RATIONALE - Forensic hair analysis methods are laborious, time-consuming and provide only a rough retrospective estimate of the time of drug intake. Recently, hair imaging methods using matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization mass spectrometry (MALDI-MS) were reported, but these methods require the application of MALDI matrix and are performed under vacuum. Direct analysis of entire locks of hair without any sample pretreatment and with improved spatial resolution would thus address a need. METHODS - Hair samples were attached to stainless steel mesh screens and scanned in the X-direction using direct analysis in real time (DART) ambient ionization orbitrap MS. The DART gas temperature and the accuracy of the probed hair zone were optimized using ¿-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) as a model compound. Since external contamination is a major issue in forensic hair analysis, sub-samples were measured before and after dichloromethane decontamination. RESULTS - The relative intensity of the THC signal in spiked blank hair versus that of quinine as the internal standard showed good reproducibility (26% RSD) and linearity of the method (R2¿=¿0.991). With the DART hair scan THC could be detected in hair samples from different chronic cannabis users. The presence of THC was confirmed by quantitative liquid chromatography/tandem mass spectrometry. Zones with different THC content could be clearly distinguished, indicating that the method might be used for retrospective timeline assessments. Detection of THC in decontaminated drug user hair showed that the DART hair scan not only probes THC on the surface of hair, but penetrates deeply enough to measure incorporated THC. CONCLUSIONS - A new approach in forensic hair analysis has been developed by probing complete locks of hair using DART-MS. Longitudinal scanning enables detection of incorporated compounds and can be used as pre-screening for THC without sample preparation. The method could also be adjusted for the analysis of other drugs of abuse.
- synthetic cannabinoids