Current knowledge on cannabinoids in oral fluid

Drug Test Anal. 2014 Jan-Feb;6(1-2):88-111. doi: 10.1002/dta.1514. Epub 2013 Aug 25.


Oral fluid (OF) is a new biological matrix for clinical and forensic drug testing, offering non-invasive and directly observable sample collection reducing adulteration potential, ease of multiple sample collections, lower biohazard risk during collection, recent exposure identification, and stronger correlation with blood than urine concentrations. Because cannabinoids are usually the most prevalent analytes in illicit drug testing, application of OF drug testing requires sufficient scientific data to support sensitive and specific OF cannabinoid detection. This review presents current knowledge of OF cannabinoids, evaluating pharmacokinetic properties, detection windows, and correlation with other biological matrices and impairment from field applications and controlled drug administration studies. In addition, onsite screening technologies, confirmatory analytical methods, drug stability, and effects of sample collection procedure, adulterants, and passive environmental exposure are reviewed. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol OF concentrations could be >1000 µg/L shortly after smoking, whereas minor cannabinoids are detected at 10-fold and metabolites at 1000-fold lower concentrations. OF research over the past decade demonstrated that appropriate interpretation of test results requires a comprehensive understanding of distinct elimination profiles and detection windows for different cannabinoids, which are influenced by administration route, dose, and drug use history. Thus, each drug testing program should establish cut-off criteria, collection/analysis procedures, and storage conditions tailored to its purposes. Building a scientific basis for OF testing is ongoing, with continuing OF cannabinoids research on passive environmental exposure, drug use history, donor physiological conditions, and oral cavity metabolism needed to better understand mechanisms of cannabinoid OF disposition and expand OF drug testing applicability. Published 2013. This article is a U.S. Government work and is in the public domain in the USA.

Keywords: cannabinoid; cannabis; delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol; marijuana; oral fluid; saliva.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cannabinoids / administration & dosage
  • Cannabinoids / analysis*
  • Cannabinoids / pharmacokinetics
  • Cannabis / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Marijuana Smoking / metabolism
  • Public Health
  • Saliva / chemistry*
  • Substance Abuse Detection / methods*


  • Cannabinoids