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Crime Transportation Technology

Breath Test For Pot Being Developed At WSU 342

An anonymous reader writes with this news from Tacoma, WA's News Tribune: A team at Washington State University is working to develop a breath test that could quickly determine whether a driver is under the influence of marijuana. Law enforcement officers already use preliminary breath tests in the field to estimate drivers' blood alcohol content. But no similar portable tool exists to test for marijuana impairment ... Stoned drivers have become an increasing concern since Washington voters legalized recreational use of marijuana ... A quarter of blood samples taken from drivers in 2013, the first full year the initiative was in effect, came back positive for pot. ... officers and prosecutors rely on blood tests to determine how much active THC is present in a driver's blood. Those test results aren't immediately available to patrol officers who suspect someone is driving high." Also reported: "Under Washington's legal marijuana law, those who get caught driving with a blood content of at least 5 nanograms of active THC per milliliter are subject to an automatic driver's license suspension of 90 days or more."
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Breath Test For Pot Being Developed At WSU

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  • by Stargoat ( 658863 ) <stargoat@gmail.com> on Sunday November 30, 2014 @11:22PM (#48494803) Journal

    As great as any new technology is, I hope this is antiquated by law changes before the technical application machines become practical.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      After it became legal in CO I've been playing around with it a bit and I think there is a huge difference between driving high and having used small amounts. I think if someone takes a few hits to relax about traffic they are going to be safer than a "sober" but frustrated person who tailgates and jackrabbits around. I don't think this is as cut and dry as alcohol.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 30, 2014 @11:42PM (#48494889)

        Not very scientific. I'm sure most drunk drivers would say the same.

        • Think about musicians though. It's certainly possible to execute very precise muscle movements with precision and control while stoned. Why shouldn't you be able to drive?

          How many Domino's Pizza delivery drivers drive while stoned? You get good at it.

          • by amiga3D ( 567632 ) on Monday December 01, 2014 @12:10AM (#48495019)

            I've seen them do the same thing drunk as a skunk. So what? It's not the same thing at all. You can shut your eyes and play too. Try that behind the wheel.

            • by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <bassbeast1968.gmail@com> on Monday December 01, 2014 @07:40AM (#48496185) Journal

              I'll tell y'all the same thing an old HS friend that was a countie mountie said when it came to pot..."Give me a pothead behind the wheel over a drunk any day of the week, the pothead will get paranoid and drive slower whereas the drunk always overestimates his ability and drives too fast. Never had to clean up a 3 car pileup from a pothead, been too many times i had to tell somebody their kid got drunk and wasted himself along with the poor soul they hit".

              Working at the shop I've got to talk to many an LEO about this and they all say the same thing, the potheads are less aggressive, drive slower, are frankly just not a threat like the drunks are.

              • by The Real Dr John ( 716876 ) on Monday December 01, 2014 @08:21AM (#48496275) Homepage
                This is true and well known to the police, and scientists as well. Alcohol inhibits glutamate (excitatory neural) receptors in the brain, so the more you drink the more your brain's activities are depressed. So the more drunk you get, the more impaired your mental functions become, and the less motor control you have. Pot has virtually no effect on glutamate receptors in the brain. It acts on endocanabinoid receptors which are in a whole different class. They are involved in other functions, including hunger sensations, pain sensations, and memory. There is some speculation that this system may be involved in clearing old memories, perhaps to make room for new ones. So ironically, pot would probably be better than alcohol for people in bars drinking and trying to forget bad memories.But pot does not impair driving abilities, and tends to make drivers more cautious. Testing for pot in drivers should not result in a fine, or license suspension, it should result in a "have a nice day" response from the officer as he hands you your license back.
                • by boristdog ( 133725 ) on Monday December 01, 2014 @01:07PM (#48498541)

                  I have only once had to drive while high, to get a dog to the emergency vet.

                  No matter how hard I TRIED to go faster (I was taking the dog to the emergency vet after all), my body would not let the car go over about 50-55 on the highway and not over 35-40 on the smaller roads. About 10 miles under the speed limit in both cases. It's like my brain and body knew how fast it could handle things.and refused to go any faster.

