As I was looking into this topic, I came across varying information. That is what I’ve come to expect from the internet. The real skill is in deciphering the good from the bad.
Forums are flooded with amazing information, but also can lead you astray just as easily. I’ve learned a ton of information from forums like Reddit, where experts gladly share their vast knowledge of their field or hobby. But in the case of drug sniffing dogs, it seemed like a lot of baseless opinions the internet forums.
Misguided General Consensus
The general consensus in forum-world is, I can smell edibles so of course a dog can.
While this seems like a reasonably logical answer, it’s not necessarily the correct answer. This general consensus is based on a bunch of assumptions that may not be true. Such a statement implies that the way we interpret smells and the way a dog interprets them is the same. It implies that the dog is just looking for the smell of weed, which is easily recognizable to us, but that’s not the case.
Drug sniffing dogs are looking for very specific chemicals, not the smell of weed itself. But how reliable are these canines and what specifically have they been trained to detect? That’s something that needs to be looked at before we assume they can smell edibles.
The drug dog topic is a controversial one which deserves a much deeper look than such a trivial assumption can provide, so let’s get to it.
Can Canines Sniff Edibles
The evidence is inconclusive, but leans toward the theory that they are not trained to sniff edibles. Edibles smell distinctly different than plant material and have a different chemical composition.
It seems more likely that a dog will alert the officer if the officer thinks you have drugs, whether you have them or not, than if you actually posses edibles. False alerts are uncomfortably common which should make a sane individual question the reliability of drug sniffing dogs. Do they even work?
Yeah, sometimes they find drugs. But the accuracy can be so awful that it’s hard to make a blanked statement that this is a reliable scientific method of finding drugs. I would like a chance to pick who has drugs and who doesn’t. Do you think I can operate on intuition and have a similar success rate. After all, stoners seems to have a good radar for other stoners.
Keep reading if you want to see the truth about drug sniffing dogs and how to avoid false alerts.
The Controversial Question: Can Dogs Accurately Sniff Drugs?
We can reasonably assume that dogs can smell drugs, since their sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times more sensitive than ours (1). But what exactly have they been trained to search for? And are they good at it?
To get a better look at this question, let’s look at how the dogs are trained. I’m going to briefly summarize a method I read about. Drug-sniffing dogs are tricked into thinking their favorite toy, a towel, actually smells like various drugs. Handlers do this by washing the towel to smithereens so it doesn’t have its own scent, then wrapping drugs in the towel so it carries the scent of the drugs. The dogs love to play tug-a-war with the towels and have learned to associate the smell of the drugs wrapped in the towel with a fun round of tug-a-war (2).
Accuracy and False Alerts
So now you know one method of training and I’m sure there are other methods. But do you think this is an accurate science? Let’s look at some stats. According to a survey conducted by the Chicago Tribune over three years of court case data, they found that drug dogs used at traffic stops were right only 44% of the time. What was more alarming was the fact that they were right only 27% of the time with Latino drivers (3).
How can this be? The accuracy of drug dogs at traffic stops is largely dependent on the ethnicity of the people in the car? Obviously the dogs aren’t racial profiling the passengers, but this leads to another topic. Could the handlers be influencing the dogs to give an alert signal?
Studies have proven this is possible without a shadow of a doubt. They may not do it intentionally, but their own biases and beliefs can lead to an alarming amount of false alerts (4).
What Does This Mean For Edibles
The smell of a particular drug seems like one smell to the less-powerful human nose, but it’s actually a combination of different odors. A dog can smell the different chemicals that make up a drug, but we cannot.
We may think edibles smell like weed, but the chemical composition is different. Edibles smell like they have a hint of weed-like substance, but do they smell like the plant matter itself? I think we all can agree that edibles do not smell like the flower.
Weed in plant form has a very strong smell, and even a hint of it smells drastically different than the smell of shoving your nose in a pack of gummies. Police dogs are trained to find the smell of the raw plant material, not decarboxylated edibles. This is not conclusive evidence that they can’t find them, but if I had to guess I would guess that the dogs wouldn’t sniff them out.
However, if you were nervous about having edibles your body language could blow your cover. The cop, sensing your body language, could unkowingly tell the dog to give an alert. Now he has probably cause to search you and the dog will be hailed as a hero.
This is all just my opinion based on light research.