Virginia Forensic Science Department Unveils THC Blood Detection Study Results

In a recent development, the Virginia Department of Forensic Science (VDFS) has disclosed its findings from a federally funded initiative focused on exploring dependable techniques for detecting THC in blood samples.

Commencing in 2020, the VDFS received a grant of $290,353 from the Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice to spearhead research efforts in this domain. The primary objective of this endeavor was articulated as the development and validation of an automated sample preparation methodology for assessing an expanded cannabinoid panel, encompassing CBD, CBN, THC, THC-A, and CBC, within biological matrices.

With a total pool of over $1,188,390 allocated across five projects, the VDFS embarked on this endeavor against the backdrop of shifting cannabis legislation, which has significantly influenced forensic laboratory operations, potentially amplifying caseloads in forensic toxicology.

Fast forward four years, and the VDFS has released a comprehensive 107-page report in February, delineating the intricacies of segregating THC metabolites and conducting experiments utilizing various blood types, including bank blood, antemortem blood, postmortem blood, and urine samples.

Ultimately, researchers devised a methodology capable of discerning diverse cannabinoids. Leveraging supported liquid extraction, the team developed a technique for both quantitative and qualitative cannabinoid evaluation in biological matrices, employing LCMSMS (liquid chromatography with tandem mass spectrometry) along with two analytical columns featuring distinct stationary phases to bolster cannabinoid confirmation.

The utilization of LCMSMS proved instrumental in discerning subtle differentiations among cannabinoids, with a dual-column chromatographic approach enhancing selectivity and enabling additional confirmation regarding compound identities. Throughout the validation process, meticulous evaluation of interferences from other cannabinoids played a pivotal role in assessing method robustness and validity.

In a subsequent development, the VDFS secured grant funds totaling $441,886 in 2023, earmarked for the development of methodologies and tools to investigate other psychedelic compounds, such as psilocybin and N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT). The analytical challenge posed by the detection of these compounds in biological specimens, owing to their rapid metabolism and structural instability, underscores the necessity for an analytical workflow accommodating appropriate long-term storage conditions and sample preparation parameters to mitigate associated implications.

This initiative was part of a broader initiative involving five studies, collectively awarded a share of $1,928,846, with the overarching goal of identifying the most efficient, accurate, reliable, and cost-effective methodologies for criminal justice purposes pertaining to the identification, analysis, and interpretation of physical evidence.

The discourse surrounding cannabis testing and the quest for accurate impairment measurement methodologies has long been a subject of contention. Notably, a study published in Scientific Reports in 2022 cast doubt on the reliability of THC detection in breath or blood as indicators of impairment, citing the persistence of delta-9-THC in breath even days post-consumption, potentially leading to false positive outcomes.

In a legislative context, President Joe Biden’s signing of the infrastructure bill in November 2021 mandated the Department of Transportation to compile a report, including recommendations for facilitating cannabis research to study drivers under its influence. Although the deadline for this report was slated for November 2023, its delivery is pending.

Against this backdrop, Senator John Hickenlooper’s outreach to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration underscored the imperative of clarifying policies pertaining to marijuana-impaired driving amidst ambiguities, given the overarching goal of curbing traffic fatalities and enhancing roadway safety.

In October 2023, a study conducted by the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus delved into methods for more accurately detecting cannabis consumption. Notably, the research team’s findings showcased promising specificity rates, particularly in discerning recent cannabis consumption within a 30-minute timeframe, underlining the potential efficacy of their devised methodologies.

This unveiling of the VDFS’s THC blood detection study results marks a significant milestone in advancing forensic science methodologies, underscoring ongoing efforts to address pressing challenges in cannabis testing and impairment assessment.


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