Passive cannabis smoke exposure and oral fluid testing. II. Two studies of extreme cannabis smoke exposure in a motor vehicle

R. Sam Niedbala, Keith W. Kardos, Dean F. Fritch, Kenneth P. Kunsman, Kristen A. Blum, Gregory A. Newland, Joe Waga, Lisa Kurtz, Matth Bronsgeest, Edward J. Cone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


Two studies were conducted to determine if extreme passive exposure to cannabis smoke in a motor vehicle would produce positive results for 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in oral fluid. Passive exposure to cannabis smoke in an unventilated room has been shown to produce a transient appearance of THC in oral fluid for up to 30 min. However, it is well known that such factors as room size and extent of smoke exposure can affect results. Questions have also been raised concerning the effects of tobacco when mixed with marijuana and THC content. We conducted two passive cannabis studies under severe passive smoke exposure conditions in an unventilated eight-passenger van. Four passive subjects sat alongside four active cannabis smokers who each smoked a single cannabis cigarette containing either 5.4%, 39.5 mg THC (Study 1) or 10.4%, 83.2 mg THC (Study 2). The cigarettes in Study 1 contained tobacco mixed with cannabis; cigarettes in Study 2 contained only cannabis. Oral fluid specimens were collected from passive and active subjects with the Intercept® Oral Specimen Collection Device for 1 h after smoking cessation while inside the van (Study 1) and up to 72 h (passive) or 8 h (active) outside the van. Additionally in Study 1, Intercept collectors were exposed to smoke in the van to assess environmental contamination during collection procedures. For Study 2, all oral fluid collections were outside the van following smoking cessation to minimize environmental contamination. Oral samples were analyzed with the Cannabinoids Intercept MICRO-PLATE EIA and quantitatively by gas chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (GC-MS-MS). THC concentrations were adjusted for dilution (x 3). The screening and confirmation cutoff concentrations for THC in neat oral fluid were 3 ng/mL and 1.5 ng/mL, respectively. The limits of detection (LOD) and quantitation (LOQ) for THC in the GC-MS-MS assay were 0.3 and 0.75 ng/mL, respectively. Urine specimens were collected, screened (EMIT, 50 ng/mL cutoff), and analyzed by GC-MS-MS for THCCOOH (LOD/LOQ = 1.0 ng/mL). Peak oral fluid THC concentrations in passive subjects recorded at the end of cannabis smoke exposure were up to 7.5 ng/mL (Study 1) and 1.2 ng/mL (Study 2). Thereafter, THC concentrations quickly declined to negative levels within 30-45 min in Study 1. It was found that environmentally exposed Collectors contained 3-14 ng/mL in Study 1. When potential contamination during collection was eliminated in Study 2, all passive subjects were negative at screening/confirmation cutoff concentrations throughout the study. Oral fluid specimens from active smokers had peak concentrations of THC approximately 100-fold greater than passive subjects in both studies. Positive oral fluid results were observed for active smokers 0-8 h. Urine analysis confirmed oral fluid results. These studies clarify earlier findings on the effects of passive cannabis smoke on oral fluid results. Oral fluid specimens collected in the presence of cannabis smoke appear to have been contaminated, thereby falsely elevating THC concentrations in oral fluid. The risk of a positive test for THC was virtually eliminated when specimens were collected in the absence of THC smoke.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)607-615
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of analytical toxicology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Toxicology
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis
  • Chemical Health and Safety


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