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Identification and quantification of cannabinoids in Cannabis sativa L. plants by high performance liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry


High performance liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (HPLC-MS/MS) has been successfully applied to cannabis plant extracts in order to identify cannabinoid compounds after their quantitative isolation by means of supercritical fluid extraction (SFE). MS conditions were optimized by means of a central composite design (CCD) approach, and the analysis method was fully validated. Six major cannabinoids [tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), cannabigerol (CBG), and cannabinol (CBN)] were quantified (RSD < 10%), and seven more cannabinoids were identified and verified by means of a liquid chromatograph coupled to a quadrupole-time-of-flight (Q-ToF) detector. Finally, based on the distribution of the analyzed cannabinoids in 30 Cannabis sativa L. plant varieties and the principal component analysis (PCA) of the resulting data, a clear difference was observed between outdoor and indoor grown plants, which was attributed to a higher concentration of THC, CBN, and CBD in outdoor grown plants.

Representative figure of the identification and quantification process of cannabinoids

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The authors are grateful to GANJAZZ ART CLUB for supplying the plant material used in this study, to IDOKI SCF S.L. for their support in the SFE extraction, and to the Central Service of Analysis of the University of the Basque Country for the UPLC-QToF analysis. O.A. and J.O. are grateful to the Basque Government and the University of the Basque Country for their PhD fellowship.

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Correspondence to Oier Aizpurua-Olaizola.

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Aizpurua-Olaizola, O., Omar, J., Navarro, P. et al. Identification and quantification of cannabinoids in Cannabis sativa L. plants by high performance liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. Anal Bioanal Chem 406, 7549–7560 (2014).

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  • Cannabinoid analysis
  • Liquid chromatography
  • Mass spectrometry
  • Fingerprinting