South African Journal of Chemistry

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Validated method for the detection and quantitation of synthetic cannabinoids in whole blood and urine, and its application to postmortem cases in Johannesburg, South Africa

Dale Pon, Ildiko J. Fenyvesi


A LC-HRMS (liquid chromatography coupled with high resolution mass  spectrometry) method for the detection and quantitation of several synthetic cannabinoids (JWH-018, JWH-019, JWH-073, JWH-081, JWH-122 JWH-200, JWH-250, AM-2201, (±)-CP 47,497, (C8)-CP 47,497, HU-211) and selected metabolites (JWH-018 N-(4-hydroxypentyl) and JWH-073 N-(3-hydroxybutyl)) in whole blood and urine was developed and validated. These methods were applied to postmortem cases from the Johannesburg Forensic Pathology Services Medicolegal Laboratory (FPS-MLL) to assess the prevalence of these synthetic cannabinoids amongst the local postmortem population. Urine samples were extracted utilizing a solid phase extraction (SPE) method, while blood samples were extracted utilizing liquid-liquid extraction (LLE) method. The accuracy of the analytes ranged from 88–107 % in whole blood (relative standard deviation (RSD) = 7.5–15.0 %), and from 95–109 % in urine (RSD = 4.9–11.9 %). The limits of detection (LOD) and the limits of quantitation (LOQ) for the analytes ranged between 0.675 ngmL–1 and 3.375 ngmL–1 in whole blood, and between 0.225 ngmL–1 to 3.375 ngmL–1 in urine. None of the postmortem cases tested positive for any of the targeted analytes. The sample population could be extended to living subjects such as those in drug rehabilitation centres or in hospitals to obtain a more accurate representation of the overall usage in South Africa.

Keywords: Toxicology, LC-HRMS, synthetic cannabinoids, whole blood, urine

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