Why our founder started a company to detect workday use of cannabis.


Buzzkill Labs was founded in 2018 by Dr. George Farquar. Before becoming a startup founder, George spent a decade at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory working on trace detection for applications in defense and counterterrorism. At the time, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act recently passed in California, making it the 5th state in the country to legalize recreational marijuana use.

As cultural perceptions around marijuana become more similar to those around alcohol, it became clear that employers would eventually find it difficult to maintain a zero-tolerance attitude towards past cannabis use. The market needed an alternative to urine based cannabis testing, which can only detect past use of marijuana due to how THC is metabolized in the body. Employers would need an objective way to assess whether or not an employee used cannabis at or immediately before coming to work. Not only for practical reasons, but also because a new perception of what is fair had emerged in the years since legalization began.

Buzzkill was started to address this need. We have developed a platform that performs lab-standard processes on oral fluid samples to separate out psychoactive THC from CBD and non-psychoactive metabolites. In other words, our platform can detect if someone has the intoxicating parent compound in their system, which tends to last hours, not days or weeks. We chose oral fluid as the basis for our test specifically due to George’s experience in trace detection: urine cannot be used to identify the psychoactive parent compound and the collection process itself can be demeaning, blood is too invasive for routine use, and while breath has been shown to adequately capture smoked or vaporized cannabis, there is little to supporting detectability of edibles in breath samples.

We integrated and automated a process called chromatography that previously could only be performed in a lab by highly-trained individuals. While typical strip-based rapid tests cross react with non-psychoactive metabolites and compounds like CBD, which is currently not a focus of drug-free workplace programs, our chromatography process isolates the compound that makes people high.

Fast forward to 2023, as we meet with customers in states where adult or medical use has been legalized, we frequently hear one of:

  1. The person’s use of cannabis took place off the job and away from the workplace, or
  2. The employer used a test that has found the person to have non-psychoactive cannabis metabolites in their hair, blood, urine, or other bodily fluids

*In California, the provisions stipulated in AB 2188 do not apply to jobs governed by federal regulations nor to jobs in the construction industry

California is not the first state to adopt such a law, and it will likely not be the last. Thus, in addition to the cultural forces demanding an attitude shift towards marijuana use, there are legal forces at work that will prevent employers from maintaining a zero-tolerance policy towards legal, off-duty cannabis use. Employers across America need a new way to test for marijuana use in the workplace.

We have been working quietly on our technology for over half a decade and are preparing for commercial launch in Q4 of this year. As we approach this milestone, we invite the stakeholders in our industry—employers, third party administrators, integrators, laboratory service providers, members of the media, and members of the general public—to connect with us about early access, about partnerships, and about your experiences with workplace cannabis testing.

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