Scientists are working on a roadside-screening test for cannabis

Researchers in Texas are looking to develop a simple, quick, and accurate saliva test for THC

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According to a new report from the University of Texas at Dallas, scientists are one step closer to developing a breathalyzer-type test for measuring drivers’ cannabis levels at roadside stops.

The researchers, led by Shalini Prasad, have presented their findings through the American Chemical Society’s online platform, according to a March 30 news release from the ACS.

Prasad notes that, unlike with alcohol, the blood level of THC that constitutes impairment has not been well-established. “This is an emerging field, but preliminary clinical reports suggest that anywhere above 1 to 15 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood is considered a level of impairment,” Prasad says.

Said impairment manifests as “slowed reaction time, diminished alertness and reduced self-awareness,” according to Prasad.

Blood tests for THC do exist, but they are time-consuming and invasive, and law-enforcement officers generally lack the skills to perform them during roadside stops. There is research being done into devices that measure THC levels in the breath, but Prasad and her colleagues are working to develop “a simple, quick and accurate saliva test for the compound.”

They engineered an electronic reader and THC sensor strips containing electrodes that have been coated with an antibody that binds THC so it can be isolated from other compounds found in saliva.

“To perform the test, the researchers added a tiny drop of human saliva spiked with THC to the strip and inserted it into the electronic reader, which applied a specific voltage,” according to the ACS news release. “When THC attached to the antibody, the electrical current changed because of polarization that occurred between the interacting antibody and THC surfaces. The e-reader converted these data into THC concentration.”

The researchers discovered that the device was accurate for levels of THC that ranged from 100 picograms per milliliter to 100 nanograms per milliliter. “This is the first demonstration of a prototype device that can report both low and high concentrations of THC in a noninvasive, highly sensitive and specific manner,” Prasad says.

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