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The Challenges of Building a Cannabis Breathalyzer

By Mike Lynn

May 5, 2021

A marijuana breathalyzer is 1 billion times more sensitive than an alcohol breathalyzer.

When I decided to create a marijuana breathalyzer and launched Hound Labs in 2014, I knew there would be challenges. Luckily, I found some exceptionally smart scientists and engineers to join me on the journey to create the world’s first easy-to-use, ultra-sensitive, and portable cannabis breathalyzer. We figured out most of the science more quickly than I anticipated but there were definitely some unexpected challenges that we had to overcome.  

Sufficient Breath Capture

One of the first major challenges our team faced when developing the HOUND® MARIJUANA BREATHALYZER was capturing the right amount of breath to extract only the THC molecules from the hundreds of other molecules in breath. We had to develop a proprietary breath capture technology that uses special pumps that automatically stop collecting breath once a sufficient sample has been collected. Our breath sampling technology also standardizes sampling to ensure more accurate results and reduce the likelihood of an invalid test due to insufficient sample collection.  

Ultra-Sensitive Measurement

Another challenge was the ultra-sensitivity required to measure THC in breath because a marijuana breathalyzer must measure in extraordinarily low amounts – picograms (parts per trillion). A marijuana breathalyzer with insufficient sensitivity will only be able to identify THC in breath for a very narrow window after smoking – maybe just a few minutes – which is not very helpful. Our technology detects THC in amounts as minute as one picogram (parts per trillion), which is about one billion times more sensitive than an alcohol breathalyzer (which measures in parts per thousand) and rivals the sensitivity of huge, expensive lab equipment that requires trained personnel to operate. 

Easy To Use

Finally, we have spent a lot of time developing an easy-to-use solution that ensures predictable results. The HOUND MARIJUANA BREATHALYZER automatically calibrates during each use so that the person administering it does not have to worry about manual calibration. We also designed the Hound® solution to capture one breath sample but allow for a portion of that specimen to be separated and retained within an evidence chamber in a patented cartridge. One sample is immediately processed on-site at time of collection and determines whether THC is present, and the second sample is stored on the cartridge and can be analyzed in a laboratory to confirm the on-site results if protocols require it. 

We have also built in many other features that make it easy for the person providing a breath sample and easy for the administrator to capture breath and process results on-location. We are excited to bring to our customers a fair and practical solution for balancing safety and fairness in the new era of marijuana legalization.