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Tuesday, Dec 6, 2022
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Snuffed by Pot Sector

Six years ago, management at Electronic Sensor Technology had high hopes that its testing equipment would be used to detect pesticides and herbicides for growing marijuana. Those expectations by the Newbury Park company never materialized, despite legalization of recreational pot in Colorado and Washington and legalized medicinal use of the drug in other states. In response, Electronic Sensor found medical and environmental markets for its equipment – which analyzes odors to measure the chemical makeup of a substance – even as it waits for the marijuana sector to ripen as an opportunity. Chief Executive Bill Wittmeyer said it was disappointing that his company’s sensors never found traction with the cannabis industry, but he believes California – where recreational use of pot is now legal because of Prop 64’s passage – at some point will take the lead with requirements to have marijuana tested for chemicals and set standards for the presence of pesticides and herbicides. “If they put that into place, then I expect to see business in that area,” Wittmeyer said. Electronic Sensor Technology has developed four models of its zNose detection instrument capable of analyzing an odor or vapor in seconds. The device was invented in 1998 and began to be commercialized two years later. It was verified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2006. The machines cost between $22,0000 and $40,000 depending on features. They have been sold to such customers as the Max Planck Institute, University of California – Davis, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Procter & Gamble Co., and the anti-narcotics department of the Peruvian National Police. Electronic Sensor has 10 employees. The zNose uses gas chromatography, in which a gas moves the sample tested through a metal or glass column and breaks it down into component compounds. Gas chromatography has been found to be among the most reliable to determine cannabis potency and has been used in pilot studies in the U.S., China and the Netherlands to study the effectiveness of breath analysis to assist in diagnosing breast cancer. Scent of marijuana Electronic Sensor’s attempts to enter the marijuana market began in 2010 when the California Testing Authority, then based in Newport Beach, was the company’s exclusive customer in the state for marketing the zNose device to test and certify medical marijuana. The testing authority would eventually use a small number of the devices in Michigan, where it operated a sister company. Electronic Sensor also had some accounts in Connecticut, where medical marijuana became legal in 2012. But then states began increasing requirements on what marijuana had to be tested for, which was beyond what the zNose could detect, Wittmeyer said. “The market was lower than forecast and people would still buy their stuff on the street,” he added. The California Testing Authority later went belly up, and in Michigan, a State Supreme Court ruling in 2011 effectively shut down all marijuana dispensaries. Even when Colorado and Washington legalized recreational use of the drug, the company didn’t see any sales generated from either state. California will have to be the leader in setting standards when it comes to testing of marijuana, Wittmeyer said. “If California is not going to do it, I don’t think other people are going to do it,” he added. California is currently drafting regulations related to testing marijuana as part of the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act signed into law last year by Gov. Jerry Brown. The law requires independent testing labs registered with the California Department of Public Health. They will test for potency, pesticides, mold and other contaminants. On-site testing is allowed in conjunction with reasonable business operations but will not be certified by the state. Additionally, the Department of Pesticide Regulation is developing standards on the use of and tolerance for pesticides in cannabis. Ellen Komp, deputy director of California NORML, the San Francisco-based marijuana reform advocacy organization, said that it is industry standard in a lot of places to test for pesticides and herbicides as well as levels of THC, the psychoactive drug in pot. “Initially people were more interested in testing the potency, but more and more places are testing for the rest,” she said. When it became clear the marijuana market would not pan out, Electronic Sensor concentrated on the medical diagnostics area with its devices. “There are a number of medical applications potentially as a non-invasive diagnostic tool,” he added. Breath analysis is not an entirely new method of detecting diseases but remains in early stages. In Great Britain, for instance, training dogs to sniff for cancer began in 2003 and the nonprofit organization Medical Detection Dogs started there five years later. In Tanzania, there is currently a program to train giant pouched rats to detect tuberculosis through smell. With breast cancer, Wittmeyer said, using breath analysis can eliminate unnecessary mammograms and the uncomfortable process that they involve as well as not exposing women to ionized radiation. A 2014 paper on a pilot program published in the scientific journal Plos One related how a group of 11 researchers found that breath analysis “accurately identified women with breast cancer and with abnormal mammograms, and distinguished between breast biopsies read as positive or negative for cancer.” The researchers cautioned that the pilot study was small and needed validation. “However, if these findings are confirmed in future studies, breath testing could be employed as a complementary procedure ancillary to mammography with the potential to reduce the number of needless procedures and reduce the costs of discovering new cases of breast cancer,” the study concluded. “If you look at the pattern of trace compounds that are present in alveolar air, they can be correlated with disease,” Wittmeyer explained.

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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