Potency of Δ 9 –tetrahydrocannabinol and other cannabinoids in cannabis in England in 2016: Implications for public health and pharmacology

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EarlyView Article

  • Published: Feb 27, 2018
  • Author: David J. Potter, Kathy Hammond, Shaun Tuffnell, Christopher Walker, Marta Di Forti
  • Journal: Drug Testing and Analysis


In 2005 and 2008, studies reported that cannabis in England had become dominated by the sinsemilla (unseeded female) form. The average potency (Δ9‐tetrahydrocannabinol [THC] content) of this material had doubled over the previous decade. Cannabis resin then circulating contained approximately equal ratios of THC and cannabidiol (CBD), whereas sinsemilla was almost devoid of CBD. Despite raised health concerns regarding sinsemilla use and the development of psychotic disorders, no update on street cannabis potency has been published since 2008. A total of 995 seized cannabis samples were acquired from the same 5 constabulary areas included in the 2005 study. The differing forms were segregated, and a representative 460 samples analyzed to assess their cannabinoid content using gas chromatography. The resultant median sinsemilla potency of 14.2% THC was similar to that observed in 2005 (13.9%). In each case, sinsemilla contained minimal CBD. Compared with 2005, resin had significantly higher mean THC (6.3%) and lower CBD (2.3%) contents (p < 0.0001). Although the average THC concentration in sinsemilla samples across the 5 constabularies has remained stable since 2005, the availability of this potent form of cannabis has further increased. Moreover, the now rarer resin samples show significantly decreased CBD contents and CBD:THC ratios, leaving the United Kingdom's cannabis street market populated by high‐potency varieties of cannabis, which may have concerning implications for public health.

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