                  Whereas the one time I drove while even slightly alcohol impaired (after a dinner and two apparently strong drinks) I immediately ran into a parking lot bollard and dented my truck. I stopped right there and went back inside the restaurant to have a dessert and sober up a bit.

                  So I can believe what you say.

          • Fine motor skill, as used in playing music, is very different than gross motor skill, as used in driving. THC will effect them differently.

          • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Monday December 01, 2014 @12:44AM (#48495145) Homepage

            I actually saw a test once with a race driver getting hammered between doing rounds on a track with cones and various obstacles, his best lap came after 7 double vodka-orange juice when he was all but wasted. It's not muscle control that's the biggest drawback with drunk driving, it's that your reaction time and reasoning ability goes to hell. Put a bunch of people in a car simulator, half with placebo and half with pot and I'm sure they'll drive fine in ordinary situations. The interesting bit is what happens in potential accident scenarios.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Two words: Reaction time.

            A stoned musician can beat a drum with ease, but they don't have to worry about multi-ton vehicles moving at them, lights unexpectedly changing, or circumstances that require reactions in the milliseconds, not seconds.

            No, a person is not a better driver when stoned. Nor are they when drunk. They just THINK they are, but in reality, since their reaction times are in the shitter, a collision is just waiting to happen.

            Of course, I want to know how long this test in the TFA shows pot

            • by cold fjord ( 826450 ) on Monday December 01, 2014 @01:41AM (#48495363)

              A stoned musician can beat a drum with ease, but they don't have to worry about multi-ton vehicles moving at them, lights unexpectedly changing, or circumstances that require reactions in the milliseconds, not seconds.

              Good point. I don't think that even a Grateful Dead or Pink Floyd concert has required the band to take evasive action due to deer jumping onto the stage.

          • by mjwx ( 966435 ) on Monday December 01, 2014 @01:28AM (#48495313)

            Think about musicians though. It's certainly possible to execute very precise muscle movements with precision and control while stoned. Why shouldn't you be able to drive?

            That's a very good point.

            How many of them drop a note or fat finger a string when stoned. Far more often than when they are sober.

            The difference, and if you knew how to drive or play an instrument you'd understand, is that playing an instrument is mainly about muscle memory and rote memorisation of songs. Driving is about good perception and quick decision making. So a substance that lowers your reaction time and makes you more prone to distraction is the last thing you need whilst driving.

            I can drive (both on the street and the track) and play the Guitar... but never at the same time (only have one pair of hands).

          • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

            by catmistake ( 814204 )

            ...be able to drive?

            That's the wrong question. The question needs to be "where are all these car accidents caused by stoners?" The nanny-staters are INVENTING this problem without data (because there is none... pot doesn't cause car accidents like alcohol will... and if it did, there'd be bodies everywhere), because crime solving and the prevention of violence is too difficult. But them stoners are easy pickings! SO lets inflate the non-problem to blind everyone from the fact that police are ineffective at stopping crime, so

          • by mwvdlee ( 775178 )

            I've never seen a stoned musician slam a 2 ton metal guitar at 50mph into a crowd.

            • I've never seen a stoned musician slam a 2 ton metal guitar at 50mph into a crowd.

              When was the last time you saw a stoned driver do that?

        • Because alcohol gives you boosted levels of confidence (Of course I can still drive, I'm fine!!). Marijuana certainly does not (if it increases anything, it's paranoia).

          IMO, both of these substances will reduce your reaction time and potentially impair driving. But alcohol is far more dangerous because it impairs your driving *and* increases confidence. Marijuana reduces your confidence. The drunk driver is going 20 over the limit, the stoned driver is going 10 under. So it's not necessarily an equal
        • LOL that reminds me of Dead Island where that celebrity guy said that he drives better drunk (i.e. basically he drives intoxicated so much that he's more used to driving while drunk than when sober, kind of like how some people play pool better when they're drunk.)

