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Saliva testing for evaluating THC levels

Tennessee motorists may be familiar with the widespread use of the Breathalyzer for testing individuals suspected of driving under the influence. However, there has not been much success with products developed for field testing related to suspected marijuana intoxication. Blood and urine testing has been most commonly used to identify THC in the system, but this is not necessarily a good reflection of current impairment in a driver. However, Stanford University is making strides in its research and development of a saliva test for THC, which could provide real-time results needed to better judge impairment levels.

Suspicions of driving under the influence can be confirmed quickly with the use of a Breathalyzer, which minimizes the need for invasive tests such as drawing blood or collecting a urine sample. Similarly, the Stanford system will allow for prompt evaluation of a driver's THC levels with a simple swab. The saliva sample can be exposed to THC antibodies, which allows for the number of activated antibodies to be computed and reported to the party conducting the test. In a short time, an officer can determine whether a driver exceeds the legal limits for THC.

One of the most serious challenges related to this technology is the lack of clear standards related to marijuana intoxication. Just as states are independently addressing issues such as the legalization of marijuana for medical or recreational purposes, they are also faced with the need to develop standards for limiting driving in connection with the use of the substance.

New technologies can be helpful to authorities, but they can present legal challenges when used to justify filing charges. A lawyer might challenge the knowledge and experience of an official in the use of a new device to measure impairment levels. A lawyer might also raise questions about equipment defects or sample contamination.

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