Ontario-based start-up is developing a cannabis breathalyzer for U.S. police

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A breathalyzer that can detect both alcohol and cannabis has caught the attention of Y Combinator, a California-based start-up accelerator that has previously worked with Reddit, Dropbox and Airbnb.

The company’s latest investment is in Sanntek 315 breathalyzer, a device currently being developed by Kitchener, Ont.-based SannTek Labs Inc. Founded by a pair of University of Waterloo engineering grads, SannTek Labs is using nanotechnology to develop a portable device that’s “far more accurate, far more robust and far less invasive than the current saliva- and blood-testing regimen,” notes Communitech News.

The device is also a need of the hour.

As per the National Cannabis Survey released by Statistics Canada in August 2018, “about 1.4 million Canadians reported that they had been a passenger in a vehicle driven by someone who had consumed cannabis in the previous two hours.”

But it is a challenge to accurately detect marijuana, when compared to alcohol, “due to its solubility in fats rather than solubility in blood. A user can have THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) in their muscle tissue for longer without being inebriated, making it much more difficult to determine intoxication,” notes the official site of Velocity, an entrepreneurship program at the University of Waterloo, in its 2017 report.

Currently, Dräger DrugTest 5000, which tests oral fluid samples, is the only device approved for roadside drug screening in Canada. SoToxa from Abbott Laboratories is awaiting approval for use in Canada, and similar to Dräger, tests oral fluids.

“Part of the novelty of our device is applying our sensor to a breath technology,” Noah Debrincat, CEO of SannTek Labs, told Communitech News. “We’ll be blowing into a device very similar to what an alcohol breathalyzer would look like. It’s just less invasive; it happens just as fast [as an alcohol breathalyzer].”

Detecting THC — the psychoactive component of cannabis linked to causing driving impairment — molecules in the driver’s breath, the device claims that it can determine how much cannabis a person has consumed in the past three to four hours.

“We are specifically detecting Delta-9 THC,” Debrincat told TechCrunch. “We understand how that gets into your breath. We understand what it does to you and the impairing side effects. And we know that if people are driving with high concentrations of that in their system, their psycho-motor skills are seriously decreased.”

Though not available for sale, the device is projected to be in the price range of $800 to $1,000, as noted by TechCrunch. When it comes to retailing to the law enforcement officials, “the only way that a police officer will buy this is if National Highway Traffic Safety Association, puts its stamp of approval on it,” Debrincat told TechCrunch. SannTek is reportedly in talks with the agency.

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