Forensic Science Internships at NIST – A look at Cannabis Compounds

Forensic Science Internships at NIST – A look at Cannabis Compounds


Maryam Abdur-Rahman pipettes methanol into her Cannabis sample to extract the THC. Credit: Brent Wilson/NIST




By: Christina Reed


Maryam Abdur-Rahman is a Montgomery County Community College (MCCC) intern conducting forensic science research with NIST’s Cannabis team in the Chemical Sciences Division. Her job has been to help the team chemically analyze different compounds in the plant. While a marijuana high comes from tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the calm comes from cannabidiol (CBD), a nonintoxicating compound. Different parts of the Cannabis plant have different levels of THC and CBD, but if the US Department of Agriculture tests bulk plant material from a farmer, or a police officer confiscates a sample from a consumer and a forensic lab shows the sample has 0.3% THC or more, it’s considered marijuana. Anything less, is hemp.


Abdur-Rahman started her internship in January 2020. At first, she read and became familiar with scientific journals related to cannabis research. “I also did a lot of my own background research on the legality of cannabis and hemp,” she says. “Then came my introduction to the instrumentation we would use in the lab.” Part of her project involved developing new sample preparation protocols as well as standardizing analytical detection methods, with the goal of reducing measurement discrepancies and minimizing workflow for Cannabis testing laboratories.


“It took some time for me to understand the inner workings of the Cannabis Analyzer, but with the help of supplemental research and the teachings of my mentor, I was able to figure it out,” Abdur-Rahman says. “Furthermore, I learned of the importance of sample preparation as I began to experiment with different protocols.” Prior to lockdown, she was able to spend a few months in the lab. “I would get half ..