Cannabis lab testing is becoming a much more common practice. This is wonderful for a community that deserves reliable information about the products we are consuming. However, recent inconsistencies in lab test results have exposed a problem within the world of regulated cannabis. One factor contributing to these testing discrepancies is that there is no standard for cannabis laboratories. This means that labs are employing people with different levels of skill, using a variety of equipment and testing methods to determine the potency, homogeneity, and presence of contaminants throughout all cannabis products.
Even the best equipment and lab technicians have found that not all cannabis testing is 100% accurate. This is dangerous for the members of the cannabis community who have been working very hard to properly label their products to establish a true medical industry. Other factors that can contribute to the unreliable state of cannabis tests are errors by the lab technicians and purposeful mislabeling of potency for fraudulent marketing. States that have legalized recreational cannabis are among the first to call for standardized cannabis testing, yet it is not clear what these standards should be, or who has the authority to clearly define regulated lab testing.
Legal Efforts to Establish Standardization
As states legalize cannabis for both medical and recreational use, it is clear that lawmakers and patients are both concerned with the quality of the cannabis available for consumption. Legislation in every state continues to call for lab tests to be performed by state-approved laboratories, but recent studies have found that inconsistent results are more common than not when it comes to cannabis.
The Journal of the American Medical Association recently published findings that only 17% of cannabis products were accurately labeled for content in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle. The study randomly selected 75 products from 47 different brands and independent testing found that 17% were labeled accurately, 23% were under labeled, and 60% were over labeled with respect to THC content. Even though the testing of cannabinoid content is being required by more and more states, without a standard method to regulate labs, results will always be varied from lab to lab. State-approved laboratories are producing different results, which invalidates the legitimacy of testing altogether.
The Important Qualities of Cannabis Tests
When laboratories tests products, they are looking for a lot of different qualities that might be contained in that sample of cannabis. One of the most common concerns in the laboratory industry is the potency of the strain or product being tested. The potency of a product can be measured by the amount of cannabis present by weight, and the overall percentage or ratio of cannabinoids within the sample.
Unfortunately, the fact that lab tests are very expensive means that only a few small samples of each product (edibles, extracts, topicals, etc) get tested. This can lead to issues with homogeneity, meaning that different parts of a cannabis batch can yield varying potency. The result is typically that producers submit the most potent parts of the batch to be tested, and the laboratories end up averaging these inflated results. This process of testing from a biased selection may be an answer to why the JAMA study found such a high percentage of mislabeled cannabis items.
Many laboratories also offer services to test for contaminants that can cause bodily harm to patients and consumers. Samples are tested for the presence of mycotoxins, mold, heavy metals, pesticides, and any residual solvents left over from the extraction process. Testing for contaminants is a large concern when it comes to consumables, especially because the production process of the cannabis industry has been largely unregulated up to this point. OregonLive/The Oregonian published findings that out of ten cannabis products that had already passed Oregon testing regulations for pesticides, eight of those samples contained a total of fourteen chemicals, six of which are classified by the federal government as having “possible or probably links to cancer.”
Unlike Colorado and Washington, Oregon has not yet identified which pesticides and other agricultural treatments are forbidden for cannabis production. This highlights the need for states to determine a more universal standard of cannabis testing, so that inconsistent lab results are subject to much more supervision. In a recent podcast from Ganjapreneur, Dr. Michelle Sexton of Phytalab explains some of the difficulties in establishing a more consistent method for cannabis lab testing.
What Needs to Happen Next
Clearly, the future of a legitimate cannabis community hinges on the consistency of cannabis information. No other medicine has such a high rate of mislabeling, and we must demand a higher standard of testing if we want to see substantial change. The issue is that it is much easier to say we need consistent product testing than to actually ensure that it happens. The competitiveness within the cannabis industry has resulted in some labs sacrificing integrity by posting embellished potency for more repeat business. There is no standard group governing cannabis laboratories, and because there are so many different laboratories offering cannabis testing services, it is hard to know who deserves to be the authority on cannabis laboratory regulations. Due to the increasing number of reports that cannabis is universally mislabeled, states will need to determine new regulations to guide consistent cannabis testing.
Connecting the Cannabis Information
One of our goals here at Smoke Reports has always been to align cannabis information in a way that people can explore. Many producers and dispensaries pay hundreds of dollars per test in order to have a certified document with their content and quality. Producers need the ability to associate their products with these lab tests. Consumers deserve to be able to search for lab tested products, and easily view the actual results for themselves. Cannabis is an industry only just beginning to bud, and a huge step will be when the community can rely on labeling that is scientifically verified. The technology used to test cannabis is improved every day by laboratories searching for the most consistent and economical methods and tools.
Smoke Reports is dedicated to providing tools that allow consumers, producers, and dispensaries to share cannabis information with better technology. If you would like to learn more about the tools we are building at Smoke Reports, check out our business page. For the most up to date info on Smoke Reports, follow us on Twitter @smokereports or like us on our Facebook page. Join the conversation on social media through the links below.