Urinary Excretion Profile of 11-Nor-9-Carboxy-Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THCCOOH) following Smoked and Vaporized Cannabis Administration in Infrequent Cannabis Users

Tory R. Spindle, Edward Jackson Cone, Nicolas J. Schlienz, John M. Mitchell, George E. Bigelow, Ronald Flegel, Eugene Hayes, Ryan Vandrey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


As cannabis has become more accessible, use of alternative methods for cannabis administration such as vaporizers has become more prevalent. Most prior controlled pharmacokinetic evaluations have examined smoked cannabis in frequent (often daily) cannabis users. This study characterized the urinary excretion profile of 11-nor-9-carboxy-Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THCCOOH), the primary analytical outcome for detection of cannabis use, among infrequent cannabis users following controlled administration of both smoked and vaporized cannabis. Healthy adults (N = 17), with a mean of 398 (range 30-1,825) days since last cannabis use, smoked and vaporized cannabis containing 0, 10, and 25 mg of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) across six outpatient sessions. Urinary concentrations of THCCOOH were measured at baseline and for 8 h after cannabis administration. Sensitivity, specificity, and agreement between three immunoassays (IA) for THCCOOH (with cutoffs of 20, 50, and 100 ng/mL) and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC/MS) results (confirmatory concentration of 15 ng/mL) were assessed. THCCOOH concentrations peaked 4-6 h after cannabis administration. Median maximum concentrations (Cmax) for THCCOOH were qualitatively higher after administration of vaporized cannabis compared to equal doses of smoked cannabis. Urine THCCOOH concentrations were substantially lower in this study relative to prior examinations of experienced cannabis users. The highest agreement between IA and GC/MS was observed at the 50 ng/mL IA cutoff while sensitivity and specificity were highest at the 20 and 100 ng/mL IA cutoffs, respectively. Using federal workplace drug-testing criteria (IA cutoff of 50 ng/mL and GC/MS concentration ≥15 ng/mL) urine specimens tested positive in 47% of vaporized sessions and 21% of smoked sessions with active THC doses (N = 68). Urinary concentrations of THCCOOH are dissimilar after administration of smoked and vaporized cannabis, with qualitatively higher concentrations observed after vaporization. Infrequent users of cannabis may excrete relatively low concentrations of THCCOOH following acute inhalation of smoked or vaporized cannabis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of analytical toxicology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Toxicology
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis
  • Chemical Health and Safety


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