Semiquantitative Screening of THC Analogues by Silica Gel TLC with an Ag(I) Retention Zone and Chromogenic Smartphone Detection

Anal Chem. 2022 Oct 11;94(40):13710-13718. doi: 10.1021/acs.analchem.2c01627. Epub 2022 Sep 30.


With the ever-evolving cannabis industry, low-cost and high-throughput analytical methods for cannabinoids are urgently needed. Normally, (potentially) psychoactive cannabinoids, typically represented by Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC), and nonpsychoactive cannabinoids with therapeutic benefits, typically represented by cannabidiol (CBD), are the target analytes. Structurally, the former (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), cannabinol (CBN), and THC) have one olefinic double bond and the latter (cannabidiolic acid (CBDA), cannabigerol (CBG), and CBD) have two, which results in different affinities toward Ag(I) ions. Thus, a silica gel thin-layer chromatography (TLC) plate with the lower third impregnated with Ag(I) ions enabled within minutes a digital chromatographic separation of strongly retained CBD analogues and poorly retained THC analogues. The resolution (<i>R</i><sub>s</sub>) between the closest two spots from the two groups was 4.7, which is almost 8 times higher than the resolution on unmodified TLC. After applying Fast Blue BB as a chromogenic reagent, smartphone-based color analysis enabled semiquantification of the total percentage of THC analogues (with a limit of detection (LOD) of 11 ng for THC, 54 ng for CBN, and 50 ng for THCA when the loaded volume is 1.0 μL). The method was validated by analyzing mixed cannabis extracts and cannabis extracts. The results correlated with those of high-performance liquid chromatography with ultraviolet detection (HPLC-UV) (<i>R</i><sup>2</sup> = 0.97), but the TLC approach had the advantages of multi-minute analysis time, high throughput, low solvent consumption, portability, and ease of interpretation. In a desiccator, Ag(I)-TLC plates can be stored for at least 3 months. Therefore, this method would allow rapid distinction between high and low THC varieties of cannabis, with the potential for on-site applicability.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Calcium Gluconate
  • Cannabidiol* / analysis
  • Cannabinoids* / analysis
  • Cannabinol / analysis
  • Cannabis* / chemistry
  • Chromatography, Thin Layer
  • Dronabinol / analysis
  • Hallucinogens*
  • Plant Extracts / chemistry
  • Silica Gel
  • Smartphone
  • Solvents


  • Cannabinoids
  • Hallucinogens
  • Plant Extracts
  • Solvents
  • Cannabidiol
  • Silica Gel
  • Dronabinol
  • Cannabinol
  • Calcium Gluconate