Sensitive Quantification of Cannabinoids in Milk by Alkaline Saponification-Solid Phase Extraction Combined with Isotope Dilution UPLC-MS/MS

ACS Omega. 2016;1(6):1307-1313. doi: 10.1021/acsomega.6b00253. Epub 2016 Dec 20.


Maternal exposure to marijuana during the lactation period-either active or passive-has prompted concerns about transmission of cannabinoids to breastfed infants and possible subsequent adverse health consequences. Assessing these health risks requires a sensitive analytical approach that is able to quantitatively measure trace-level cannabinoids in breast milk. Here, we describe a saponification-solid phase extraction approach combined with ultra-high-pressure liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry for simultaneously quantifying Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), and cannabinol (CBN) in breast milk. We demonstrate for the first time that constraints on sensitivity can be overcome by utilizing alkaline saponification of the milk samples. After extensively optimizing the saponification procedure, the validated method exhibited limits of detections of 13, 4, and 66 pg/mL for THC, CBN, and CBD, respectively. Notably, the sensitivity achieved was significantly improved, for instance, the limits of detection for THC is at least 100-fold more sensitive compared to that previously reported in the literature. This is essential for monitoring cannabinoids in breast milk resulting from passive or nonrecent active maternal exposure. Furthermore, we simultaneously acquired multiple reaction monitoring transitions for 12C- and 13C-analyte isotopes. This combined analysis largely facilitated data acquisition by reducing the repetitive analysis rate for samples exceeding the linear limits of 12C-analytes. In addition to high sensitivity and broad quantitation range, this method delivers excellent accuracy (relative error within ±10%), precision (relative standard deviation <10%), and efficient analysis. In future studies, we expect this method to play a critical role in assessing infant exposure to cannabinoids through breastfeeding.