Detection of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol in exhaled breath collected from cannabis users

J Anal Toxicol. 2011 Oct;35(8):541-4. doi: 10.1093/anatox/35.8.541.


Exhaled breath has recently been proposed as a new possible matrix for drugs of abuse testing. A key drug is cannabis, and the present study was aimed at investigating the possibility of detecting tetrahydrocannabinol and tetrahydrocannabinol carboxylic acid in exhaled breath after cannabis smoking. Exhaled breath was sampled from 10 regular cannabis users and 8 controls by directing the exhaled breath by suction through an Empore C(18) disk. The disk was extracted with hexane/ethyl acetate, and the resulting extract was evaporated to dryness and redissolved in 100 μL hexane/ethyl acetate. A 3-μL aliquot was injected onto the LC-MS-MS system and analyzed using positive electrospray ionization and selected reaction monitoring. In samples collected 1-12 h after cannabis smoking, tetrahydrocannabinol was detected in all 10 subjects. The rate of excretion was between 9.0 and 77.3 pg/min. Identification of tetrahydrocannabinol was based on correct retention time relative to tetrahydrocannabinol-d(3) and correct product ion ratio. In three samples, peaks were observed for tetrahydrocannabinol carboxylic acid, but these did not fulfill identification criteria. Neither tetrahydrocannabinol or tetrahydrocannabinol carboxylic acid was detected in the controls. These results confirm older reports that tetrahydrocannabinol is present in exhaled breath following cannabis smoking and extend the detection time from minutes to hours. The results further support the idea that exhaled breath is a promising matrix for drugs-of-abuse testing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Breath Tests*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Dronabinol / metabolism*
  • Exhalation*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Marijuana Abuse / diagnosis*
  • Marijuana Abuse / metabolism
  • Marijuana Abuse / physiopathology
  • Marijuana Smoking / metabolism*
  • Marijuana Smoking / physiopathology
  • Middle Aged
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Electrospray Ionization
  • Substance Abuse Detection / methods*
  • Sweden
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult


  • Biomarkers
  • Dronabinol