The American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP) released in December 2013 a formal quality standards monograph for cannabis (Cannabis spp., Cannabaceae), the first such document to be published in more than 70 years.1 Although the herb’s reputation in the United States was tarnished by 20th century propaganda campaigns and further vilified by President Nixon’s “War on Drugs,” 20 states and the District of Columbia currently recognize and approve the medicinal use of cannabis.2 Emerging data on the plant’s medicinal effects, requests from consumer advocacy groups and regulators in states seeking testing standards guidance, and evolving public attitudes prompted AHP to develop the monograph in an effort to ensure a consistent and quality product for informed patients.
“Due to the increasing approval of the medicinal use of cannabis by states, there was an apparent shift in social policy as the cannabis conversation became more mainstream, not in the ‘demon pot’ way of the 1970s, but with a focus on potential medicinal use,” said Roy Upton, executive director of AHP and lead author of the monograph (email, December 19, 2013). “With states approving medical use and many cannabis advocates espousing innumerable potential benefits, it became clear the states needed guidance on quality control, and consumers and health professionals needed accurate information on efficacy and safety.”
The document is AHP’s 35th herb monograph, each of which is designed to provide “standards of identity, purity, analysis, and quality, as well as information on the cultivation and storage of the botanical and its preparations.”1 Spanning more than 60 pages, the cannabis monograph is divided into five main sections: Nomenclature, Identification, Commercial Sources and Handling, Constituents, and Analytical. The extensively referenced document contains high-quality cannabis photographs for identification purposes, information on potential contaminants or adulterants, and detailed descriptions of the plant’s main chemical constituents.3
AHP’s standards monograph for cannabis will be followed by the publication of a therapeutic compendium in mid-2014. According to AHP’s Cannabis Monograph Q&A, the compendium will include “historical and traditional herbal medicine [information] along with a review of modern scientific literature encompassing indications, contraindications, side effects, dosing, preparations, safety, use in pregnancy, and interactions with conventional medications.”4 In development since 2011, the cannabis standards monograph was written, edited, and reviewed by internationally renowned experts in analytical chemistry, botanical nomenclature and identification, and law, among others. AHP also received support and guidance from the medicinal cannabis patient advocacy organization Americans for Safe Access (ASA) and researchers from the University of Mississippi, home to the only federally approved cannabis research program in the United States.5
During a time when consumers can purchase state-legal cannabis at dispensaries for medicinal use — and in Colorado and Washington state for recreational use — analytical and quality standards are essential to ensuring a safe and consistent product. “[D]ifferent analysts are using different technologies and methods and reporting their results, such as quantitation of THC [tetrahydrocannabinol, the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis], in different ways that are often not scientifically valid. They then use those analytical results to claim some level of superiority, such as higher THC values, which dispensaries and patients or product manufacturers use to influence buying decisions,” stated AHP in its Cannabis Monograph Q&A.4 “Adherence to a monograph standard ensures that results are consistent and findings are accurate.”
Despite its recent release date, the pioneering document already has been incorporated into state cannabis laws. “The AHP cannabis monograph was written into regulatory statute in Washington as a way to guide labs in the appropriate testing of cannabis,” said Upton. Backers of AHP’s monograph — and the forthcoming therapeutic compendium — hope that the documents will have a direct and positive impact on the public, from patients and consumers to physicians and lawmakers.
Upton, who maintains that AHP’s monograph is not “pro-cannabis” but rather “pro-quality,” believes that disseminating impartial, scientific literature-supported information to the public will help guide the cannabis debate in the United States.
“[I]t is a starting place to have a rational conversation of what is real and what is misconception on both the advocacy and opposition fronts,” said Upton. “It is clear the conversation, and the monograph, will continue to evolve.”
- American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP) announces finalization of historic cannabis monograph [press release]. Scotts Valley, CA: American Herbal Pharmacopoeia; December 10, 2013. Available at: www.herbal-ahp.org/documents/press_releases/Cannabis%20Press%20Release.pdf. Accessed December 11, 2013.
- Marijuana resource center: state laws related to marijuana. Office of National Drug Control Policy website. Available at: www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp/state-laws-related-to-marijuana. Accessed January 7, 2014.
- Upton R, Craker L, ElSohly M, Romm A, Russo E, and Sexton M (eds.). Cannabis Inflorescence (Cannabis spp.): Standards of Identity, Analysis, and Quality Control. Scotts Valley, CA: American Herbal Pharmacopoeia; December 2013. Available at: http://american-safe-access.s3.amazonaws.com/documents/AHP_Cannabis_Monograph_Preview.pdf. Accessed January 3, 2014.
- Cannabis monograph Q&A. Americans for Safe Access website. Available at: http://american-safe-access.s3.amazonaws.com/documents/Cannabis_Monograph_FAQ.pdf. Accessed January 3, 2014.
- World’s leading experts issue standards on cannabis, restore classification as a botanical medicine [press release]. Oakland, CA: Americans for Safe Access; December 11, 2013. Available at: www.safeaccessnow.org/world_s_leading_experts_issue_standards_on_cannabis. Accessed January 7, 2014.