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by BitterOak ( 537666 )

      As great as any new technology is, I hope this is antiquated by law changes before the technical application machines become practical.

      You mean you think it should be legal for people to drive while stoned?

      • Of course, it's classic stoner logic. It makes you stupid, therefore stupid ideas seem like genius.

      • I think people should be judged by their driving, not by their habits. Unless said habit can be traced to impaired functionality on the road. With alcohol it seems we have found not only at the very least a correlation but also a level at which it seems to impair enough people to warrant a limit. I highly doubt we have that kind of information on THC, mostly because it was not legal to use in the first place for most of the time that people used cars.

    • by mwvdlee ( 775178 ) on Monday December 01, 2014 @04:20AM (#48495741) Homepage

      I'd like to see marijuana legalized as much as most people and know that small doses don't negatively affect driving ability. Some go as far to say it may even improve driving ability. But surely everybody will agree that marijuana at large enough doses does impede driving ability. It's these larger doses that should not be allowed while driving.

      It's the same with alcohol. Just because you're allowed to be shit-faced drunk, doesn't mean you should be allowed to be shit-faced drunk while driving a car.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Threni ( 635302 )

        There needs to be an "is this person currently capable of driving properly" test. I don't feel any better knowing a loved one died at the hands of someone who's old, or losing their sight etc rather than being under the influence of drink or drugs.

        • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

          How about paying more attention to a mobile phone than the traffic lights, that's how I ended up on the receiving end. Biggest problem with driving, people do to much of it, become complacent and allow themselves to become distracted and make a mistake. Most times people get away with these mistakes but sometimes the odds just catch up. Driving is exceedingly dangerous business, wastes a lot of resources, generates a positively huge amount of pollution, kills millions of people every year and harms tens of

      • by floodo1 ( 246910 )
        Define large enough doses. I know people that have literally driven a million miles under the influence of "large doses." Drawing comparisons with driving under the influence of alcohol is pure folly, as nearly everything about marijuana is different than alcohol.
      • It's the same with alcohol. Just because you're allowed to be shit-faced drunk, doesn't mean you should be allowed to be shit-faced drunk while driving a car.

        The standard for DUI/DWI should be obviously impaired. But the standard for a moving violation varies by offense, as it should.

    • As great as any new technology is, I hope this is antiquated by law changes before the technical application machines become practical.

      How's that? Assuming it does decrease the ability to drive then it would be the same as driving drunk: illegal, stupid and dangerous.
      I just hope they start checking for it here in the Netherlands.

  • Evidence? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TechyImmigrant ( 175943 ) on Sunday November 30, 2014 @11:35PM (#48494867) Homepage Journal

    Where are the properly controlled studies showing that a given level of blood THC is causally related to an increase in driving accidents?

    Or will they go the route of cell phones and accidents and only look at the THC blood levels of drivers in accidents so it's impossible to show causation?

     

    • Re:Evidence? (Score:5, Informative)

      by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Sunday November 30, 2014 @11:52PM (#48494943) Homepage Journal

      Where are the properly controlled studies showing that a given level of blood THC is causally related to an increase in driving accidents?

      They exist [norml.org] but they don't validate the legislators' pre-conceived science-free notions, so they need to be ignored.

      If this breath test can generate revenue and court cases, then the uselessness of a one-time blow for THC isn't relevant. (prediction: somebody will propose compulsory roadside fat-tissue biopsy in the next five years).

      And we're not even considering the substitution effect of decreased fatalities with THC vs. ethanol intoxicated drivers, with preferential bias existing for THC. It would be great if nobody got high and drove, but it would be great if people rode around on winged unicorns too, because they don't even need airbags (sparkles work just as well). Dealing with reality can be so darn annoying at times.

      • Would it surprise you to learn that not all the data out there supports the position of the primary advocacy group for the legalization of marijuana?

