Recommended methods for the identification and analysis of cannabis and cannabis products

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Cannabis products are the most widely trafficked drugs worldwide, accounting for
65 per cent of all global seizure cases (1.65 million cases) in 2006. 5,200 metric tons
of herb and 1,000 metric tons of resin were seized in 2006. Practically all countries in
the world are affected by cannabis trafficking. Similarly, cannabis also remains the most
widely used drug worldwide, with an estimated 166 million people having used cannabis
in 2006, equivalent to some 4 per cent of the global population aged 15-64.

At the same time, especially since the end of the last century, production methods
have become increasingly sophisticated, resulting in the availability in illicit markets
of a wide range of cannabis products with widely varying levels of the main psychoactive ingredient, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Most recently, there has also
been a renewed debate about increasing THC content (frequently referred to as
“potency”) in illicit cannabis products.

All of this requires analytical data which are comparable between laboratories and
over time. However, most countries do not require by law the detailed analysis of
the THC content of the different products, and where such analyses are carried out,
they use a variety of approaches and experimental designs, reducing the comparability
of results. For example, the conversion of natural constituents, such as tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), by both smoking and under certain analytical conditions
into THC, and how this should be reflected in the analytical report, are issues which
are not yet standardized worldwide. On the technological side, the analysis of
cannabis products is further complicated by the relatively restricted availability of
pure or well defined reference material of THC and other cannabinoids.*

The present manual is an updated and significantly revised version of the manual
on “Recommended methods for testing cannabis” (ST/NAR/8), which was published
in 1987. It has been prepared taking into account both developments in analytical
technology and advances in the science of cannabis, and with a view to providing
the analytical basis for an objective discussion about c

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