Hound Labs Flushes Out $8.1M in Backing For Breathalyzer Solution
By Eric Schwartz, News Reporter for New Frontier Data
Silicon Valley venture capital firm Benchmark Capital is jumping into the cannabis technology industry. The venture capital firm, known for early investments in Uber, Snap (formerly Snapchat), and WeWork, is leading an $8.1 million investment into Oakland-based startup Hound Labs, developer of a cannabis breathalyzer now undergoing clinical testing.
“A breathalyzer for cannabis is one of the holy grails in the industry,” said John Kagia, executive vice president of industry analytics for New Frontier Data. “Policymakers want a future where every police department has one. The potential market for this is substantial, particularly given the unreliability of human testing on the roadside.”
Police currently rely on alcohol breathalyzers to check whether an erratic driver has too much alcohol in his or her system, but detection for cannabis consumption is more complex. Police may use sobriety tests to check for signs of intoxication by alcohol, cannabis or other drugs, but to find THC in someone’s system requires weeks of waiting for lab tests of saliva, blood, or urine. Current testing methods are also unreliable for the practical needs; Even if they determine whether a suspect has used cannabis in the recent past (beyond a week or more), they cannot ascertain any certain, objective measure of impairment.
Now, however, and after nearly three years of development, Hound Labs’ breathalyzer can reportedly solve that problem. When someone blows into the mouthpiece, a single-use cartridge inside reacts by separating out THC molecules, measuring them in parts per trillion to calculate whether someone has recently used cannabis. That would make the Hound Labs breathalyzer many orders of magnitude more precise than alcohol breathalyzers, which measure in parts per thousand.
To put it in context, the standard legal limit for blood alcohol content while driving is .08%, or .08 grams of alcohol for every deciliter of blood, while in many states with legal adult use of cannabis the legal threshold is four nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. If THC were measured with the same system, the limit would be .000000004%. Distinguishing between that and .000000005% requires an incredibly fine level of precision, which is what Hound Labs claims to have developed in its breathalyzer.
“If the breathalyzer can accurately detect impairment rather than merely recent consumption, then you have something,” Kagia said. “There’s potentially significant implications for workplace testing, too. As legalization expands nationally, I think the debate is going to grow, and people will ask why not be allowed to consume cannabis off-hours -- like alcohol -- when not on the job if it doesn’t impair you at work.”
The new funding round brings investment in Hound Labs to $13 million total, but the company is still relatively small, with just a handful of employees. Assuming the rest of the testing goes as planned, the company will likely use the investment to build up its team and manufacturing capability.
“Getting it right would not be easy, and would need a lot of resources to sufficiently scale to build their units and service them,” Kagia said. “But, if it does what it says on the box, and they are the first to the market, the potential is huge.”
Eric Hal Schwartz is the News Reporter and Writer for New Frontier Data. A writer and journalist with over a decade of experience, he was most recently a staff writer for DC Inno, covering the world of innovation, startups and policy in the greater Washington, D.C. region. Eric holds a bachelors degree in Journalism from from the University of Arizona and a masters degree in Science and Medical Journalism from Boston University.