Aims: Increased potency and contamination of cannabis have been linked in the public domain to adverse mental health outcomes. This paper reviews the available international evidence on patterns of cannabis potency and contamination and potential associated harms, and discusses their implications for prevention and harm reduction measures.
Methods: A systematic literature search on cannabis potency and contamination was conducted.
Results: Cannabis samples tested in the United States, the Netherlands, United Kingdom and Italy have shown increases in potency over the last 10 years. Some countries have not shown significant increases in potency, while other countries have not monitored potency over time. While there are some grounds to be concerned about potential contaminants in cannabis, there has been no systematic monitoring.
Conclusion: Increased potency has been observed in some countries, but there is enormous variation between samples, meaning that cannabis users may be exposed to greater variation in a single year than over years or decades. Claims made in the public domain about a 20- or 30-fold increase in cannabis potency and about the adverse mental health effects of cannabis contamination are not supported currently by the evidence. Systematic scientific testing of cannabis is needed to monitor current and ongoing trends in cannabis potency, and to determine whether cannabis is contaminated. Additionally, more research is needed to determine whether increased potency and contamination translates to harm for users, who need to be provided with accurate and credible information to prevent and reduce harms associated with cannabis use.