An isomer of the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) metabolite 11-nor-9-carboxy-Δ9-THC (THCCOOH) had been detected in blood of cannabis users. The present study was initiated to elucidate whether the labile metabolite THCCOOH-glucuronide could be the precursor. THCCOOH-glucuronide was incubated in human serum and albumin (HSA) solution at various temperatures (-18, 4.5, 22 and 37°C) and pH values (pH 7.4 and 8.3) for seven days in the presence or absence of the esterase inhibitor sodium fluoride. Analysis of incubation samples was performed using LC-MS/MS. Marked degradation of THCCOOH-glucuronide was observed at 37°C. It was found that not only THCCOOH, but also the isomer is a degradation product of THCCOOH-glucuronide and its in-vivo production is assumed. Degradation to THCCOOH and the isomer occurred at alkaline pH, in the presence of fluoride-sensitive esterases and of HSA alone. To inhibit isomer formation during sample storage, refrigeration and controlling of the pH are recommended. However, THCCOOH and the isomer exhibit similar properties during incubations in serum, but differ in their interaction with HSA. The present study confirmed the nature of the isomer as degradation product of the abundant THC metabolite THCCOOH-glucuronide. Serum albumin and esterases are obviously involved. The isomer is formed not only during storage, but also under physiological conditions, suggesting that it can be considered an in-vivo metabolite. However, the chemical structure of the isomer remains unknown and further research is necessary.
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