Testing cannabis products is crucial for ensuring consumer safety and confidence. Legalization of cannabis allows for the establishment of regulatory agencies that oversee the quality and safety of cannabis products in the market. These agencies track all products, enabling efficient recall and consumer notification in case of any issues. The illicit market, on the other hand, lacks such regulations, posing risks of contaminated products that can have detrimental health effects. The EVALI/VAPI outbreak in 2019 highlighted the dangers of consuming unregulated cannabis products. Similar to other regulated substances like alcohol and medications, a regulated cannabis market prioritizes public health and safety.
How Cannabis Regulation Works?
When a state legalizes cannabis, it typically takes some time before dispensaries become operational and adults can purchase cannabis. This period involves the establishment of a regulatory agency responsible for tracking and testing cannabis products.
In many states, existing agencies such as medical marijuana, state health, or liquor agencies expand their jurisdiction to regulate adult-use cannabis. In other cases, entirely new regulatory bodies are formed.
Once the regulatory agency is in place, licenses are granted to different players in the state’s cannabis industry. These licenses vary by state but generally include producers (growers and breeders), processors/manufacturers (extractors), testers (lab testers), retailers (dispensaries), as well as distributors, wholesalers, researchers, and others.
Cannabis products are meticulously tracked through a computer system, ensuring transparency from the seed to the final sale or consumption.
To ensure safety, products undergo testing after cultivation or extraction by growers and processors. They must successfully pass these tests before they can be legally sold. Growers focus on producing flower, while extractors create concentrates and edibles.
What Does Cannabis Testing Involve?
Cannabis testing regulations vary from state to state, but they generally focus on measuring potency and identifying contaminants to ensure consumer safety. Here is an overview of what most states test cannabis for:
- Potency: Testing measures the levels of THC, CBD, and sometimes THCA and CBDA. This information helps consumers understand the strength of the product and enables proper dosing. Cannabis flower typically falls within a range of 15-25% THC, while concentrates can reach 50-80% THC or higher.
- Chemical Contaminants: Pesticides are a significant concern, as cannabis plants may be treated during cultivation. Testing ensures that the product contains safe levels of pesticides. Some growers opt for organic pesticides or use beneficial insects for pest control. Residual solvents used in extraction processes are also tested to ensure they are within safe limits.
- Heavy Metals: Cannabis plants can absorb metals from the soil, potentially posing risks to consumers. Testing screens for heavy metals that may have been taken up by the plant during growth or introduced during processing. Metal contamination can occur through the manufacturing process or improper drying techniques.
- Microbial Contaminants: Mold and mycotoxins are of particular concern. States often prioritize testing for mycotoxins, as they can cause acute liver damage and long-term exposure may lead to cancer. Some states have shifted from mold testing to assessing water activity, which measures microbial growth potential.
- Bacteria: Testing includes screening for bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella, which can be present due to soil or fecal contamination. Outdoor cultivation practices or improper handling after harvest can introduce bacterial contamination.
- Physical Contaminants: Cannabis products undergo visual inspections to detect foreign materials like insect parts, rodent feces, or human hair. The presence of such contaminants leads to a failed test.
- Terpene and Cannabinoid Profiling: While not always required by law, some growers and extractors choose to analyze the terpene and cannabinoid composition of their products. This information provides a more comprehensive understanding of the chemical profiles, and consumers may seek products with specific cannabinoid or terpene profiles.
By adhering to rigorous testing standards, cannabis producers can ensure the quality and safety of their products, providing consumers with confidence and peace of mind.