracy. The team has hopes of partnering with researchers working closely with marijuana metabolism to perfect their device.
Experts suggest that the marijuana industry, including actors like Green Growth Brands Inc. (CSE: GGB) (OTCQB: GGBXF) and HTC Extraction Systems (TSX.V: HTC), may still have strong reservations about marijuana impairment test kits since there is no agreement regarding the standards upon which someone can be regarded as impaired.
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