Drug test detects possibly toxic cannabis derivative

By The Science Advisory Board staff writers

July 27, 2022 -- As the cannabis derivative delta-8-THC grows in popularity, drug tests are needed to detect and differentiate it from delta-9-THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.

Breaking research showcased on Tuesday at AACC 2022 demonstrates that common drug testing methods can do just that.

Over the last few years, use of delta-8-THC has been rising in popularity in the U.S. for two reasons. The first is that it's known for giving users a milder high than regular marijuana, and the second is that delta-8-THC is unregulated at the federal level, which means that it is legal in most states where cannabis use is still banned.

However, because delta-8-THC products are unregulated, many contain toxic manufacturing byproducts that make it more dangerous than delta-9-THC.

As a result, testing for delta-8-THC is needed to discourage people from taking these contaminated products to circumvent drug tests. Testing is also needed to monitor the spread of delta-8-THC and to inform public health efforts to craft better regulations for it.

A team of researchers led by Uttam Garg, PhD, of Children's Mercy, Kansas City and the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine conducted research to see if tests that detect delta-9-THC can also detect delta-8-THC. To do this, Garg's team spiked negative urine samples with various concentrations of delta-8-THC (10-50 ng/mL) and analyzed these samples with a standard approach for detecting cannabis use. First, they screened the samples with a commercial cannabinoid immunoassay; they followed the screening with confirmatory testing using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS).

Garg's team found that the cannabinoid immunoassay yielded positive results for all samples with delta-8-THC concentrations of 30 ng/mL and higher. The GC-MS method also identified delta-8-THC. The latter is especially significant because delta-8-THC and delta-9-THC are very similar at a molecular level, but the GC-MS method was able to distinguish between them due to a difference in retention time. The researchers confirmed these findings in a patient sample containing delta-8-THC.

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