September 23, 2016

image_breathalyzer_black-300x277trimUsing leading-edge science and technology, Hound Labs, Inc. is the first company to create a hand-held breathalyzer that detects and measures tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels in breath. Using only a couple breaths, the patent-pending approach detects THC and measures levels to below 500 picograms. The company’s scientific breakthrough led to a strategic partnership with Triple Ring Technologies (TRT) to develop the world’s first marijuana breathalyzer which will help to identify impaired drivers who recently used marijuana.

In a recent conversation with Dr. Mike Lynn, the CEO of Hound Labs and Joe Heanue, the CEO and Co-Founder of Triple Ring Technologies, we asked them:

What was the most challenging issue you tackled in getting the initial prototype developed?

Mike: The biggest challenge we’ve faced, by far, was developing and refining the science to measure THC in breath. I evaluated various methods, including ion mobility spectrometry, but none of them were good enough. So, we had to develop our own scientific process which understandably, wasn’t easy.

Joe: For this instrument, we are trying to detect very minute quantities of THC down to the picogram level. The current gold standard measurements use mass spectrometers, which are large, expensive, and cumbersome to use. We are taking the capabilities of the gold standard method and reducing it to a technique that can actually be used at the roadside.

Also, we’re incorporating proprietary chemistry into an entirely new instrument. While doing both chemistry work and instrument engineering in parallel is challenging; it allows us to move more quickly.

Why is it so important that you get real life feedback on the Hound™ marijuana breathalyzer early in the product development process?

Mike: At the end of the day, our device is going to be used by real people at the roadside, and potentially impact peoples’ lives. We want to ensure that we develop a product that not only is accurate from a measurement standpoint, but also meets the needs and standards of law enforcement. We want our device to be something law enforcement actually wants to use and, of course, it has to be accurate and reliable so that it identifies drivers who are impaired from recent marijuana use while ensuring those that used days or weeks earlier are not wrongfully accused. It’s about safety and fairness.

Joe: This is a technology that is going into a very demanding field application. Police officers have more than enough things to worry about than whether the technology they’re using is going to work and in a way that easily plugs into their day-to-day routine.

As engineers and scientists, police work is unfamiliar to us, so getting regular feedback on how it should work is important to ensure we engineer a product that is suitable for field use. As we continue to learn more, we are now in the process of engineering an even more rugged, durable, and appropriate prototype for further roadside testing.

Why is it so important to be able to test breath (vs. saliva, blood or urine)? What are the technical challenges of using breath? How are you overcoming those challenges?

Mike: THC molecules appear in parts per trillion in breath and they degrade very quickly – present for only two, and at the most, three hours. While we know that it’s an amazingly difficult challenge to detect and measure THC in breath, it is ideal because the window when the Hound™ marijuana breathalyzer can detect and measure THC is the same window that correlates very well to the general window of impairment. Thus, someone can smoke the night before, and our device won’t detect any THC in breath the next morning, when the person is no longer impaired.  On the other hand, if someone smoked in the last couple hours, we will find THC in his or her breath, and there is a good chance this person is impaired. It is much easier to test saliva, blood, urine, sweat etc., but THC stays in these body fluids for days or even weeks after a person last smoked. So, there is literally no way to correlate these findings with actual impairment because the data cannot isolate when a person last smoked. Was it an hour ago?  Last night? Last week?  Measurement of THC in breath is the only way to accurately determine if someone smoked in the last few hours.  Again, it is extremely difficult to measure THC in breath.

Joe: The physiological mechanisms of how THC gets into the breath and the expected concentration levels in breath have not been as thoroughly studied as mechanisms in blood. And so, we’ve had to do more fundamental experimental work to determine what we are trying to measure and predict the expected results.

Our approach has served us well so far, and we were even able to field test the breathalyzer over the last few months.

What are you most proud of with the work thus far?

 Mike: It’s required a very collaborative team to take an idea, create a new scientific process, and develop a great prototype device. It’s something that many people said could never be done. This has been a team effort all around, and I very much appreciate both the Hound Labs and Triple Ring teams for their hard work. We have managed to create a device that we truly believe is accurate and fair, and a win for all parties. We don’t want to arrest people who aren’t impaired and now we have a tool to ensure that only those who are driving within a few hours of smoking pot are at risk of getting arrested.

Joe: Hound Labs is a nimble and smart company that is driving hard to get their product to market, and while doing so, they are depending on us to keep up with their aggressive pace. I’m most proud of the fact that we can work collaboratively with Hound Labs and move quickly.

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