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    Detecting secondhand exposure to marijuana

    A new urine test that quantifies very low biomarkers of marijuana smoke can help assess how much children are being passively exposed.

    A new, highly sensitive analytical test method provides a way to detect and quantify smaller levels than ever before of the analytes associated with marijuana, levels on the order of those produced by secondhand exposure to the psychoactive substance.

    Related: Talking to teenagers about marijuana

    “Our study is the first [to show] that we can measure marijuana-specific chemicals in people passively exposed to secondhand marijuana smoke,” explains Binnian Wei, PhD, lead author of the study and research scientist in the Tobacco and Volatiles Branch, Division of Laboratory Sciences, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Center for Environmental Health, Atlanta, Georgia. The method is detailed in a study recently published in the journal Analytical Chemistry.1

    Wei explains that currently available methods can detect larger amounts of cannabinoids and their metabolites, including urinary delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), and cannibinol (CBN), and 2 major metabolites of THC, 11-nor-9-carboxy-THC (COOH-THC) and 11-hydroxy-THC (OH-THC), which allows analysis of the health effects of primary marijuana use. Limits of detection for these analytes in presently available methods range from 0.2 to 5.0 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL).

    Quantifying marijuana biomarkers

    However, persons smoking marijuana can expose other people passively. Such exposure is characterized by very low biomarker levels. The new test method is about 10 to 100 times more sensitive than currently available approaches, with limits of detection ranging from 0.002 to 0.008 ng/mL for “free” (unconjugated forms) and 0.005 to 0.017 ng/mL for “total” (unconjugated plus conjugated forms) measurements, making it possible to study the health effects of secondhand marijuana smoke (SHMS).

    NEXT: Clinical utility of new test


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