This final report details a research project with the goal of developing validated protocols that can be used by crime labs to rapidly identify and quantify THC in complex matrices that are difficult to analyze by conventional methods, along with impacts on other disciplines including food science.
The author reports on research exploring the hypothesis that the unique capabilities of direct analysis in real time – high-resolution mass spectrometry (DART-HRMS) could be used for the rapid and streamlined detection of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in complex plant and edible matrices. The author also proposes that the approach could be used for rapid quantification of THC in complex matrices in a manner that allows it to be distinguished from cannabinoid isomers and other phytocannabinoids, such as natural cannabinoids, without the need for extensive processing steps. The goal of the project was to develop validated protocols that can be used by crime labs to rapidly identify and quantify THC in complex matrices that are difficult to analyze by conventional methods. The research project had four specific aims, including: demonstration of the utility of DART-HRMS as a presumptive test that can be used to rapidly detect THC in complex matrices with minimal to no sample pretreatment steps; demonstration of the ability to distinguish THC from CBD and other phytocannabinoids in Cannabis using DART-HRMS; development of DART-HRMS validated protocols for the quantification of THC and CBD; and development of optimized procedures for the recovery of THC from complex matrix edibles, beverages, and plant material for subsequent quantitative analysis. Two investigations for differentiating cannabinoids demonstrated proof-of-concept that can be further refined for optimal inclusion in forensic workflows. Major findings included: the development of a triage approach to rapidly identify the possible presence of Cannabis-related molecules in a variety of complex matrices; development of proof-of-concept for two methods for the differentiation of cannabinoids; development of validated DART-HRMS semi-automated protocols for rapid quantification, and application of the methods to quantify CBD and THC in chocolate and chew/gummy matrices; and the application of extraction protocols to various matrices that are difficult to analyze by conventional chromatography methods.