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Clin Chem. 2011 Oct;57(10):1406-14. doi: 10.1373/clinchem.2011.171777. Epub 2011 Aug 11.

Identification of recent cannabis use: whole-blood and plasma free and glucuronidated cannabinoid pharmacokinetics following controlled smoked cannabis administration.

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Chemistry and Drug Metabolism, Intramural Research Program, National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIH, Biomedical Research Center, Baltimore, MD 21224, USA.



Δ⁹-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the most frequently observed illicit drug in investigations of accidents and driving under the influence of drugs. THC-glucuronide has been suggested as a marker of recent cannabis use, but there are no blood data following controlled THC administration to test this hypothesis. Furthermore, there are no studies directly examining whole-blood cannabinoid pharmacokinetics, although this matrix is often the only available specimen.


Participants (9 men, 1 woman) resided on a closed research unit and smoked one 6.8% THC cannabis cigarette ad libitum. We quantified THC, 11-hydroxy-THC (11-OH-THC), 11-nor-9-carboxy-THC (THCCOOH), cannabidiol (CBD), cannabinol (CBN), THC-glucuronide and THCCOOH-glucuronide directly in whole blood and plasma by liquid chromatography/tandem mass spectrometry within 24 h of collection to obviate stability issues.


Median whole blood (plasma) observed maximum concentrations (C(max)) were 50 (76), 6.4 (10), 41 (67), 1.3 (2.0), 2.4 (3.6), 89 (190), and 0.7 (1.4) μg/L 0.25 h after starting smoking for THC, 11-OH- THC, THCCOOH, CBD, CBN, and THCCOOH-glucuronide, respectively, and 0.5 h for THC-glucuronide. At observed C(max), whole-blood (plasma) detection rates were 60% (80%), 80% (90%), and 50% (80%) for CBD, CBN, and THC-glucuronide, respectively. CBD and CBN were not detectable after 1 h in either matrix (LOQ 1.0 μg/L).


Human whole-blood cannabinoid data following cannabis smoking will assist whole blood and plasma cannabinoid interpretation, while furthering identification of recent cannabis intake.

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