Pharmacokinetic properties of the synthetic cannabinoid JWH-018 and of its metabolites in serum after inhalation

J Pharm Biomed Anal. 2017 Jun 5;140:215-222. doi: 10.1016/j.jpba.2017.03.043. Epub 2017 Mar 24.


Each year, synthetic cannabinoids are occurring in high numbers in the illicit drug market, but data on their pharmacology and toxicology are scarcely available. Therefore, a pilot study was performed to assess adverse effects of JWH-018, which is one of the oldest and best known synthetic cannabinoids. Six subjects inhaled smoke from 2 and 3mg JWH-018. The drug and nine of its metabolites were analyzed in their blood samples taken during the following 12h by liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MSMS). The maximum concentration of JWH-018 reached 2.9-9.9ng/ml after inhalation and markedly decreased during the next 1.5h, followed by a multiexponential decline (t1/2 in median 1.3h and 5.7h). The concentration of the pentanoic acid metabolite was slightly higher than that of the 3-, 4- and 5-hydroxypentyl metabolites and of the 6-hydroxyindol metabolite. The data also suggest a multiexponential decline and slow terminal elimination of JWH-018 and all metabolites. The detection of JWH-018 and of its metabolites in serum requires high analytical sensitivity. The pharmacokinetic properties of inhaled JWH-018 are similar to that of THC. A slow terminal elimination of drug and metabolites may lead to accumulation in chronic users.

Keywords: JWH-018; Liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry; Metabolites; Pharmacokinetics; Synthetic cannabinoids.

MeSH terms

  • Cannabinoids
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs
  • Indoles / blood*
  • Naphthalenes / blood*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Substance Abuse Detection
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry


  • Cannabinoids
  • Illicit Drugs
  • Indoles
  • Naphthalenes
  • 1-pentyl-3-(1-naphthoyl)indole