Pharmacokinetic properties of the synthetic cannabinoid JWH‐018 in oral fluid after inhalation

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EarlyView Article

  • Published: Nov 23, 2017
  • Author: Stefan W. Toennes, Anna Geraths, Werner Pogoda, Alexander Paulke, Cora Wunder, Eef L. Theunissen, Johannes G. Ramaekers
  • Journal: Drug Testing and Analysis


Each year, synthetic cannabinoids occur in high numbers on the illicit drug market, but data on their detectability are rarely available. A pilot study was performed to assess adverse effects of JWH‐018, which is one of the oldest and best known synthetic cannabinoids. Oral fluid has been evaluated as a specimen for drug monitoring. Six subjects inhaled smoke derived from 2 and 3 mg JWH‐018. The drug and 10 of its metabolites were analyzed in oral fluid samples collected during the following 12 hours using the Quantisal collection device by liquid chromatography–tandem mass spectrometry (LC–MS/MS). Maximum concentrations of JWH‐018 reached 2.2–2036 (median 25.7) ng/mL after inhalation and decreased during the next hour to only 0.08–8.42 (median 0.89) ng/mL. Metabolites were not found. During the elimination phase (median half‐life 1.69 hours), detection of the drug over 6–12 hours (median 8 hours) after inhalation was achieved (0.024 ng/mL limit of quantification). Oral fluid/serum ratios varied considerably intra‐ and inter‐individually in a range of 0.05–555 (median 1.38). The detection of JWH‐018 in oral fluid requires high analytical sensitivity even 1 hour after inhalation. The pharmacokinetic properties of inhaled JWH‐018 are similar to those of THC. Times for detection are typically less than 12 hours. High variability of the oral fluid/serum ratio precludes extrapolation of oral fluid concentrations to blood.

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