Pharmacokinetics and metabolism of the plant cannabinoids, delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol, cannabidiol and cannabinol

Handb Exp Pharmacol. 2005:(168):657-90. doi: 10.1007/3-540-26573-2_23.


Increasing interest in the biology, chemistry, pharmacology, and toxicology of cannabinoids and in the development of cannabinoid medications necessitates an understanding of cannabinoid pharmacokinetics and disposition into biological fluids and tissues. A drug's pharmacokinetics determines the onset, magnitude, and duration of its pharmacodynamic effects. This review of cannabinoid pharmacokinetics encompasses absorption following diverse routes of administration and from different drug formulations, distribution of analytes throughout the body, metabolism by different tissues and organs, elimination from the body in the feces, urine, sweat, oral fluid, and hair, and how these processes change over time. Cannabinoid pharmacokinetic research has been especially challenging due to low analyte concentrations, rapid and extensive metabolism, and physicochemical characteristics that hinder the separation of drugs of interest from biological matrices--and from each other--and lower drug recovery due to adsorption of compounds of interest to multiple surfaces. delta9-Tetrahydrocannabinol, the primary psychoactive component of Cannabis sativa, and its metabolites 11-hydroxy-delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol and 11-nor-9-carboxy-tetrahydrocannabinol are the focus of this chapter, although cannabidiol and cannabinol, two other cannabinoids with an interesting array of activities, will also be reviewed. Additional material will be presented on the interpretation of cannabinoid concentrations in human biological tissues and fluids following controlled drug administration.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Absorption
  • Animals
  • Cannabidiol / administration & dosage
  • Cannabidiol / pharmacokinetics*
  • Cannabinol / administration & dosage
  • Cannabinol / pharmacokinetics*
  • Dronabinol / administration & dosage
  • Dronabinol / pharmacokinetics*
  • Hair / metabolism
  • Half-Life
  • Humans
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Marijuana Smoking
  • Sweat / metabolism
  • Tissue Distribution


  • Cannabidiol
  • Dronabinol
  • Cannabinol