Using proprietary science and technology, Hound Labs, Inc. is the 1st company to isolate and measure THC in breath in parts per trillion.
THE HOUND® PROPRIETARY SCIENCE: DEVELOPED SPECIFICALLY TO MEASURE THC IN BREATH
Using patent-pending science and technology, Hound Labs can detect and measure THC in breath. In just minutes, the Hound breathalyzer detects THC and measures to very low levels – parts per trillion. The reason this capability is so important is that THC stays in breath for approximately two hours, which aligns with the actual window of impairment. Other scientific tests for THC – such as blood, urine, and saliva – don’t correlate with actual impairment because these tests detect THC for days or weeks, long after impairment has subsided.
MEASURING THC: A DIFFICULT SCIENTIFIC CHALLENGE
Measuring marijuana isn’t a simple extension of the technology in current alcohol breathalyzers. The approach used in alcohol breathalyzers won’t measure THC in breath because THC breath measurement requires a new scientific method that is one million (or more) times more sensitive than what is used to measure alcohol. Until now, only very large, expensive, and specialized detection tools – liquid chromatography mass spectrometers (LCMS) – could detect THC in breath in parts per trillion (picograms). LCMS generally is not a portable technology and is challenging to inexpensively miniaturize for roadside use while maintaining precision and accuracy.
Accurate assessment of recent marijuana use was very challenging prior to the ability to measure the actual levels of THC in breath. Without the Hound breathalyzer, law enforcement and employers relied on saliva, urine, and blood tests. The critical failure of these methods is that they don’t distinguish recent marijuana use (last few hours) from marijuana used yesterday or last week because THC can remain in saliva for several days and in blood and urine for weeks. Research indicates that people are most impaired only within a few hours of smoking marijuana, not days later. Hound Labs’ breakthrough device measures THC in breath for only a few hours after smoking, thus aligning with the potential window of impairment.
THE PROTOTYPE: PIONEERING MEASUREMENT
Our technology contains industry-leading capabilities, including measurement in parts per trillion and the ability to capture breath samples for future analysis. Measuring THC in breath is important for the same reasons measuring alcohol in breath is important — levels can now be correlated with actual impairment behind the wheel or at the job site. The correlation of THC levels in breath with impairment will lead to legislation and employment law based on scientific research and data.
Measurement of both smoked marijuana and edibles. In addition to measuring smoked marijuana, we can also measure if someone has consumed edible marijuana. This capability is truly groundbreaking. Up until now, we are aware of no instrument that could measure both types of use in breath.
Marijuana and alcohol measurement. The Hound breathalyzer will be able to detect both marijuana and alcohol, which makes it easy for law enforcement to use. It also ensures that drivers and employees are subjected to the least invasive breath measurement method.
Breath sample preservation. The Company’s device was intentionally developed with a cartridge that allows law enforcement and employers to save breath samples for independent verification at a later date. The ability to conduct repeat analysis on breath samples captured at the roadside or in the workplace ensures fairness and helps to avoid wrongful prosecution or job termination.
For more than two years, we have been testing our device with human subjects and conducting rigorous analysis in our engineering lab. We correlate results from the Hound breathalyzer with the gold standard for forensic laboratory analysis – liquid chromatography mass spectrometry – exceptionally accurate equipment. In addition to continuing to test in the lab and with human subjects in controlled environments, we are conducting field trials with law enforcement. In May 2017, we began clinical trials with the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). We anticipate publishing the results of the first trial in fall 2017.
LAW ENFORCEMENT TESTING: CRITICAL TO DEVELOPING A USEFUL PRODUCT
We very intentionally test in real situations so we can gather feedback from law enforcement about the device’s performance. We began testing with law enforcement at the roadside in 2016 to verify that the Hound device is easy to use and functions effectively to capture breath from drivers.
We are working with multiple law enforcement agencies and must adhere to each agency’s publicity guidelines. If it’s mutually agreeable, we’ll announce some of our testing partners in the future.
We have had a couple key learnings. The most important feedback is that law enforcement is very excited about using the device. These officers are on the frontlines and desperately want a device that objectively and quickly measures THC levels at the roadside and provides the data to inform the decisions they need to make about a suspected impaired driver. Another key piece of feedback is that the device needs be even more rugged to meet the demanding environment. We have already developed a 2nd generation device to tackle that challenge.
