Postmortem fluid and tissue concentrations of THC, 11-OH-THC and THC-COOH

Sunday R. Saenz, Russell J. Lewis, Mike K. Angier, Jarrad R. Wagner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Marijuana is the most commonly abused illicit drug worldwide. Marijuana is used for its euphoric and relaxing properties. However, marijuana use has been shown to result in impaired memory, cognitive skills and psychomotor function. The Federal Aviation Administration's Civil Aerospace Medical Institute conducts toxicological analysis on aviation fatalities. Due to severe trauma associated with aviation accidents, blood is not always available; therefore, the laboratory must rely on specimens other than blood for toxicological analysis in ~30-40% of cases. However, the postmortem distribution of cannabinoids has not been well characterized. The purpose of this research is to evaluate the distribution of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and its metabolites, 11-hydroxytetrahydrocannabinol (11-OH-THC) and THC-COOH, in postmortem fluid and tissue specimens from 11 fatal aviation accident cases (2014-2015) previously found positive for cannabinoids. Specimens evaluated, when available, included: blood, urine, vitreous humor, liver, lung, kidney, spleen, muscle, brain, heart and bile. We developed and validated (following SWGTOX guidelines) a sensitive and robust method using solid-phase extraction and liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry to identify and quantify THC, 11-OH-THC and THC-COOH in postmortem fluids and tissues. The method readily identified and quantified these cannabinoids in postmortem fluids and tissues below 1 ng/mL. Qualitative cannabinoid results within each case were comparable between blood and non-blood specimens. However, there was no consistent distribution of the cannabinoids between blood and any other fluids or tissues. Therefore, while quantitative interpretation of nonblood postmortem fluid and tissues samples is not prudent, a majority of the non-blood specimens tested could be suitable alternative/supplemental choices for qualitative cannabinoid detection.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)508-516
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Analytical Toxicology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2017


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