Rebecca L. Hartman, Timothy L. Brown, Gary Milavetz, Andrew Spurgin, David A. Gorelick, Gary Gaffney, Marilyn A. Huestis

Published in Clinical Chemistry

June 2015



Increased medical and legal cannabis intake is accompanied by greater use of cannabis vaporization and more cases of driving under the influence of cannabis. Although simultaneous Δ(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and alcohol use is frequent, potential pharmacokinetic interactions are poorly understood. Here we studied blood and plasma vaporized cannabinoid disposition, with and without simultaneous oral low-dose alcohol.

Thirty-two adult cannabis smokers (≥1 time/3 months, ≤3 days/week) drank placebo or low-dose alcohol (target approximately 0.065% peak breath-alcohol concentration) 10 min before inhaling 500 mg placebo, low-dose (2.9%) THC, or high-dose (6.7%) THC vaporized cannabis (6 within-individual alcohol-cannabis combinations). Blood and plasma were obtained before and up to 8.3 h after ingestion.

Nineteen participants completed all sessions. Median (range) maximum blood concentrations (Cmax) for low and high THC doses (no alcohol) were 32.7 (11.4-66.2) and 42.2 (15.2-137) μg/L THC, respectively, and 2.8 (0-9.1) and 5.0 (0-14.2) μg/L 11-OH-THC. With alcohol, low and high dose Cmax values were 35.3 (13.0-71.4) and 67.5 (18.1-210) μg/L THC and 3.7 (1.4-6.0) and 6.0 (0-23.3) μg/L 11-OH-THC, significantly higher than without alcohol. With a THC detection cutoff of ≥1 μg/L, ≥16.7% of participants remained positive 8.3 h postdose, whereas ≤21.1% were positive by 2.3 h with a cutoff of ≥5 μg/L.

Vaporization is an effective THC delivery route. The significantly higher blood THC and 11-OH-THC Cmax values with alcohol possibly explain increased performance impairment observed from cannabis-alcohol combinations. Chosen driving-related THC cutoffs should be considered carefully to best reflect performance impairment windows. Our results will help facilitate forensic interpretation and inform the debate on drugged driving legislation.


DOI: 10.1373/clinchem.2015.238287



Hartman RL, Brown TL, Milavetz G, et al. Controlled Cannabis Vaporizer Administration: Blood and Plasma Cannabinoids with and without Alcohol. Clin Chem. 2015;61(6):850-869. doi:10.1373/clinchem.2015.238287