Aims: To use selected ion flow tube mass spectrometry (SIFT-MS) to analyse the molecular species emitted by heated 'street' cannabis plant material, especially targeting ammonia.
Materials and methods: Samples of 'street' cannabis leaf, held under a UK Home Office licence, were prepared by finely chopping and mixing the material. The samples were then heated in commercially available devices. The air containing the released gaseous compounds was sampled into the SIFT-MS instrument for analysis. Smoke from standard 3% National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) cannabis cigarettes was also analysed.
Findings: For 'street' cannabis, ammonia was present in the air samples from the devices at levels approaching 200 parts per million (p.p.m.). This is compared with peak levels of 10 p.p.m. using NIDA samples of known provenance and tetrahydrocannabinol content (3%). Several other compounds were present at lower levels, including acetaldehyde, methanol, acetone, acetic acid and uncharacterized terpenes.
Conclusions: Awareness of the risks of inhaling the smoke directly from burning cannabis has led to the development of a number of alternative methods of delivery, which are claimed to be safer than direct smoking. Ammonia at toxic levels is produced from heating 'street' cannabis in these commercially available devices. Thus, the use of these devices to deliver 'street' cannabis is now open to question and further research is needed to investigate their safety.