        Acute cannabis consumption and motor vehicle collision risk: systematic review of observational studies and meta-analysis [bmj.com]

        Acute cannabis consumption nearly doubles the risk of a collision resulting in serious injury or death; this increase was most evident for studies of high quality, case-control studies, and studies of fatal collisions

        Effects on Driving: [nhtsa.gov]

        The drug manufacturer suggests that patients receiving treatment with Marinol® should be specifically warned not to drive until it is established that they are able to tolerate the drug and perform such tasks safely. Epidemiology data from road traffic arrests and fatalities indicate that after alcohol, marijuana is the most frequently detected psychoactive substance among driving populations. Marijuana has been shown to impair performance on driving simulator tasks and on open and closed driving courses for up to approximately 3 hours. Decreased car handling performance, increased reaction times, impaired time and distance estimation, inability to maintain headway, lateral travel, subjective sleepiness, motor incoordination, and impaired sustained vigilance have all been reported. Some drivers may actually be able to improve performance for brief periods by overcompensating for self-perceived impairment. The greater the demands placed on the driver, however, the more critical the likely impairment. Marijuana may particularly impair monotonous and prolonged driving. Decision times to evaluate situations and determine appropriate responses increase. Mixing alcohol and marijuana may dramatically produce effects greater than either drug on its own.

        Marijuana Might Make You a Worse Driver Than Alcohol Does [newrepublic.com]

        • So I've just looked at two studies one pointed to by you and one pointed to by someone a bit higher up on the web page and they come to opposite conclusions. However the 'pot bad' result is from a study claiming to be a case controlled one and so cannot possibly be looking at causation relative to accident rates because the people running the study would have been arrested.

    • Re:Evidence? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by damn_registrars ( 1103043 ) <damn.registrars@gmail.com> on Sunday November 30, 2014 @11:53PM (#48494949) Homepage Journal
      It isn't acceptable to be under the influence of any other psychoactive compounds while driving, what is special about pot? Why should pot users be given special privilege?

      I've never known a stoned person to be in a hurry, so where would be the great injustice in asking them to call a friend or a cab to get to wherever they want to go?
  • So the cops blood tested all of these people with what I assume is probably cause and only 25% were actually under the influence? Or do they just randomly blood test everyone and 25% of all Washington drivers are high?
    • by amiga3D ( 567632 )

      I guess this means that 75 percent of them were just shitty drivers and didn't have the excuse of being stoned.

    • So the cops blood tested all of these people with what I assume is probably cause and only 25% were actually under the influence? Or do they just randomly blood test everyone and 25% of all Washington drivers are high?

      Could be neither. In many jurisdictions, the roadside breath test (or field sobriety test) merely provides probable cause for law enforcement to obtain a warrant, with which they can compel a blood sample. I wouldn't be surprised if they are allowed to test for a range of intoxicating substances - including THC - and not just ethanol with these tests.

      Note, as well, that "25% tested positive" is not the same as "25% were 'high' or intoxicated". Detectable amounts of THC or metabolites don't mean, necess

  • by fustakrakich ( 1673220 ) on Sunday November 30, 2014 @11:42PM (#48494893) Journal

    I think we're parked, man!

  • My stance on pot has angered many from both the pro-pot and anti-pot camps. I have been waiting for a test along these lines - preferably easily-administered and quantifiable - to determine when someone has taken in too much pot to be in public. Then we can really treat pot the same way we treat alcohol - with fines for those who have taken in too much to be in public - and I would be fine with open sales. As I've said before, I don't even give half a shit how stoned you are if you stay home (or have a d
    • What does "too much" mean to you?

      I'd set that level at "causing actual harm". But I haven't noticed being set upon by horrible pot smokers who are marginally above some well defined blood-THC content limit recently

    • The ONLY issue I have with this is that the level they are testing for does not seem to be based on actual science. We should set a limit on what level of risk outside the norm of driving is no longer acceptable. We should then identify things that increase your risk beyond that point and measure for them. Alcohol, tobacco, texting, talking on phones etc should all be treated exactly the same way.

      I don't care why you run a red light and kill someone. If you are high, drunk, texting, talking on a phone, shav

    • My stance on pot has angered many from both the pro-pot and anti-pot camps.

      That's because it's stupid.