We are testing the device with law enforcement on an ongoing basis to continue gathering feedback as we approach commercialization.
EMPLOYER TESTING: IMPORTANT TO PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT
Employers have been contacting us to express the need for this device not only to ensure a safe workplace environment but also to ensure the fair treatment of employees and prevent avoidable job terminations. Employers are learning that the only way to measure recent marijuana use is to measure THC in breath. Since THC remains in breath for only 2-3 hours before disappearing, employers can avoid disciplining or terminating employees who may have smoked (legally) days or weeks earlier and test positive for THC in body fluids (as opposed to breath) but are not impaired at work.
CLINICAL TRIALS WITH UCSF: THE FIRST OF THEIR KIND
The Hound Labs breathalyzer is in clinical trials to validate accuracy and reliability. The trials we are conducting with UCSF provide the opportunity to put the Hound breathalyzer through even more extensive testing with human subjects and to correlate the findings with measurements from a highly accurate and sophisticated mass spectrometer. We expect our Hound breathalyzer results to correlate well with mass spectrometry.
We anticipate that results of the first clinical trial will be published later this year.
MEASUREMENT IN BREATH: THE ONLY ROADSIDE AND WORKPLACE ALTERNATIVE
These aren’t viable solutions for roadside and workplace testing and they simply don’t provide accurate information on impairment. Although measuring THC in blood, urine, or saliva is relatively easy, these types of testing don’t distinguish recent use from chronic use. Frequent marijuana users can have elevated levels of THC in blood, urine, and saliva even if they haven’t smoked in days and thus are unlikely to be impaired. THC measured in breath, however, corresponds very closely with smoking marijuana within the last few hours. This scientific discovery underlies the advantage of using breath to determine THC levels and demonstrate recent use. Until now, no portable unit has consistently measured THC in breath because of the tremendous analytical challenge of detecting THC at such low levels. To learn more about the reasons for breath testing for THC instead of saliva testing, read this explanation from Dr. Cornfield, MD, Stanford University.
Measuring THC in breath provides data on recent marijuana use that can now be correlated with driving impairment. Data from the Hound breathalyzer will allow states and employers to determine impairment standards (like the .08 alcohol standards), enable enforcement of marijuana DUIs, support employment law aimed at maintaining workplace safety, raise public awareness, and provide education around marijuana impairment.
INCREASING PROBLEMS: MARIJUANA IMPAIRMENT ON THE ROADS AND AT WORK
The bottom line is that it’s difficult to determine and people should not drive after they’ve recently smoked or eaten marijuana. One of the biggest challenges facing marijuana users is that the amount of THC in marijuana has increased dramatically. In the 1960s, THC levels in typical joints were ~3% whereas levels today can be more than 30% (and far higher for edibles). This results in a greater likelihood of marijuana users misunderstanding the effects and becoming impaired without intending to do so. In stark contrast to alcohol, marijuana is largely unregulated, so users generally cannot predict the amount of THC they have smoked. Imagine not knowing whether your 12-ounce drink is 4% alcohol (as in a beer) or 40% alcohol (as in a martini). We know now that it would be dangerous to consume an unknown amount of alcohol and simply guess whether you are too impaired to drive legally. Yet, that is exactly what marijuana users must do because they can’t easily estimate their THC levels and are unable to accurately predict if they’re impaired. In the future, we’ll develop a consumer product that will let marijuana users measure their breath THC concentration.
By measuring THC levels quickly and accurately, this breakthrough transforms the ability of law enforcement to remove marijuana-impaired drivers from the road while not penalizing unimpaired drivers and allows employers to avoid job termination of employees who have used marijuana responsibly outside of work hours. The Hound marijuana breathalyzer will facilitate the enforcement of current laws in all 50 states that prohibit driving while impaired. At the same time, our technology will ensure that unimpaired individuals who may have THC in their saliva or blood because of previous use aren’t wrongfully accused of impairment.
LEGISLATION: IT’S ABOUT SAFETY AND FAIRNESS
For many voters and legislators – in states across the country and at the federal level – the fundamental roadblock to marijuana legalization is concern about impaired driving. In states that have legalized recreational or medical marijuana, there have been increases in roadside fatalities associated with marijuana use. For the first time, drugged driving fatalities have surpassed drunk driving fatalities. If we listen objectively to law enforcement, this development isn’t surprising: Legalization of marijuana – whether medical or recreational – leads to more people using marijuana and more stoned drivers on the roads.
