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Argentination: A Silver Bullet for Cannabinoid Separation by Differential Mobility Spectrometry

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-24, 17:07 authored by Christian Ieritano, Patrick Thomas, W. Scott Hopkins
As the legality of cannabis continues to evolve globally, there is a growing demand for methods that can accurately quantitate cannabinoids found in commercial products. However, the isobaric nature of many cannabinoids, along with variations in extraction methods and product formulations, makes cannabinoid quantitation by mass spectrometry (MS) challenging. Here, we demonstrate that differential mobility spectrometry (DMS) and tandem-MS can distinguish a set of seven cannabinoids, five of which are isobaric: Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC), Δ8-THC, exo-THC, cannabidiol, cannabichromene, cannabinol, and cannabigerol. Analytes were detected as argentinated species ([M + Ag]+), which, when subjected to collision-induced dissociation, led to the unexpected discovery that argentination promotes distinct fragmentation patterns for each cannabinoid. The unique fragment ions formed were rationalized by discerning fragmentation mechanisms that follow each cannabinoid’s MS3 behavior. The differing fragmentation behaviors between species suggest that argentination can distinguish cannabinoids by tandem-MS, although not quantitatively as some cannabinoids produce small amounts of a fragment ion that is isobaric with the major fragment generated by another cannabinoid. By adding DMS to the tandem-MS workflow, it becomes possible to resolve each cannabinoid in a pure N2 environment by deconvoluting the contribution of each cannabinoid to a specific fragmentation channel. To this end, we used DMS in conjunction with a multiple reaction monitoring workflow to assess cannabinoid levels in two cannabis extracts. Our methodology exhibited excellent accuracy, limits of detection (10–20 ppb depending on the cannabinoid), and linearity during quantitation by standard addition (R2 > 0.99).