Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is present in the body between smoking sessions in occasional non-daily cannabis users
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionForensic Science International. 2020, 309 1-5. 10.1016/j.forsciint.2020.110188
Background: THC can be measured in blood up to a month after last intake in heavy cannabis users. The cognitive deficits during abstinence have been hypothesized to be at least in part due to residual THC in brain. To which extent THC accumulation will occur after occasional cannabis use has gained limited attention. We aimed to predict THC-levels between smoking sessions in non-daily as well as daily cannabis users and to compare these predictions with published THC levels. Methods: Predictions were based on pharmacokinetic principles on drug accumulation after repeated dosing, applied to different cannabis smoking patterns, using data from a three-compartment model for THC pharmacokinetics and results on the terminal elimination half-life of THC in humans. We searched the literature for THC measurements which could be compared with these predictions. We found no such results from controlled studies of long-term repeated cannabis consumption of known THC amounts. Thirteen published studies contained, however, enough information on cannabis use and results from THC-measurements to make tentative comparisons with the predictions. Results: The predictions of THC-plasma levels present after different cannabis smoking patterns assuming terminal elimination half-lives of THC of 21.5 h or longer, had some support in published THC levels measured in individuals self-reporting their cannabis consumption. We found no consistent discrepancies between the predictions and reported THC plasma levels after non-daily or daily cannabis use. The predictions indicate that THC might be presentin plasma between smoking sessions above usual analytical limits when smoking every third and second day, and at lower levels after once weekly smoking. Conclusions: The study indicates that THC might be present continuously even in non-daily smokers at low levels, even if the smoking occasions are separated by a week. This is different from alcohol, where ethanol has disappeared after a day. From a toxicological point of view the persistance of THC in the brain, raises questions whether this should be given more attention as with other toxicological thinking where long-term presence of bioactive substances gives rise to concern. There are some uncertainties in this analysis, and controlled studies on THC-accumulation accompanying different use patterns seem warranted.