Implications of plasma Delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol, 11-hydroxy-THC, and 11-nor-9-carboxy-THC concentrations in chronic cannabis smokers

J Anal Toxicol. 2009 Oct;33(8):469-77. doi: 10.1093/jat/33.8.469.


Delta(9)-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is commonly found in toxicological specimens from driving under the influence and accident investigations. Plasma cannabinoid concentrations were determined in 18 long-term heavy cannabis smokers residing on an in-patient research unit for seven days of monitored abstinence. THC, 11-hydroxy-THC, and 11-nor-9-carboxy-THC (THCCOOH) were quantified by two-dimensional gas chromatography-mass spectrometry with cryofocusing. THC concentrations were > 1 ng/mL in nine (50.0%) participants (1.2-5.5 ng/mL) on abstinence day 7. THCCOOH was detected (2.8-45.6 ng/mL) in all participants on study day 7. THC and THCCOOH median percent concentration decreases (n = 18) were 39.5% and 72.9% from day 1 to 7, respectively. Most (88.9%) of the participants had at least one specimen with increased THC compared to the previous day. Cannabis use duration and plasma THCCOOH concentrations were positively correlated on days 1-3 (R = 0.584-0.610; p = 0.007-0.011). There were no significant correlations between THC concentrations > 0.25 ng/mL and body mass index on days 1-7 (R = -0.234-0.092; p = 0.350-0.766). Measurable THC concentrations after seven days of abstinence indicate a potential mechanism for residual neurocognitive impairment observed in chronic cannabis users. THC's presence in plasma for seven days of abstinence suggests its detection may not indicate recent use in daily cannabis users.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Cognition Disorders / blood
  • Cognition Disorders / chemically induced
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis
  • Dronabinol / analogs & derivatives*
  • Dronabinol / blood
  • Dronabinol / pharmacokinetics*
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Humans
  • Marijuana Smoking / blood
  • Substance Abuse Detection / methods*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / blood*


  • Biomarkers
  • 11-hydroxy-delta(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol
  • 11-nor-delta(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol-9-carboxylic acid
  • Dronabinol
  • delta(9)-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid