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  • Lucie Colomb

Why cannabis must be lab tested?

With the influx of cannabis products more specifically CBD (cannabidiol) products on the market, all of which label their products as having certain cannabinoids present, how can anyone be sure they know what they are consuming and if it even contains any CBD at all?

When it comes to product labeling, anyone can label what they want, but it is up to the end consumer to make sure that they know exactly what they are getting. Since hemp-derived products, such as CBD oil, currently have fewer restrictions or requirements as they are slowly being defined by the FDA on a federal level, this can lead to inconsistency of labeling practices across the industry and leaving the end consumer head spinning trying to pick out a quality product. So how can one be sure that they are truly getting what they are buying?

Third-Party Laboratory testing that is how. Lab tests can not only tell you cannabinoid profiles, but they can also help consumers understand the purity of the product or the presence of toxic contents such as heavy metals and pesticides. The answer for consumers is to be educated on not just the product they are buying itself, but an understanding of how and who is testing the product and then having the ability to read the results that are given.

Cannabinoid Profile

When it comes to cannabis testing, the most common test is for cannabinoid profiles. Cannabinoid profile tests show the cannabinoid make up of the product. Some of the key things to establish with this test are the THC and CBD contents.

This helps establish how much THC and CBD is in the product. For example, if buying a CBD isolate, it’s important to confirm there’s no THC present. If looking at a Full Spectrum oil, you want to ensure it contains THC, obviously below the 0.3% legal level for CBD based products only. The cannabinoid profile helps simply to identify the cannabinoids and the amount of them in the product. Cannabinoids have different chemical makeups and therefore different effects, the obvious is THC has intoxicating effects while CBD does not. But many other Cannabinoids, such as CBD or some of the lesser-known ones such as CBG or CBN also have properties that can have different effects on people who are seeking certain cannabinoids for certain symptoms.

Sample Cannabinoid Profile

Some things to take away from this are the test should show you the cannabinoid by weight as well as the concentration of the cannabinoid. When looking at the concentration, it is important to realize that the test, especially on tinctures, may be looking at a sample of the entire bottle contents. So if the bottle is one ounce (30ml) or one-half ounce (15ml) but the concentration is showing the mg per oz, you may need to calculate the total concentration for the bottle. So in the example above, one ml contains 68.86mg of CBD, which for a 15ml bottle would be 1032.9mg of CBD per 15ml (half an ounce). This test which was for a CBD tincture, you can also see the CBD to THC ratio is 33.9 (CBD) to 1 (THC). Terpene profile tests are very similar to cannabinoid profile tests, they simply just break down the terpene profile of the sample.

When it comes to cannabinoid and terpene profile testing, it is important to note that while the latest technology in testing is very accurate when talking about the microscopic size of what they are analyzing, there can be a variance, both above and below the reported result. From personal experience when testing CBD products, having the same sample tested multiple times in the past typically yielded results that are all within 10% of each other, the test in the middle was likely going to give the most accurate analysis. However, some labs may suggest that there can be up to 20% variance in the results. When testing, it is going to go off of a sample of the bottle or product, so if cannabinoids are evenly distributed throughout the bottle or product (e.g. edibles, bath bomb, etc…) then the test could register different amounts based on where the sample was taken from the product as a whole so testing the whole contents is a safer and easier way to show cannabinoid profiles.

Heavy Metals & Pesticides

The makeup of the product from a cannabinoid and terpene perspective is extremely important, but one thing that can be equally important if not even more, and is often overlooked is heavy metals and pesticides that can be very toxic especially to immunocompromised patients. Looking at the heavy metals and pesticide tests can show how the cannabis was grown if the land it was grown on was contaminated land or had chemicals sprayed or used on it. It’s very important to understand this, especially since CBD or medical cannabis is taken for medical and health purposes, ingesting toxic materials into your body can have the exact opposite effect than what you are looking for.

A pesticide test will look for chemicals that are often used in farming that could be harmful to people. Pesticide testing should be done both at the grower level, who should be testing their soil to ensure that even if they do not use pesticides, there is no runoff or leftover chemicals from previous growing that may have happened on the land. A quality grower will ensure that the land they are growing on is clean and that the plants grown on it produce healthy flowers.

Sample Pesticides Test


Here’s a sample pesticide test, each chemical being tested for should test negative or something similar to the Limit of Quantification (LoQ), which is a scientific term for meaning that a certain amount (which is extremely small) is needed to even register on the test. Here is a brief example of a heavy metals test, again the same concept as the pesticides test, where it will list out the metals being tested for and if there’s any trace of them that can be measured.

Sample Heavy Metals Test

The metals above are typically the most found and most toxic, so some labs will test for other metals, but you want to ensure that they are at least testing for the ones above because they are the most commonly found heavy metals in cannabis and hemp plants.

Honesty

As mentioned earlier, there is an allowable variance when it comes to testing, this is going to be true for any lab for reasons such as unequal disbursement of cannabinoids throughout the sample or equipment, which is always getting better, but also has a cost associated with it. So allowable variance is something that simply is part of the equation and something people simply need to be aware of as lab tests are there to give you a picture and solidify that the product is what it says it is, it should be validated for if the product is what it says it is.


However, testing costs can add up, especially for those who grow and produce their own plants and have to manage the land they are grown on. It can be devastating to companies who spend time and money on cultivation only to find later on that their plants may be registering high in toxic materials, that it can be very easy for some to want to modify or intentionally influence factors to give their test favorable results that do not actually affect the quality of the product. If labs are provided, research the lab itself who produced the report, to ensure they are ISO/ICE 17025 accredited, to ensure they follow industry standards and have all the correct processes in place.

Conclusion

Testing is very important, understanding what the tests tell you, or don’t tell you is equally important. Testing should occur throughout the product’s development cycle. Growers should be testing for the purity of their plants by ensuring their land is clean from toxins such as heavy metals and pesticides. Also, growers should be testing the cannabinoid profiles of their plants to ensure the profiles match what they are intentionally grown for. The end product must have a cannabinoid profile test, to ensure you are getting what you are paying for, this will show you the end profile after extraction and any manufacturing processes since it was pulled from the earth.

One of the most important things with looking at labs is that it can serve as a great gateway to ask even more questions before you buy. Labs can help verify and identify quality products, but is the product consistent from season to season? Does the manufacturer of an edible get their cannabis from the same farm every time or are they buying from a broker which means from batch to batch makeup can change drastically. Don’t use lab tests as a crutch, rather use them to weed out good from bad products, then continue to ask questions on the good ones.

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