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2024 Study: Chemical Composition of Commercial Cannabis

Updated: Apr 18

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Chemical Composition of Commercial Cannabis

A 2024 study entitled "Chemical Composition of Commercial Cannabis" that was published in the peer-reviewed journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry explored the chemical constituents in commercial cannabis. The study’s goal was to identify, quantify, and comprehensively describe all of the chemicals detectable in commercial cannabis (including combustion products). It analyzed six different marijuana cultivars.

A scientist peers through a microscope.
Pot makes 500+ chemicals.

"Current information on cannabis chemistry is often outdated or scattered across many books and journals. To address this issue, we used modern metabolomics techniques and modern bioinformatics techniques to compile a comprehensive list of more than 6,000 chemical constituents in commercial cannabis," reported the study's authors.

Complex Chemical Profile

Chemical Composition of Commercial Cannabis. The scientists explained that cannabis possesses a "very complex chemical profile" and that various studies have reported more than 550 different compounds produced by the herb. These include:

  • 140 cannabinoids.

  • 120 terpenes.

  • 50 hydrocarbons.

  • 46 phenolic or polyphenolic compounds.

  • 34 sugars.

  • 25 ketones and aldehydes.

  • Many kinds of organic acids, fatty acids, amino acids, esters, lactones, phytosterols, alkaloids, vitamins, and biogenic amines.

A shop sign in Los Angeles reads: "Terpenes"
Pot produces terpenes.

Most Abundant Terpenes

Chemical Composition of Commercial Cannabis. Terpenes are the aromatic molecules responsible to a large extent for the fragrance and flavor of cannabis. Terpene profile, or the exact terpenes present and their ratios to one another, varies significantly from one cultivar to another. Fresh cannabis is typically the most aromatic. This is due the volatile nature of terpene molecules, which break down easily and under common environmental conditions.

The most popular terpenes among the six cultivars tested by the scientists were as follows:

  • Bisabolol (aroma/flavor: balsamic)

  • Caryophyllene (sweet, woody, spicy, clove, skunky smell of smoke)

  • Eudesma-3,7(11)-diene (found in essential oil of hops)

  • Farnesene (woody, citrus, herbal, sweet)

  • Limonene (citrus, orange, fresh, sweet)

  • Linalool (citrus, floral, sweet, bois de rose, woody, green blueberry)

  • Myrcene (peppery, terpenic, spicy, balsamic, plastic, skunky smell of smoke)

  • Trans-nerolidol (floral, green, waxy, citrus, woody)

  • Terpinolene (herbal, fresh, woody, sweet, pine, citrus)

A pot plant leaf.
Cannabinoids dominate.

Most Abundant Cannabinoids

Cannabinoids are the most common chemical produced by cannabis. The most common cannabinoids produced by cannabis are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Together, these two molecules are responsible for tens of billions of dollars in economic stimulation every year.

"Cannabinoids play a pivotal role in cannabis bioactivity and in human health. Our LC–MS/MS targeted cannabinoids assay detected and quantified 16 cannabinoids. Among them, tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) (not THC) was the most abundant compound found in all cultivars," wrote the scientists.

The most common cannabinoids among the six cultivars tested were as follows:

View the original study.

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