A new saliva test detects cannabis use within 12 hours

Published Aug 1, 2022 01:00 p.m. ET
iStock / AndreyPopov

The saliva test strip that can be administered anywhere, including the roadside, can provide results in less than 5 minutes, and it can tell if you’ve been smoking cannabis.

What it does

This saliva drug test can tell whether or not someone has used cannabis in any way at any point in the last 12 hours, and it’s so high-tech that it can also provide concentration results just as quickly. It’s a fast-acting drug test that is much less invasive than other current methods of testing for cannabis intoxication, like gas chromatography-mass spectrometry which requires samples of blood or urine and can take days to give any results.

Better than the alternative, but still not quite good enough

Unlike the alternatives, this saliva test keeps a focus on recent consumption, but some experts say that it’s still not good enough to be widely used by law enforcement and other first responders, and that is because 12 hours is still far too large of a window. Alcohol and its effects may linger for this long after, however, cannabis is an entirely different substance, and how it works highly depends on how it is used, with methods such as smoking lasting for 30 minutes to an hour and edibles sticking around in the system for upwards of 12 hours.

Since the majority of cannabis consumers still smoke it, the average length of effects is typically far less than 12 hours, with most recovering completely in under 1 hour. It also claims to indicate concentration in the blood, which is how we often test drivers for alcohol consumption, but this number means a whole lot less when it comes to cannabis, meaning that this test is practically useless for the very purposes for which it was designed, to catch stoners in the act who buzz and drive.

Should we even be worried about this?


Some studies suggest that more than 60% of cannabis users get high and drive, which appears to be a troubling number at first glance, that is until you consider scientific reports that reveal how short the effects truly impact an individual's ability behind the wheel. At an average of 30 minutes for smokers, which make up the majority of consumers, as long as people hang around for a little while afterward, they should be perfectly fine to drive long before they ever go anywhere.

Of course, edibles are an entirely different scene, with some people reporting effects that are far more intense than those you’d expect from smoking lasting for several hours, and this is where the problem really lies, with a small majority. Now, we’re not saying that impaired driving isn’t a problem that needs to be tackled, but we do know that there are very few circumstances in which a dire consequence would ever be the result of a cannabis experience.

Education is still key

We need our technology to evolve to a point where it's really useful in determining who is high and putting others at risk on the streets, but if we want to make the biggest difference, it’s not going to come from a green-inspired type breathalyzer or saliva test. Good decisions come from quality education, and if we give people the facts, then they’ll be much more likely to make responsible decisions while under the influence of cannabis.

Impaired driving and cannabis  What you need to know


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