Cannabis Testing Labs: Legitimizing Legal Marijuana
The chance to buy and sell marijuana legally has been both a huge boon and a significant challenge to the cannabis industry. Many people imagine the legal supply chain to be just as relaxed and homegrown as the illicit market ever was. But there are hurdles to overcome when selling legal marijuana, including submitting cannabis product to cannabis testing labs and following safety regulations.
Since buying and selling marijuana has not yet been legalized at the federal level, states which have legalized it have to each come up with their own regulations. California rolled out testing regulations throughout 2018, gradually increasing the requirements. It was an intense time for cannabis testing labs, as they suddenly had thousands of new customers seeking to clear their product. Since then, 27 labs in California have developed the necessary equipment and procedures to meet this demand.
Testing is required for cannabis at every point along the production process. Growers need to be sure the pesticides and fungicides they’re using are safe for consumption. Those who process cannabis need to be sure to get their potency levels right. And those selling to users both medical and recreational need to ensure the quality of their product both for the reputation of their business as well as their customers’ safety.
CBD and THC are the two main compounds tested for potency. CBD provides medical benefits such as reducing inflammation but lacks psychoactive properties. In other words, it doesn’t make you high. THC provides such medicinal benefits as reducing pain and anxiety but also has psychoactive components.
Testing for these substances is difficult because their chemical structures are very similar, and can even be mistaken for other cannabinoid compounds that lack the benefits offered by CBD and THC. Labs need finely tuned equipment and skilled technicians to accurately assess potency levels.
Customers need to know what to expect when they purchase a product. A doctor prescribing medicinal marijuana may want a different balance of the compounds than someone who is purchasing marijuana for recreational use. Testing for CBD and THC levels ensures the right amounts for the right people.
Cannabis products with CBD and THC levels that are too low won’t be effective at a normal rate of consumption. On the other hand, if your product has levels that are significantly higher than reported, they may not be safe to consume at a normal rate.
While potency testing focuses on what should be in the product, contaminant testing focuses on what should not be. Growing marijuana cannabinoids is a very sensitive process. Growers have to control humidity, light, and many other factors to yield a profitable and high-quality crop. Pesticides and fungicides are necessary to provide a healthy environment for the plants. But some of these substances, depending on their concentration, are not safe for consumption.
As new methods are introduced, new testing is needed. For instance, a grower may try a new pesticide which yields a 20% better crop. But they will need to prove that their product is still safe. Another factor to be considered is the difference between ingesting and smoking the final product. The level at which contaminants are safe may differ depending on the context.
A2LA is an accreditation program for all kinds of labs, including cannabis labs. They list the following as examples of tests that the cannabis industry requires:
Cannabinoid testing and content
Pesticides/fungicides/plant growth regulators
Microbiological contaminants (mold, insects, bacteria, etc.)
Cannabis Testing Labs & Safety: A Growing Industry
Once a product has passed the regulatory testing, accredited testing labs can provide distributors and retailers with a certificate of analysis. This is intended only to be provided for the actual product that was tested, not for an entire store, brand, or even a batch or crop that was merely sampled. Consumers who are concerned about the safety and potency of their product can discuss the testing process with their retailer. Asking questions and expecting transparency will contribute to the legitimacy and safety of the fledgling legal cannabis industry.