Comparison of cannabinoids in hair with self-reported cannabis consumption in heavy, light, and non- cannabis users

Michelle Taylor, Rosie J Lees, Graeme Henderson, Anne R Lingford-Hughes, John A A Macleod, John Sullivan, Matthew Hickman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)
270 Downloads (Pure)


Introduction: Biological tests of drug use can be used to inform clinical and legal decisions and hold potential to provide evidence for epidemiological studies where self-reported behaviour may be unavailable or unreliable. We test whether hair can be considered as a reliable marker of cannabis exposure.

Methods: Hair samples were collected from 136 subjects who were self-reported heavy, light or non-users of cannabis and tested using GC-MS/MS. Sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive value (PPV) and negative predictive value (NPV) were calculated for 5 cannabinoids (THC, THC-OH, THC-COOH, Cannabinol and Cannabidiol). Samples also were segmented in 1 cm sections representing 1 month exposure and the correlation between amount of cannabinoid detected and self-reported cannabis consumption tested.

Results: All 5 cannabinoids were detected. 77% of heavy users, 39% of light users and 0% of non-users tested positive for THC. The sensitivity of detection of THC was 0.77 (0.56-0.91) comparing heavy cannabis smokers with light and non-users, whereas the sensitivity of other cannabinoids generally was considerably lower. The PPV and NPV of detection of THC were 0.57 (0.39-0.74) and 0.91 (0.82-0.97), respectively. A correlation of 0.52 (p<0.001) was observed between self-reported monthly cannabis use and THC.

Discussion: Hair analysis can be used as a qualitative indicator of heavy (daily or near daily) cannabis consumption within the past 3 months. However, this approach is unable to reliably detect light cannabis consumption or determine the quantity of cannabis used by the individual.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)220-226
Number of pages7
JournalDrug and Alcohol Review
Issue number2
Early online date14 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2017


  • Hair testing
  • Cannabinoids
  • Cannabis
  • sensitivity
  • specificity

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