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Assessing the bioactivity of cannabis extracts in larval zebrafish

  • Nixon, Jessica1
  • Abramovici, Hanan2
  • Cabecinha, Ashley2
  • Martinez-Farina, Camilo1
  • Hui, Joseph1
  • Ellis, Lee1
  • 1 Aquatic and Crop Resource Development, National Research Council of Canada, 1411 Oxford Street, Halifax, Nova Scotia, B3H 3Z1, Canada , Halifax (Canada)
  • 2 Office of Cannabis Science and Surveillance, Controlled Substances and Cannabis Branch, Health Canada, Ottawa, Canada , Ottawa (Canada)
Published Article
Journal of Cannabis Research
BioMed Central
Publication Date
Oct 01, 2021
DOI: 10.1186/s42238-021-00103-y
Springer Nature
  • Cannabis and cannabinoids preclinical pharmacology


BackgroundWhole-plant cannabis extracts are consumed by the public for medical and non-medical (“recreational”) purposes but are poorly researched compared to pure cannabinoids. There is emerging evidence that cannabis extracts comprising complex mixtures of cannabinoids may have different biological effects from that of pure cannabinoids. In the current study, we sought to assess the effect of whole-plant cannabis extracts produced from different chemotypes of cannabis on the normal behavior of zebrafish larvae.MethodsThree cannabis plant chemotypes were used in this study that contained either high amounts of THC, high amounts of CBD, high but equal amounts of THC and CBD, or low but equal amounts of THC and CBD. Following solvent extraction, liquid chromatography coupled to high-resolution mass spectrometry (LC-HRMS) was performed for the detection and quantitation of target cannabinoids. Larval zebrafish behavioral models were subsequently used to assess the effect of the four different whole-plant cannabis extracts on the normal larval behavior using the DanioVision behavioral tracking systems and software. To compare, changes in the behavior activity levels for 30 min periods were compared to controls using 2-way ANOVA with multiple comparisons followed by a Bonferroni post hoc test.ResultsIt was found that the whole-plant extracts that contained high levels of THC had similar effects on larval behavior, while the high CBD and low THC:CBD extracts produced distinct effects on normal larval behavior. Exposure of larvae to concentration-matched levels of THC and CBD found in the extracts revealed that a subset of the cannabis extracts tested had similar behavioral profiles to the pure cannabinoids while others did not.ConclusionsTo our knowledge, this is the first study to test and compare the bioactivity of different whole-plant cannabis extracts in larval zebrafish. This work will provide a framework for future studies of distinct cannabis extracts and will be useful for comparing the bioactivity of extracts from different cannabis chemotypes as well as extracts made through various heating processes. It will also act as the first stage of assessment before testing the extracts against zebrafish models of toxicity and disease.

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