      I have been waiting for a test along these lines - preferably easily-administered and quantifiable - to determine when someone has taken in too much pot to be in public.

      This test doesn't do that, so keep waiting.

      if you decide to go out driving while stoned you can spend the night in jail and get a DUI along with the drunks.

      First, you should have to prove that the driver deserves to be classified the same as the drunks, and the available evidence strongly indicates the opposite. That's why both pro- and anti-pot advocates think you're an idiot: the pro-pot people know that what you want doesn't make any sense, and you're making the other anti-pot people look like idiots by association with your argument.

  • by fozzy1015 ( 264592 ) on Monday December 01, 2014 @12:06AM (#48495007)

    Even the National Highway Traffic Administration says measured active THC levels can't be correlated with impairment:

    "It is difficult to establish a relationship between a person's THC blood or plasma concentration and performance impairing effects ... It is inadvisable to try and predict effects based on blood THC concentrations alone." - http://www.businessinsider.com... [businessinsider.com]

    Also, given the difference in absorption rates between edibles and smoking, it's possible for someone who ate it to be more impaired but give a lower reading than someone who smoked it. - http://www.theverge.com/2012/1... [theverge.com]

    • by cold fjord ( 826450 ) on Monday December 01, 2014 @12:42AM (#48495141)

      Even the National Highway Traffic Administration says measured active THC levels can't be correlated with impairment:

      They quote research that indicates driving while intoxicated by marijuana increases risk.

      Effects on Driving: [nhtsa.gov]

      The drug manufacturer suggests that patients receiving treatment with Marinol® should be specifically warned not to drive until it is established that they are able to tolerate the drug and perform such tasks safely. Epidemiology data from road traffic arrests and fatalities indicate that after alcohol, marijuana is the most frequently detected psychoactive substance among driving populations. Marijuana has been shown to impair performance on driving simulator tasks and on open and closed driving courses for up to approximately 3 hours. Decreased car handling performance, increased reaction times, impaired time and distance estimation, inability to maintain headway, lateral travel, subjective sleepiness, motor incoordination, and impaired sustained vigilance have all been reported. Some drivers may actually be able to improve performance for brief periods by overcompensating for self-perceived impairment. The greater the demands placed on the driver, however, the more critical the likely impairment. Marijuana may particularly impair monotonous and prolonged driving. Decision times to evaluate situations and determine appropriate responses increase. Mixing alcohol and marijuana may dramatically produce effects greater than either drug on its own.

      That seems consistent with emerging research.

      Acute cannabis consumption and motor vehicle collision risk: systematic review of observational studies and meta-analysis [bmj.com]

      Acute cannabis consumption nearly doubles the risk of a collision resulting in serious injury or death; this increase was most evident for studies of high quality, case-control studies, and studies of fatal collisions

      • Tut tut, moderators should not be suppressing evidence in a discussion.

      • The study doesn't show what you want it to show because it deals only with people who had accidents. It doesn't deal with the drivers who didn't have them.

    • by labnet ( 457441 ) on Monday December 01, 2014 @01:27AM (#48495303)

      I worked with a chemist 15 years ago to develop such a product. A professor had found a salt, Fast Blue B, would change color specific to THC.
      We were charged with trying to commercialize this, BUT, we couldn't prove that blood ratio had anything to do with breath concentration.

      Breathalyzers for Alcohol are calibrated with an inferred ratio of 2100:1, of blood/breath concentration ratio. This is usually a fairly accurate assumption. The alcohol molecule is very volatile. THC on the other hand is a very different beast. If someone has smoked Marijuana, what you are reading is the residue on the lining of the airways which has a very poor correlation to what is in their blood.

      This alone was enough to kill the idea, because ingesting vs smoking would give wildly different results.

  • Drunken drivers already cost us a fortune in enforcement, jailing etc.. Now we have another very expensive issue with pot and driving while high. Worse yet the strength of each dose of pot will vary wildly so the user can be much higher than he intended to be or less high than he intended to be. And being that people who have just smoked pot are not able to tell at all how high they are they will tend to drive when many times they should not. Since we already lock up more citizens than any nation
    • Now we have another very expensive issue with pot and driving while high.

