Changing landscape of cannabis : novel products, formulations, and methods of administration, Tory R Spindle et al., 2019

Changing landscape of cannabis : novel products, formulations, and methods of administration

Tory R Spindle, Marcel O Bonn-Miller and Ryan Vandrey

Current Opinion in Psychology, 2019, 30, 98–102

Doi : 10.1016/j.copsyc.2019.04.002



Laws regulating cannabis have changed radically in the U.S. and abroad. Historically, users smoked dried cannabis flowers that contained D9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive component of cannabis, as the principal product constituent. Coincident with cannabis legalization and increased interest in medicinal use of the plant, there is now an expansive retail cannabis marketplace with novel cannabis products, formulations, and methods of administration. In this review, we describe emergent cannabis product chemotypes (e.g. THC-dominant, CBD-dominant, balanced or ‘hybrid’ with high concentrations of THC and CBD), product formulations (e.g. edibles, concentrates), and methods of administration (e.g. smoked, vaporized, orally ingested). Psychologists can play a pivotal role in studying the health impact of cannabis legalization and conducting research to inform product regulation.

There has been a monumental shift in the legal cannabis landscape. As of this writing, cannabis is legal for medicinal purposes in 33 U.S. states and the District of Columbia and is legal for non-medicinal (aka ‘recreational’) purposes in 10 of those states. Many other countries also permit medicinal (e.g. Australia, Israel, most of the European Union) and/or non-medicinal (e.g. Canada, Uruguay) cannabis use. As cannabis has been legalized in more places, stigma and perceived harms associated with its use have decreased [1,2]. Moreover, an unprecedented number of individuals support legalization of cannabis [3]. The combination of legislative reform and the establishment of a retail cannabis marketplace has propelled the development of novel cannabis products to compete for market share in what is arguably the fastest growing industry in the world today. This review describes the diverse array of cannabis products now available to consumers, highlights recent research related to these products, and identifies important knowledge gaps.

Novel cannabis product chemotypes

The nomenclature for describing different types of cannabis can cause confusion. Classification of cannabis can include the cannabis species (i.e. ‘Indica’ versus ‘Sativa’), and/or various ‘strain’ names like ‘Jack Herer’, ‘Granddaddy Purple’, and ‘OG Kush’ that ostensibly refer to distinct and carefully preserved genetic lines of cannabis. However, independent of genetics or species, variation in the environmental conditions and methods in which cannabis is grown, cultivated, or processed can substantially impact the chemical composition of the end product [4,5]. Importantly, the chemical composition, or the ‘chemotype’, of the drug product ultimately determines its pharmacological effects and should thus be the most important factor for product categorization [6,7].

Although over 100 distinct cannabinoids (chemical constituents believed to be unique to the cannabis plant) have been identified, D-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the predominant cannabinoids found in most cannabis products [8]. Indeed, cannabis has been bred to overexpress these two cannabinoids, and most cannabis retail products can be categorized as THC-dominant, CBD-dominant, or a balanced ‘hybrid’ product that has high concentrations of both THC and CBD. THC is the primary psychoactive constituent of cannabis. A partial agonist at the type 1 and type 2 endogenous cannabinoid receptors, THC can foster dependence among some habitual cannabis users and drives most of the effects associated with acute cannabis intoxication (e.g. euphoria, increased appetite, memory impairment, anxiety/paranoia) [9]. THC is an approved therapeutic for the treatment of nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy and as an appetite stimulant for treating cachexia.