Twenty-eight states plus Washington D.C. have already legalized marijuana in some form, so regardless of further ballot initiatives, the problem of stoned driving is here to stay. We believe the Hound breathalyzer will enable law enforcement officers to objectively distinguish the level of recent marijuana use at the roadside. Our device provides objective measurements about which drivers used marijuana recently and helps to prevent the wrongful prosecution of those who simply have residual THC in their saliva or blood.
Across the country, law enforcement officers are struggling to address the dangers presented by marijuana-impaired drivers. Law enforcement personnel from many states have conveyed to us that stoned driving is one of the most important issues facing their communities. They know that drivers are sometimes impaired, but don’t have the tools to provide objective measurements of recent THC use prior to driving. Saliva and blood testing provide results that don’t distinguish between use immediately before driving and use days earlier, and therefore cannot help determine whether drivers could be impaired at the time of testing. Without objective tools to support more subjective field sobriety tests and observations, most drivers under the influence of marijuana go undetected and continue driving – risking preventable crashes.
Our device enables the measurement of THC in breath and will, for the first time, deliver objective data that can be correlated with actual impairment. These measurements provide additional information to law enforcement at the roadside so they can make informed decisions about drivers under the influence of recent marijuana use. Utilization of the Hound device will enable the collection of large amounts of data to inform the development of effective legislation that identifies drivers who are impaired from marijuana based on correlated levels of THC in breath. Current legislative efforts that use data from roadside saliva and blood tests usually run into opposition because these methods can detect residual THC from use days or even weeks prior to the time that law enforcement administers the roadside test. There is just too much risk of wrongful arrests with this approach.
The development of alcohol impairment standards is a good model. Police used alcohol breathalyzers before the existence of legislation dictating what concentrations of alcohol in breath correlated with impairment. They used the measurements at the roadside as one more piece of data to inform their decision-making process. Having objective data allowed law enforcement to make appropriate decisions on how to proceed and avoid wrongful detention. Use of the Hound marijuana breathalyzer not only provides information that is immediately useful at the roadside, but also allows ongoing data collection to inform states on how much THC is too much to drive.
All 50 states have laws that prohibit driving while impaired. Law enforcement officers need a way to enforce existing laws, which means they need objective evidence at the roadside that indicates recent marijuana use within 2-3 hours. This time horizon correlates both with the time that THC remains in breath and with the window of impairment observed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [NHTSA]. Laws based on THC levels in body fluids such as blood and saliva risk wrongful arrest because recent use cannot be accurately determined.
How long it will take is difficult to predict because each state may take a different approach to legislation. Fortunately, we can look at the development of alcohol driving standards for guidance. The current DUI standard for alcohol took years to develop, but law enforcement used the original roadside alcohol breathalyzers as soon as they became portable. Initial alcohol breathalyzers helped identify and remove impaired drivers under existing laws. They also provided objective data on measured levels of alcohol in breath that resulted in new legislation (per se laws of .08 in all 50 states).
Because the Hound marijuana breathalyzer measures the amount of THC in breath, law enforcement can use our device immediately at the roadside to identify stoned drivers and enforce existing laws prohibiting driving under the influence of marijuana. To read more about what we can learn from our experience developing DUI driving standards for alcohol, read this interview with Retired California Highway Patrol (CHP) Commissioner, Spike Helmick.
EMPLOYMENT: BALANCING RECREATIONAL USE AND MEDICAL NEED
Employers have an immediate interest in the Hound marijuana breathalyzer because employers must balance workplace safety with employee rights. Even though federal law takes priority over state law, many lawsuits are now championing employee rights and challenging federal law that prohibits marijuana use. The legalization of marijuana will eventually result in changes to many aspects of employment law, including hiring and firing of candidates and employees who test positive for THC, workers’ compensation for employees who use medically prescribed marijuana to treat the symptoms of injuries, and unemployment benefits for terminated employees who are fired for having marijuana in their system.
THE SUPREME COURT: AN IMPORTANT RULING IN JUNE 2016
The Supreme Court’s June 2016 decision increases the importance of accurate and reliable breath measurement at the roadside. The decision reaffirmed that breath analysis is noninvasive and respects a driver’s privacy. Other methods such as blood analysis were determined to be invasive and will now require a search warrant. Given the inherent invasiveness of saliva and urine testing, collection of these body fluids may be viewed similarly to blood collection by the Court.
