The partnership will give employers the ability to figure out whether an employee ingested or inhaled cannabis products immediately before or during the workday.
Under the terms, Quest Diagnostics said that it will use a novel mass spectrometry technique it recently developed and validated to confirm positive results from the breathalyzer results.
“Cannabis legalization has prompted some employers to reconsider their workplace cannabis testing policies. They now need to know when an employee used cannabis to align test results more effectively with program objectives,” said Nina M. French, president of the employer and law enforcement division at Hound Labs.
The portable breathalyzer, which is slated to be delivered to customers by the end of the year, can automatically process results on-location within minutes, the company said. The device could carry a $5,000 price tag, though price will vary based on volume, according to the company.
In 2019, Hound Labs worked with researchers at the University of California San Francisco to conduct a 20-person clinical trial of the breathalyzer, telling participants to consume their own personal cannabis before submitting to a breathalyzer test.
Kara Lynch, the UCSF doctor responsible for the Hound Labs study, said that “financial restrictions” thwarted a larger trial size and use of control groups.
“No study for the evaluation of THC in breath has been larger to date,” Lynch told Mashable. “Future studies will be done involving more participants and with varying experimental designs.”
The same goes for research on “stoned driving” in general, as cannabis is still classified as a Schedule I substance by the federal government. A standard dose for a federally illicit drug does not exist.
Studies that do explore the topic often rely on drivers who were drug tested after car crashes, though a positive drug test does not necessarily indicate that a driver was impaired while they were driving. Cannabis can linger in fat tissues for up to a month after ingestion.
While the test can detect “recent cannabis use,” according to the release, “it does not measure whether, or how much, a person is impaired.”
Positivity for marijuana in urine testing for the general workforce in 2021 hit a 20-year high of 3.9%, according to the 2022 Quest Diagnostics’ Drug Testing Index.
Quest also reported that oral fluid positivity for marijuana increased about 20% in 2021 to 14.8% of those tested.
“While marijuana use is a concern to employers focused on fostering workforce health and safety, its legalization in several states may challenge some employers struggling to hire in tight labor markets,” said Keith Ward, vice president and general manager of Quest Diagnostics’ Employer Solutions division. “The (breathalyzer) is an important innovation because it will help employers detect and deter workday marijuana use most associated with safety risks, providing a new tool for employers to add to their suite of testing solutions.”
This article has been updated.