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Anal Bioanal Chem. 2016 Jun;408(16):4379-88. doi: 10.1007/s00216-016-9537-5. Epub 2016 Apr 26.

Development and validation of an automated liquid-liquid extraction GC/MS method for the determination of THC, 11-OH-THC, and free THC-carboxylic acid (THC-COOH) from blood serum.

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Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University of Applied Science, von-Liebig-Straße 20, 53359, Rheinbach, Germany.
Department of Forensic Toxicology, University Hospital Giessen and Marburg GmbH, Institute of Legal Medicine, Frankfurter Straße 58, 35392, Giessen, Germany.
GERSTEL GmbH & Co. KG, Eberhard-Gerstel-Platz 1, 45473, Muelheim, Germany.
Department of Forensic Toxicology, University Hospital Giessen and Marburg GmbH, Institute of Legal Medicine, Frankfurter Straße 58, 35392, Giessen, Germany.


The analysis of Δ(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and its metabolites 11-hydroxy-Δ(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol (11-OH-THC), and 11-nor-9-carboxy-Δ(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC-COOH) from blood serum is a routine task in forensic toxicology laboratories. For examination of consumption habits, the concentration of the phase I metabolite THC-COOH is used. Recommendations for interpretation of analysis values in medical-psychological assessments (regranting of driver's licenses, Germany) include threshold values for the free, unconjugated THC-COOH. Using a fully automated two-step liquid-liquid extraction, THC, 11-OH-THC, and free, unconjugated THC-COOH were extracted from blood serum, silylated with N-methyl-N-(trimethylsilyl) trifluoroacetamide (MSTFA), and analyzed by GC/MS. The automation was carried out by an x-y-z sample robot equipped with modules for shaking, centrifugation, and solvent evaporation. This method was based on a previously developed manual sample preparation method. Validation guidelines of the Society of Toxicological and Forensic Chemistry (GTFCh) were fulfilled for both methods, at which the focus of this article is the automated one. Limits of detection and quantification for THC were 0.3 and 0.6 μg/L, for 11-OH-THC were 0.1 and 0.8 μg/L, and for THC-COOH were 0.3 and 1.1 μg/L, when extracting only 0.5 mL of blood serum. Therefore, the required limit of quantification for THC of 1 μg/L in driving under the influence of cannabis cases in Germany (and other countries) can be reached and the method can be employed in that context. Real and external control samples were analyzed, and a round robin test was passed successfully. To date, the method is employed in the Institute of Legal Medicine in Giessen, Germany, in daily routine. Automation helps in avoiding errors during sample preparation and reduces the workload of the laboratory personnel. Due to its flexibility, the analysis system can be employed for other liquid-liquid extractions as well. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first publication on a comprehensively automated classical liquid-liquid extraction workflow in the field of forensic toxicological analysis. Graphical abstract GC/MS with MPS Dual Head at the Institute of Legal Medicine, Giessen, Germany. Modules from left to right: (quick) Mix (for LLE), wash station, tray 1 (vials for extracts), solvent reservoir, (m) VAP (for extract evaporation), Solvent Filling Station (solvent supply), cooled tray 2 (vials for serum samples), and centrifuge (for phase separation).


Automation; Cannabinoids; GC/MS; Liquid-liquid extraction (LLE); Unconjugated THC-COOH

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