THE FUTURE OF RESEARCH: BREATH TESTING WILL PROVIDE ANSWERS
The window of impairment after a person has smoked marijuana is typically about 2-3 hours, and breath is the only place where THC stays for only a few hours before disappearing. Blood, urine, sweat, and saliva can all contain residual THC for days, weeks, or even longer after a person uses marijuana, making it impossible to know whether the collected sample indicates recent or past use. Therefore, studying marijuana impairment necessitates that breath testing be used.
Before the Hound marijuana breathalyzer, the only way to test breath samples was by using very large mass spectrometers which aren’t easily portable and are cost prohibitive. The portable Hound marijuana breathalyzer solves this issue by inexpensively capturing breath samples and preserving them for repeat analysis. According to Dr. Kara Lynch, PhD, Co-director, Clinical Chemistry and Toxicology Laboratory at San Francisco General Hospital, “The availability of a marijuana breathalyzer, such as the one developed by Hound Labs, will open new frontiers of research for scientists around the world.”
THC molecules leave saliva more quickly than they leave blood or urine, but they can still linger for many hours or days after the window of impairment subsides. Measuring THC in breath was previously thought to be impossible, so saliva was understood to be an alternative. With the advent of the Hound portable marijuana breathalyzer, research can now focus on correlating breath measurements with impairment.
MORE ABOUT HOUND LABS: BACKGROUND AND FINANCING
Mike Lynn, MD, founded Hound Labs, Inc. because he passionately believes the tragedies associated with impaired driving are preventable. As an ER physician at a trauma center and as a reserve deputy sheriff, Dr. Lynn continues to witness the consequences of impaired driving.
Dr. Lynn knows the key to reducing the tragedies caused by marijuana-impaired driving depends on being able to quickly, inexpensively, and accurately measure the amount of THC in breath. At the same time, he believes in the fundamental issue of fairness: Unimpaired drivers with residual THC – a widely legal substance – in their bodies shouldn’t be arrested when they’re not impaired. The critical step to balance public safety with fairness is to measure THC in breath, where it only remains a short time, and then correlate these levels with impairment – exactly the way we currently do with alcohol.
The response to the Hound breathalyzer has been overwhelmingly positive and represents a once-in-a-generation alignment of interests around a device that can objectively measure recent marijuana use while respecting an individual’s right to privacy and to responsibly use marijuana. A wide variety of stakeholders support the Hound breathalyzer:
- Legislators who are tasked with protecting individual rights while at the same time balancing the need for safer roads;
- Pro-marijuana groups who want to legalize recreational marijuana but understand that public safety around impaired driving must be addressed;
- Law enforcement personnel who want an objective way of removing stoned drivers while also avoiding arrests of those who are not impaired;
- Legal advocates who are seeking to balance an individual’s right to privacy with a need for justice by prohibiting invasive tests of body fluids such as saliva and blood;
- Responsible users who do not drive or work under the influence, yet are fearful of arrest or job termination for having residual THC in their bodies days or weeks later.
Hound Labs originally was funded by individual investors. More recently, Benchmark invested in the Company’s Series B financing.
The Company does not disclose valuation.
Hound Labs continues to focus on research and testing to ensure that law enforcement and employers can trust in the accuracy and reliability of the Hound marijuana breathalyzer. The Hound device will be commercialized later this year.
Hound Labs does not take a stance on marijuana legalization. The Company’s focus is on developing the tools law enforcement and employers need to accurately measure marijuana levels to get impaired drivers off the road and to prevent workplace accidents related to impaired employees, all while ensuring that individuals are treated fairly. Given that 190 million people (and counting) in the U.S. now have legal access to marijuana, there is already a critical need for tools to remove impaired drivers from the road. We do, however, take a stance on driving under the influence of marijuana:
Just don’t do it.
About Hound Labs, Inc.
Hound Labs, Inc. is a scientific device company that developed the first technology to rapidly, accurately, and inexpensively detect and measure the levels of both marijuana and alcohol in a person’s breath. Dr. Mike Lynn, an ER physician, reserve deputy sheriff, and former venture capitalist and Mr. Kuni Oh, a patent attorney with deep technical background in engineering and science co-founded the Oakland-based company in 2014.
Learn about the Hound Foundation.