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Ann Pharm Fr. 2008 Aug;66(4):232-44. doi: 10.1016/j.pharma.2008.07.006. Epub 2008 Aug 29.

[Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol pharmacokinetics].

[Article in French]

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  • 1Laboratoire de pharmacocinétique et de toxicologie cliniques, groupe hospitalier du Havre, BP 24, 76083 Le Havre cedex, France.


Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta-9-THC) is the main psychoactive ingredient of cannabis. Smoking is currently most common use of cannabis. The present review focuses on the pharmacokinetics of THC. The variability of THC in plant material which has significantly increased in recent years leads to variability in tissue THC levels from smoking, which is, in itself, a highly individual process. This variability of THC content has an important impact on drug pharmacokinetics and pharmacology. After smoking THC bioavailability averages 30%. With a 3.55% THC cigarette, a peak plasma level near 160 ng/mL occurs approximately 10 min after inhalation. THC is eliminated quickly from plasma in a multiphasic manner and is widely distributed to tissues, which is responsible for its pharmacologic effects. Body fat then serves as a long-term storage site. This particular pharmacokinetics explains the noncorrelation between THC blood level and clinical effects as is observed for ethanol. A major active 11-hydroxy metabolite is formed after both inhalation and oral dosing (20 and 100% of parent, respectively). The elimination of THC and its many metabolites, mainly THC-COOH, occurs via the feces and urine for several weeks. Thus, to confirm abstinence, urine THC-COOH analysis would be a useful tool. A positive result could be checked by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry THC blood analysis, indicative of a recent cannabis exposure.

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