Like any product that’s made to be consumed, legal cannabis products must undergo a series of tests. By testing the product, different brands and companies can ensure that the cannabis is safe to consume and easy to dose. States that have legalized cannabis have a set of regulatory tests that the product must pass. One of the main things that the cannabis product is tested for is its potency. The potency tells us how much THC and CBD is in the product, which can give us a general idea of its physiological effects. Potency can be provided as a percent (30% THC), as a total amount of cannabinoids present (100 mg THC), or as a ratio of THC:CBD (3:1).
Because cannabis is harvested as a plant, it’s subject to the same type of contamination testing that you’d typically see being done on any produce that you’d buy at the supermarket. Plants can be exposed to many different types of pesticides and chemicals that can be dangerous to the consumer. States regulate the allowance of different chemicals and cannabis products must meet these standards in order to be sold at dispensaries. During the extraction process, there are also a number of different solvents like butane, xylene, and ethanol that are used. There may be some residual amounts of these solvents on the products, but these levels vary from state to state.
As we’ve seen during the romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak during 2018, bacterial contamination can be extremely serious and life-threatening. These kind of contaminants can be especially harmful for those who may be consuming cannabis for medical reasons– they may already have a compromised immune system. Microbial contaminants could cause serious illnesses. Cannabis products must also be screened for heavy metals and other physical contaminants like dust, dirt, or even hair. If the products are not cultivated correctly or are packaged improperly, the chances for this kind of contamination increase.
Another thing brands may test for are terpenes, which aren’t necessarily regulated, but give the manufacturers a better picture of the strain that they’re cultivating. Terpenes are different aromatic oils that give cannabis strains its unique flavors and interact with the cannabinoids to regulate their effects. All of these compounds and contaminants are analyzed by various techniques like analytical chromatography, mass spectrometry (MS), and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR).
Even though there are standards that cannabis products must meet for each state, there are no standardized methods for cannabis analysis. Each lab makes its own methods to meet the state requirements. The Food and Drug Administration is currently making efforts to understand more about the safety of CBD and CBD products, which will hopefully result in standardized testing methods. Because cannabis legalization is fairly recent, one of the avenues they’re exploring is examining the effects of CBD on the body over a long period of time. The FDA is also looking to see how different methods of consuming CBD (inhaling, eating, external application, etc) would affect people. Even though there’s a variety of cannabis brands on the market and in dispensaries around the country, all of the products being sold legally must undergo a rigorous amount of testing in order to make sure that they’re safe to consume.