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Pitfall in cannabinoid analysis—detection of a previously unrecognized interfering compound in human serum


In clinical and forensic toxicology, high-performance liquid chromatography/tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) is increasingly used since it allows the development of sensitive and fast drug analysis procedures. During development of a LC-MS/MS method for determination of the psychoactive cannabinoid Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and of its two metabolites 11-hydroxy-THC (THCOH) and 11-nor-9-carboxy-THC (THCCOOH) in serum, a previously unrecognized interfering compound was detected. Extending the fast gradient elution program by an isocratic phase leads to sufficient separation of the interfering compound, initially co-eluting with THCCOOH and exhibiting the same fragments. For characterization, product ion scans and precursor ion scans were performed. Samples from cannabis users were analyzed to estimate the abundance of the interfering compound. The mass spectrometric experiments showed that the interfering compound exhibited the same molecular mass as THCCOOH and a similar fragmentation pattern except for relative fragment intensities. This compound was exclusively detectable in authentic samples. Concentrations were in the range of 4.5 to 51 % (median 14.6 %, n = 73) of those of THCCOOH. After further optimization of the gradient, the method was sufficiently selective and sensitive and validation parameters were within acceptance limits. A new compound related to cannabis use was detected in human serum, and data suggest an isomeric structure to THCCOOH. Considering the rather high amounts observed, it was surprising that this compound had not been detected previously. Further studies on its structure and origin are necessary.

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Correspondence to Stefan W. Toennes.

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Toennes, S.W., Hanisch, S., Pogoda, W. et al. Pitfall in cannabinoid analysis—detection of a previously unrecognized interfering compound in human serum. Anal Bioanal Chem 407, 463–470 (2015).

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  • Forensic toxicology
  • Drug monitoring
  • Cannabinoids
  • 11-Nor-9-carboxy-delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol
  • Validation