Confirmatory non-invasive and non-destructive differentiation between hemp and cannabis using a hand-held Raman spectrometer†
Cannabis is a generic term that is used to denote hemp plants (Cannabis sativa) that produce delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) in amounts higher than industrial hemp. While THCA itself is not considered psychoactive, it is the source of the psychoactive delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that forms from its oxidation. About 147 million people, which is around 2.5% of the world population, consume cannabis. This makes cannabis by far the most widely cultivated and trafficked illicit drug in the world. Such enormous popularity of cannabis requires substantial effort by border control and law enforcement agencies to control illegal trafficking and distribution. Confirmatory diagnostics of cannabis is currently done by high pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC), which requires sample transportation to a certified laboratory, making THC diagnostics extremely time and labor consuming. This catalyzed a push towards development of a portable, confirmatory, non-invasive and non-destructive approach for cannabis diagnostics that could be performed by a police officer directly in the field to verify illicit drug possession or transport. Raman spectroscopy (RS) is a modern analytical technique that meets all these strict expectations. In this manuscript, we show that RS can be used to determine whether plant material is hemp or cannabis with 100% accuracy. We also demonstrate that RS can be used to probe the content of THCA in the analyzed samples. These findings suggest that a hand-held Raman spectrometer can be an ideal tool for police officers and hemp breeders to enable highly accurate diagnostics of THCA content in plants.