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Keywords:

  • forensic science;
  • forensic toxicology;
  • cannabis;
  • plant analysis;
  • chemotype;
  • tetrahydrocannabinol;
  • high-performance liquid chromatography–diode array detection

Abstract:  In Europe, authorities frequently ask forensic laboratories to analyze seized cannabis plants to prove that cultivation was illegal (drug type and not fiber type). This is generally done with mature and flowering plants. However, authorities are often confronted with very young specimens. The aim of our study was to evaluate when the chemotype of cannabis plantlets can be surely determined through analysis of eight major cannabinoids content during growth. Drug-type seedlings and cuttings were cultivated, sampled each week, and analyzed by high-performance liquid chromatography with diode array detection. The chemotype of clones was recognizable at any developmental stage because of high total Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentrations even at the start of the cultivation. Conversely, right after germination seedlings contained a low total THC content, but it increased quickly with plant age up, allowing chemotype determination after 3 weeks. In conclusion, it is not necessary to wait for plants’ flowering to identify drug-type cannabis generally cultivated in Europe.