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Forensic Sci Int. 2012 Apr 10;217(1-3):134-8. doi: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2011.10.041. Epub 2011 Nov 16.

A real-time PCR assay for the relative quantification of the tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) synthase gene in herbal Cannabis samples.

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Institute of Legal Medicine, University Cattolica Sacro Cuore, 00168 Rome, Italy.


In this study, we wanted to investigate whether or not the tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) synthase gene, which codes for the enzyme involved in the biosynthesis of THCA, influences the production and storage of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in a dose-dependent manner. THCA is actually decarboxylated to produce THC, the main psychoactive component in the Cannabis plant. Assuming as the research hypothesis a correlation between the gene copy number and the production of THC, gene quantification could be useful in forensics in order to complement or replace chemical analysis for the identification and classification of seized Cannabis samples, thus distinguishing the drug-type from the fibre-type varieties. A real-time PCR assay for the relative quantification of the THCA synthase gene was then validated on Cannabis samples; some were seized from the illegal drug market and others were derived from experimental cultivation. In order to determine the gene copy number to compare high vs. low potency plants, we chose the ΔΔCt method for TaqMan reactions. The assay enabled single plants with zero, one, and two copies of the gene to be distinguished. As a result of this first part of the research on the THCA synthase gene (the second part will cover a study of gene expression), we found no correlation between THCA synthase gene copy number and the content of THC in the herbal Cannabis samples tested.

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