Analysis of 14 endocannabinoids and endocannabinoid congeners in human plasma using column switching high-performance atmospheric pressure chemical ionization liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry

Anal Bioanal Chem. 2021 May;413(12):3381-3392. doi: 10.1007/s00216-021-03280-0. Epub 2021 Apr 5.


The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a complex cell-signaling system. To address the growing need of analytics capturing endocannabinoid levels to investigate the ECS, we developed and validated an assay for the quantitative analysis of 14 endocannabinoids and congeners. A simple extraction using protein precipitation with acetonitrile followed by online-trapping high-performance liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC/LC-MS/MS) was used to monitor the levels of 14 endocannabinoids in plasma. The assay was validated and intra-run and inter-run accuracies and imprecisions as well as matrix effects, recoveries, and sample stabilities were determined. As a proof of concept, a subset of study samples after naturalistic administration of Cannabis flower and concentrate was analyzed. With the exception of N-oleoyl dopamine and oleamide, all endocannabinoids fulfilled the predefined acceptance criteria. Reproducible recoveries and no significant matrix effects were observed. Sample stability was an issue. Analysis of the proof-of-concept study samples revealed a significantly (p = 0.006) higher concentration of docosatetraenoyl ethanolamide in concentrate users (300 ± 13 pg/mL) compared to flower users (252 ± 11 pg/mL). A robust, sensitive high-throughput assay for the quantitation of 14 endocannabinoids and congeners was successfully validated. Our study showed that it is mandatory to (A) appropriately stabilize samples and (B) separate and separately quantify 1-AG and 2-AG; otherwise, study results are unreliable. The analysis of study samples from Cannabis flower users versus Cannabis concentrate users revealed higher levels of docosatetraenoyl ethanolamide and anandamide (n.s.) in high THC concentrate users in accordance with the existing literature, supporting the validity of the assay measurements. Graphical abstract.

Keywords: 2-Arachidonoylglycerol; Anandamide; Cannabinoids; Docosatetraenoyl ethanolamide; Endocannabinoid System; Endocannabinoids.

MeSH terms

  • Atmospheric Pressure
  • Cannabis*
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid / methods*
  • Endocannabinoids / blood*
  • Humans
  • Limit of Detection
  • Mass Spectrometry / methods*
  • Proof of Concept Study
  • Quality Control
  • Reproducibility of Results


  • Endocannabinoids