There is an active and growing interest in cannabis female inflorescence (Cannabis sativa) for medical purposes. Therefore, a definition of its quality attributes can help mitigate public health risks associated with contaminated, substandard, or adulterated products and support sound and reproducible basic and clinical research. As cannabis is a heterogeneous matrix that can contain a complex secondary metabolome with an uneven distribution of constituents, ensuring its quality requires appropriate sampling procedures and a suite of tests, analytical procedures, and acceptance criteria to define the identity, content of constituents (e.g., cannabinoids), and limits on contaminants. As an independent science-based public health organization, United States Pharmacopeia (USP) has formed a Cannabis Expert Panel, which has evaluated specifications necessary to define key cannabis quality attributes. The consensus within the expert panel was that these specifications should differentiate between cannabis chemotypes. Based on the secondary metabolite profiles, the expert panel has suggested adoption of three broad categories of cannabis. These three main chemotypes have been identified as useful for labeling based on the following cannabinoid constituents: (1) tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)-dominant chemotype; (2) intermediate chemotype with both THC and cannabidiol (CBD); and (3) CBD-dominant chemotype. Cannabis plants in each of these chemotypes may be further subcategorized based on the content of other cannabinoids and/or mono- and sesquiterpene profiles. Morphological and chromatographic tests are presented for the identification and quantitative determination of critical constituents. Limits for contaminants including pesticide residues, microbial levels, mycotoxins, and elemental contaminants are presented based on toxicological considerations and aligned with the existing USP procedures for general tests and assays. The principles outlined in this review should be able to be used as the basis of public quality specifications for cannabis inflorescence, which are needed for public health protection and to facilitate scientific research on cannabis safety and therapeutic potential.
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