Postmortem Fluid and Tissue Concentrations of THC, 11-OH-THC, and THC-COOH

Marijuana is the most commonly abused illicit drug worldwide. Marijuana is used for its euphoric and relaxing properties. However, marijuana use has been shown to result in impaired memory, cognitive skills, and psychomotor function. The Federal Aviation Administration’s Civil Aerospace Medical Institute conducts toxicological analysis on aviation fatalities. Due to severe trauma associated with aviation accidents, blood is not always available; therefore, the laboratory must rely on specimens other than blood for toxicological analysis in approximately 30-40% of cases. However, the postmortem distribution of cannabinoids has not been well characterized. The purpose of this research is to evaluate the distribution of THC, and its metabolites 11-OH-THC, and THC-COOH in postmortem fluid and tissue specimens from 11 fatal aviation accident cases (2014-2015) previously found positive for cannabinoids. Specimens evaluated, when available, included: blood, urine, vitreous humor, liver, lung, kidney, spleen, muscle, brain, heart, and bile. The authors developed and validated [following Scientific Working Group for Forensic Toxicology (SWGTOX) guidelines] a sensitive and robust method using solid phase extraction and liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry to identify and quantify THC, 11-OH-THC and THC-COOH in postmortem fluids and tissues. The method readily identified and quantified these cannabinoids in postmortem fluids and tissues below 1 ng/mL. Qualitative cannabinoid results within each case were comparable between blood and non-blood specimens. However, there was no consistent distribution of the cannabinoids between blood and any other fluids or tissues. Therefore, while quantitative interpretation of non-blood specimens is not prudent, a majority of the non-blood specimens tested could be suitable alternative/supplemental choices for qualitative cannabinoid purposes.

  • Record URL:
  • Corporate Authors:

    Federal Aviation Administration

    Civil Aerospace Medical Institute, P.O. Box 25082
    Oklahoma City, OK  United States  73125

    Oklahoma State University, Tulsa

    School of Forensic Sciences
    Center for Health Sciences
    Tulsa, OK  United States  74107

    Federal Aviation Administration

    Office of Aerospace Medicine, 800 Independence Avenue, SW
    Washington, DC  United States  20591
  • Authors:
    • Saenz, Sunday R
    • Lewis, Russell J
    • Angier, Michael K
    • Wagner, Jarrad R
  • Publication Date: 2017-4


  • English

Media Info

  • Media Type: Digital/other
  • Edition: Final Report
  • Features: Figures; References; Tables;
  • Pagination: 22p

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01687767
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Report/Paper Numbers: DOT/FAA/AM-17/12
  • Created Date: Dec 5 2018 4:27PM