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The characteristics of cannabis in Australia

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Date Commenced:
Project Supporters:

National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre

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Project Members: 
image - 1314158526 Wendy Swift 013
Dr Wendy Swift
Consultancies and Vendor Staff
Project Main Description: 

There is little detailed information about the Australian cannabis market, including the chemical characteristics of the locally available cannabis product. The collection of accurate and current data is crucial for providing appropriate, evidence-based information to the Australian public, to cannabis users and their families, and to health, law-enforcement and other related practitioners. This study builds on previous pilot work to address this issue.

Project Collaborators: External: 

Professor Iain McGregor (University of Sydney)

Dr Jonathon Arnold (University of Sydney)

Dr Kong Li (University of Sydney)

Mr Alex Wong (University of Sydney)

Professor Steve Allsop (Curtin University)


This study aims to establish a methodology to assess the characteristics of the locally available cannabis product, and to use this methodology to collect this information using cannabis cautioning seizures in NSW. 

Design and Method: 

We analysed the cannabinoid profile of (i) 200 seizures obtained from the NSW Cannabis Cautioning Scheme and (ii) 26 seizures from the NSW Cannabis Eradication Program, from urban and rural NSW.. Following extraction of the plant material, high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) was  used to quantify the following cannabinoids: THC-A, THC, CBD-A, CBD, CBG-A, CBG,  CBN, CBC and THC-V. An additional arm of our project is to use PCR-based genotyping approaches and GC radioisotope analysis to explore similarities and differences across the 200 seized samples in terms of key gene expression (SNP analysis) and radioisotope (C14, N15) content. This information can point to the diversity or otherwise of current Australian cannabis supplies, perhaps indicating whether the cannabis has been grown in Australia or imported from elsewhere, and whether it has been grown in outdoor plantations or hydroponically.


The analyses of cannabinoid potency were completed in 2012  after substantial delays accessing cannabis seizures. These analyses reveal a trend toward high THC levels and low cannabidiol (CBD) levels in street-level cannabis in NSW, which has important implications for the mental health impacts of cannabis.



Swift W, Wong A, Li KM, Arnold JC, McGregor IS (2013) Analysis of Cannabis Seizures in NSW, Australia: Cannabis Potency and Cannabinoid Profile. PLoS ONE, 8(7): e70052. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0070052



Swift, W., McGregor, I.S., Arnold, J.C., Li, K.M. & Wong, A. (2012). Analysis of cannabis seizures in NSW, Australia: Cannabinoid profile and implications. Poster presented at the 74th Annual Meeting of the College on Problems of Drug Dependence, June 9-14, La Quinta, USA.

Swift, W., McGregor, I.S., Arnold, J.C., Li, K.M. & Wong, A. (2012). Analysis of cannabis seizures in NSW, Australia: Cannabinoid profile and implications. Poster presented at the NIDA International Forum, June 11, La Quinta, USA.

Swift, W. (2012). Cannabis potency – An overview and first results of analysis of NSW cannabis cautioning seizures. Invited keynote address. 2nd National Cannabis Conference, September 19-21, Brisbane.

McGregor, I.S., Wong, A., Arnold, J.C., Li, K.M. & Swift, W. (2012). Cannabis potency in Australia: An analysis of police seized samples. Poster presented at the 22nd Annual Symposium of the International Cannabinoid Research Society, July 22-27, Freiburg, Germany.



The project has several potential public health and law enforcement benefits, including: (i) the provision of important Australian data on the characteristics of cannabis, which can aid in the education of users and health professionals about the health risks associated with market practices; (ii) the protocol may serve as a model to be expanded to other jurisdictions to provide routine monitoring and to measure longitudinal changes in e.g., potency, that may result from policy, law enforcement and public health strategies; (iii) contributing to increasing the capacity of health, education and law enforcement programs to be seen as credible sources of information about the effects of cannabis; and (iv) intersectoral collaboration between NDARC, NCPIC, the University of Sydney and NSW Police.

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