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Clin Chem. 2013 Dec;59(12):1780-9. doi: 10.1373/clinchem.2013.207407. Epub 2013 Sep 17.

Cannabinoids in exhaled breath following controlled administration of smoked cannabis.

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Chemistry and Drug Metabolism, Intramural Research Program, National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, Baltimore, MD;



Δ(9)-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), 11-nor-9-carboxy-THC (THCCOOH), and cannabinol (CBN) were measured in breath following controlled cannabis smoking to characterize the time course and windows of detection of breath cannabinoids.


Exhaled breath was collected from chronic (≥4 times per week) and occasional (<twice per week) smokers before and after smoking a 6.8% THC cigarette. Sample analysis included methanol extraction from breath pads, solid-phase extraction, and liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry quantification.


THC was the major cannabinoid in breath; no sample contained THCCOOH and only 1 contained CBN. Among chronic smokers (n = 13), all breath samples were positive for THC at 0.89 h, 76.9% at 1.38 h, and 53.8% at 2.38 h, and only 1 sample was positive at 4.2 h after smoking. Among occasional smokers (n = 11), 90.9% of breath samples were THC-positive at 0.95 h and 63.6% at 1.49 h. One occasional smoker had no detectable THC. Analyte recovery from breath pads by methanolic extraction was 84.2%-97.4%. Limits of quantification were 50 pg/pad for THC and CBN and 100 pg/pad for THCCOOH. Solid-phase extraction efficiency was 46.6%-52.1% (THC) and 76.3%-83.8% (THCCOOH, CBN). Matrix effects were -34.6% to 12.3%. Cannabinoids fortified onto breath pads were stable (≤18.2% concentration change) for 8 h at room temperature and -20°C storage for 6 months.


Breath may offer an alternative matrix for identifying recent driving under the influence of cannabis, but currently sensitivity is limited to a short detection window (0.5-2 h).

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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