As more states roll out their medical and adult-use marijuana programs, they create regulations to keep cannabis users safe. We would all like to think every cannabis company would adhere to ethical business practices, but we have to assume that business owners will cut corners if given a chance. Testing products is the only way to hold companies accountable and ensure consumers are safe.
The unique properties and diverse chemical compositions also require companies to prove their product’s quality. Without lab tests, a manufacturer could claim a product is higher in THC potency or contains a unique terpene profile which increases the price. A consumer would have no way of checking the product before making a purchase.
Testing provides clarity and ensures products are safe to consume, which in-turn benefits retailers by safe-guarding their brands and reputation.
Safety and Potency
Cannabis products can contain many compounds that are unsafe for human consumption. Some of the most common ways of ingesting products involves applying heat to vaporize a compound, then inhale it through the lungs and directly into the bloodstream. The potential damage that can be caused by consuming contaminated products can cause long-term medical issues in patients and expose a company to serious legal and regulation repercussions.
One of the potential contaminants, which is impossible to identify without a test, is heavy metals. Cannabis is a bio-accumulator or phytoremediator, meaning it is highly effective at absorbing and retaining the elements from the earth. When you are looking for a plant that can rejuvenate contaminated soil, this is a highly favorable property; however, if the plants are being inhaled and processed in the digestive system, they need to be free from heavy metals.
Pesticides used to deter harmful microorganisms, mold or insects can also show up in cannabis products. While some pesticides are allowed by the FDA and commercial farming would be nearly impossible without them, others are harmful to the natural ecosystem and consumers.
One of the most dangerous pesticides that are banned from cannabis production is carbofuran. Used by illegal growers, this chemical is deadly to wildlife and causes permanent reproductive damage to humans.
Other pesticides can also be dangerous by building up residue and causing medical problems in consumers. In general, pesticides are highly regulated and very by region.
Labs also should be tested for microbial contaminants such as E. coli, Salmonella, and Clostridium; these bacterial specimens are commonly found in moldy cannabis buds.
Mold can occur during the cultivation process, known a ‘bud rot,’ and after curing in the form of Aspergillus. Both forms of mold are usually caused by excessive humidity levels or insufficient airflow.
Unlike heavy metals, mold can be observed with the naked eye; however, testing the product is a much more efficient way of identifying if the product is safe for consumption. Consuming mold can result in a mild allergic reaction, excessive coughing, or more severe consequences.
Cannabis flower remains the most popular product sold in dispensaries, but concentrates are becoming more popular. Oils, edibles, dabs, and topicals extract the valuable cannabis compounds from the raw flower using solvents.
Testing concentrates for residual solvents is critical to the safety of the consumer. Some solvents are more dangerous than others and require specific regulations on how much a product can contain. They are broken down into three categories:
- Class 1 – Volatile and suspected carcinogens with potential for environmental hazard. These should be avoided, such as benzene and carbon tetrachloride.
- Class 2 – Solvents that should be limited, such as acetonitrile, hexane, and chloroform.
- Class 3 – Safe solvents such as ethanol, heptane, and isopropyl acetate.
Consuming solvents can damage the liver, kidneys, heart, blood vessels, bone marrow, and the central nervous system.
Beyond human safety, retail cannabis companies need testing to prove their cannabinoid and terpene claims are based in reality. For example, a company could easily label a 10% THC strain as 20%, making it much more marketable and increase the price. Businesses can also label isolate concentrates as full spectrum. Again, without a test, consumers would have no way of telling the difference.
Cannabis Industry Regulations
Every state is responsible for outlining testing protocols, how the products are tested, frequency, and what compounds are allowed and what aren’t. California, for example, has one of the strictest testing requirements for pesticides. Their state relies heavily on food production and has to make sure the cannabis growers adhere to the same strict regulations as the agriculture industry.
Arizona legalized medical marijuana in 2010 but didn’t include cannabis testing in its original program. Moldy marijuana was reported by an Arizona family in 2017, according to a CBS affiliate in Phoenix, which led to changes in testing requirements when Arizona legalized adult use in 2020.
An investigative reporter reached out to testing labs this year to see if dispensaries followed the new requirements. Three labs reported testing is down 65% to 95% since the changes were made back in November 2020.
Why is Cannabis Testing Vital for the Industry?
Legal cannabis programs serve as much more than giving people access to weed. Regulations are in place to ensure that dispensary customers are safe. Inhaling heavy metals, pesticides, and solvents can be detrimental to a person’s health. Lab tests are the only way to hold companies accountable and ensure the safety of consumers using actual scientific data.
Providing customers with lab tests validifies the safety of the product and the integrity of the company brand. Cannabis consumers are becoming more aware of what is going into their products and how they are produced. Additionally, third-party lab tests give users confidence in the product and the legal cannabis industry as a whole.
It’s important to remember that under high-heat, even non-toxic compounds like vitamin E acetate can become harmful. In fact, above 750 degrees Fahrenheit terpenes themselves can become a contaminant.
For cannabis to be a health alternative, it’s essential for brands to ensure the healthy benefits of their products.
How to Get Your Products Tested
If you are operating in a state that recently passed legislation legalizing medical or recreational marijuana, it is imperative to establish a relationship with a testing lab as soon as possible. Luckily cannabis testing labs exist in most states because of regulation requirements and the growing demand for cannabinoid and hemp products.
Cannabis products can’t legally cross state lines, meaning cannabis testing must be done within the state of operation. Cannabis testing labs are also required to register with the DEA because they are essentially handling a controlled substance.
The Department of Agriculture has a database of some labs which can be searched by state:
Before using any lab, confirm that they are accredited and registered with the cannabis regulation body in your state.