Akron grad student creates ‘Cannibuster’ to detect pot levels in saliva

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AKRON, Ohio - With the legalization of marijuana gaining momentum in Ohio, police officers say the only way to currently detect how high someone may be behind the wheel is a urine or a blood test.

Both are expensive and it could be months before they get the results.

Researchers at the University of Akron believe they have created a device which can give officers a detailed level of THC in someone's system within minutes at the scene of a traffic stop

The "Cannibuster" is the idea of Kathleen Stitzlein, a graduate student in biomedical engineering at the University of Akron.   Along with Mariam Crow the two have been working to develop a prototype that can meet the growing need for such a device in states where marijuana is already legal.

"Legalization of marijuana is coming about all throughout our country. It's already been legalized fully in four states and legalized medicinally in ten states, plus Canada. Ohio is actually on the road to legalize it as well, as we have 84-percent voter support towards the legalization of marijuana. So she [Stilzlein] just knew that there was a large need for this," said Crow .

How does it work?

"Once the officer injects a saliva sample [by the driver] into the device, it will go through our different chambers and then be inserted into a reader that will tell you the concentration of that particular saliva sample," said Crow .

"As of now, all the roadside testing just gives you a positive or negative result. Now in states where it has been legalized, that is not enough information; they need concentrations to either convict drivers or let them go. This is not only a device to get impaired drivers off the road, but to also protect legal users."

As of now, Colorado and Washington, two states that have legalized the use of marijuana, have established a threshold on usage.

"They have a five nanogram per milileter threshold, which they are using in the same way as a .08 breathalyzer is being used for alcohol," Crow explained.

A similar threshold could be adopted in Ohio if marijuana ever becomes legal here.

"The marijuana legalization market is the fastest growing market in both the United States and Canada so this device...it's hard to say how quickly it will take off but we are expecting it to grow rapidly," Crow said.

The research has already earned several major awards to help take it from the laboratory to the real world. As many as fifty of them could be out on the streets for field studies by the end of the year with thousands more to follow.

Dr. Brian Davis, Chairman of the Department of Biomedical Engineering and mentor to Crow and Stitzlein, explained how proud he is of his students.

"To me, the whole idea of impaired drivers being on our roads without having any way of identifying them is a significant problem... and I think these two students figured out a way to solve that."​

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