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Differentiation of drug and non-drug Cannabis using a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) assay

Abstract

Cannabis sativa is both an illegal drug and a legitimate crop. The differentiation of illegal drug Cannabis from non-drug forms of Cannabis is relevant in the context of the growth of fibre and seed oil varieties of Cannabis for commercial purposes. This differentiation is currently determined based on the levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in adult plants. DNA based methods have the potential to assay Cannabis material unsuitable for analysis using conventional means including seeds, pollen and severely degraded material. The purpose of this research was to develop a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) assay for the differentiation of “drug” and “non-drug” Cannabis plants. An assay was developed based on four polymorphisms within a 399 bp fragment of the tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) synthase gene, utilising the snapshot multiplex kit. This SNP assay was tested on 94 Cannabis plants, which included 10 blind samples, and was able to differentiate between “drug” and “non-drug” Cannabis in all cases, while also differentiating between Cannabis and other species. Non-drug plants were found to be homozygous at the four sites assayed while drug Cannabis plants were either homozygous or heterozygous.

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