      Citation needed. It may well be that the influence of marijuana is to have less accidents overall. We don't know, because the studies have focused on the people who have had accidents, so we only know what percentage of them were under the influence. We don't know what percentage of them would have crashed sober, so the information is not useful.

      Worse yet the strength of each dose of pot will vary wildly so the user can be much higher than he intended to be or less high than he intended to be.

      Not typically a problem with smoking. However, this is also true of alcohol, especially while buying mixed drinks.

      And being that people who have just smoked pot are not able to tell at all how high they are

      Ah yes, the good old argument from ignorance. Cong

  • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Monday December 01, 2014 @12:39AM (#48495133)

    Why not use a swab as an initial indicator like in other parts of the world. [qld.gov.au]

    I don't understand why this necessitates new technology, especially when it would seem more important to study level of impairment with drug concentration before going any further down the legislative road.

    • This was the first thing that came to mind. I have had the cheek swab on the way out of the Valley after a night out. It was a two part process. First was blow in the machine. Second was cheek swab. I has on pickup duty so had a car full of drunk people at 2am so I would have been prime target.

  • They use a saliva test here in Australia.

  • by NotSanguine ( 1917456 ) on Monday December 01, 2014 @02:22AM (#48495483) Journal

    A field sobriety test [nhtsa.gov] doesn't care what substance you've been imbibing. It tests your current level of impairment. Which is what we should be looking at if the goal is to reduce injuries and fatalities on the roads.

    Why waste all kinds of money on tests that may or may not be able to measure actual impairment? And that goes for alcohol too.

    • Agreed. If you're impaired, it shouldn't matter why you're impaired. Combine a field sobriety test with dash/body cams so there's an objective record of the actual test (so the defense can't claim the officer is exaggerating the results) and just use the blood tests as supporting evidence, eg. "Defendant failed the field sobriety test miserably. When his blood was tested during booking, the results showed the following levels of potentially-impairing substances which are consistent with and support the fiel

  • by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Monday December 01, 2014 @03:13AM (#48495605) Homepage Journal
    It's been impossible to get up to the speed limit since they made pot legal in Colorado! Pick any random road and everyone's driving 10-15 under! Ticket revenues are drying up fast, and people in a hurry are experiencing a lot more RROOOAD RRRAGE! It's either this or Taco Bell needs to start delivering, thus removing any need for those people to be out on the road!
  • I don't think most street cops find marijuana in and of itself to be a very big threat. Many may have some cultural objection to it, but I think mostly they like it illegal because it provides great leverage for harassing people.

    I wonder if the drive to find a DWI-like tool for checking for pot consumption among drivers isn't about safe driving but instead looking to regain some of the edge they had when marijuana was illegal.

    I doubt we know enough about marijuana yet to develop any kind of biochemical int

  • by AudioEfex ( 637163 ) on Monday December 01, 2014 @08:58AM (#48496383)

    I just love how they bring up the "% of folks who tested positive for marijuana" like every other slanted sound bite does when it comes to this supposed epidemic of stoned drivers. What they fail to clarify, as usual, is that the vast majority of those people were also drunk, on pills, and/or on other narcotics at the time, which is why they were being tested and presumably were impaired in the first place. They just happened to smoke a joint at some point during all their other drug use. The amount of folks who have only smoked marijuana at some point and driven dangerously enough to pull over is rather tiny.

  • Opiates? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by msobkow ( 48369 ) on Monday December 01, 2014 @09:44AM (#48496625) Homepage Journal

    Even though I'm a medical cannabis user (migraines), I do believe that people shouln't be driving under the influence -- of anything, and that includes the doctor's and pharmacorp's favourte: opiates.

    Here in Saskatchewan, the law is intentionally vague and refers to "Driving Under the Influence" without that being restricted to alcohol. If you're obviously impaired, the police don't have to run a bunch of tests to determine what you're impaired by -- it's your driving that is the deciding factor, and your inability to pass basic roadside sobriety tests.

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