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VCU team creating roadside breathalyzer for marijuana

Emanuele Alves, Ph.D., (right) an assistant professor in the Department of Forensic Science, uses a pipette to demonstrate how her testing device would work, while Wagner Pacheco, Ph.D., (left) a postdoctoral fellow and researcher in her lab, looks on.
Tom Kojcsich
/
VCU Enterprise Marketing and Communications
Emanuele Alves, Ph.D., (right) an assistant professor in the Department of Forensic Science, uses a pipette to demonstrate how her testing device would work, while Wagner Pacheco, Ph.D., (left) a postdoctoral fellow and researcher in her lab, looks on.

According to a report by Virginia State Police, 40 people were arrested for driving while under the influence of marijuana in 2022. New research out of Virginia Commonwealth University could contribute to even more arrests in the years to come.

VCU forensic science professor Emanuele Alves was at a gathering of scientists in Brazil when she first got the idea for a road-side breathalyzer.

“In each state people can use marijuana. But how can we control the fact that if you’re using marijuana, at least be conscious to not drive,” she told Radio IQ.

Alves and fellow researchers have been working on a grant-funded project to produce a roadside test that would detect recent THC use in drivers. She said the human respiratory system traps THC like alcohol. And while a traditional breathalyzer reacts to that alcohol, the VCU team has produced a cartridge that reacts to THC.

Studies have shown legalization also comes with increased use while driving. According to one study out of Canada, cannabis-involved traffic injury emergency department visits increased by 475% between 2010 and 2021.

Alves hopes her research will help people think about those kinds of consequences, like they do with drunk driving.

“We want people to have the same feeling for THC because nowadays people are using uncontrolled,” she said.

A final version of their research isn’t expected to be on the market until 2025.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Brad Kutner is Radio IQ's reporter in Richmond.