As marijuana legalization gains momentum, you're much more likely to find the drug hiding in everything from chocolate bars to rock candy made by grandpas. But as rapidly as the ways to consume THC are changing, are detection methods getting more sophisticated? We decided to find out by contacting a pair of drug dog trainers, and were surprised to receive conflicting testimonials as to the brownie-finding abilities of Johnny Law's best friend.
Both trainers asserted that canines have no trouble sniffing out just about anything magical. "Dogs have 100,000 times more scent identification than we have, so you can train a dog to find anything as long as you associate a positive stimulus with that odor," says James Stone, R&D manager at K9 University Detection Services. His company has used dogs to find everything from endangered beetles to SIM cards being smuggled into prisons.
Drug-detecting effectiveness depends on the dog, but their noses are so sensitive that they're capable of recognizing illicit compounds at a ratio of five parts per billion. Even below the dog's confidence level, he'll still show some slight changes in behavior. Dan Hayter, founder of K9 Global Training Academy and a former chief of the military drug dog trainer, agrees that edibles aren't impossible to trace. "A dog can be taught to recognize marijuana mixed into flour without too much difficulty," he says.
While the two experts agree on the dogs' capabilities, their opinions diverge when asked whether dogs will actually identify those spicy cinnamon chili ZootRocks in the field. Hayter believes that marijuana goes through a chemical change when cooked that throws off dogs who haven't had additional training. "We don't train the dogs for it because we haven't had a call for it, and I don't know anyone else who does," he says.
Hayter's mainly looking for large quantities of drugs crossing the border, and it just doesn't make sense to train for a few brownies, especially given the legalization trend. Plus, his "training materials" are heavily regulated by the DEA -- and he's never received edibles.
Stone, on the other hand, disputes that edibles have a different chemical composition. "We train dogs to isolate particular compounds in MDMA, and it's the same with marijuana. You can mix that compound into anything and it will still alert the dog."
He's actually received edibles from the DEA for testing, and he goes so far as to speculate that even if the marijuana smell was completely removed, his dogs would still be able to find a stash without additional training and based on chemical composition alone.
Moral of the story: if a drug dog wants to find a magic brownie, it won't have any trouble. But it's still up for debate whether the dogs are actually sniffing for them.
Dan Gentile is a staff writer on Thrillist's National Food and Drink team. He is doing his best to keep his Shih Tzu off drugs. Follow him to just saying no at @Dannosphere.