Cannabis Testing Labs: Under the Microscope of Scrutiny

2 months ago

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Cover Photo by Chokniti Khongchum from Pexels

Testing In Progress...

As we close out the last chapter of 2019, we are seeing more talks of the legalization of cannabis spread across the globe. As many prepare for legal cannabis to finally come to their communities, there are some important things to improve upon, such as cannabis testing. What is a faulty or inaccurate cannabis test report good for? How can we globally legalize a product for the world to consume if we are not able to ensure the safety of the end user? The answer is: we cannot. Testing is a vital component to global legalization.

Why is cannabis testing important?

Knowing what we are putting into our bodies is important, wouldn’t you agree? There are 33 states (plus D.C.) with legal medical marijuana and testing is a requirement. This comes as no surprise because there must be some safeguards in place to protect consumers, especially when products are labeled for medical use and will be utilized by medical patients.

Consumers deserve to know

Cannabis consumers deserve to know and understand what it is that they are consuming. Testing standards and practices are evolving and we need to step up consumer education in a big way if we intend to keep up. Many leading facilities are testing far more than just Cannabinoids these days. In addition to Cannabinoids, many facilities test Terpene profiles, Residual Solvents, pesticides, heavy metals, and microbial contamination, among other things.

This process is critical to ensure safe and reliable access to cannabis. In the midst of the vaping crisis that has surfaced recently, there has been a sudden shift in focus towards proper testing protocols. This has also brought to light many cases of misuse, fraud, corruption, and collusion within the industry. Of course, this reflects poorly on the entire industry and brings into question the trustworthiness of all participants as well.

Not all Cannabis is created equal... Neither are the growers.

The cannabis growing process varies by each individual grower. Not all cannabis is created equal either. There are some growers who value ethical practices and others who do not. This is the case for the home-grower all the way up to the major manufacturing facilities.

Recently, a California vape maker Kushy Punch caught making illegal products | Leafly, a State-licensed Legal company. It was discovered that a Kushy Punch had two facilities: one legal and another secret (illegal) facility where they produced black market products. They were found to be using petro-solvent extraction, which is legal in CA via a permit, illegally in their black market facility.

This begs for changes for this young industry

There are companies, both large and small, that participate in practices that are less than ethical and have proven that testing is a necessary process. Not only what is being tested, but WHO is doing the tests remains equally important. You might imagine how a grower that is willing to falsify or manipulate the process in order to enhance results could network with a ‘less than ethical’ testing facility and collude to produce fraudulent results.

BIG Problems Arise When Money Is The Sole Objective

Plenty of growers and testing facilities have proven their willingness to manipulate consumers in order to increase profits. Over the past several years we have seen many cases of fraud and collusion in the cannabis testing industry. The state of Nevada has recently assembled a task force to probe allegations of fraud, corruption, and illegal practices occurring within their state.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak last week created the multiagency task force to “root out corruption or criminal influences” in the state’s legal cannabis market. mjbizdaily.com

It’s no secret that fraud and corruption exists in our world, but most would say Las Vegas, Nevada is widely known for this. When money is the objective, rather than ethics, the entire industry suffers. Worse over, those who get the proverbial ‘shit-end-of-the-stick’ are the end users. It’s truly time for consumers to be vigilant and educate ourselves. How else might we discover ways to enhance and refine this industry in our favor?

California has also struggled with this dilemma for several years.

NBC News in the Bay Area revealed a major problem with fraud in marijuana testing labs in California. Several industry insiders say that cannabis companies routinely ask labs to inflate the amount of THC they say they find in their products, because high THC levels mean higher prices. And even companies that don't want to inflate are sometimes forced to because all their competitors are doing so. civilized.life

This is, unfortunately, what happens when companies place profit ahead of their product. Shameful and disdainful behavior that we cannot allow from so-called ‘industry professionals’. It’s unacceptable. We must hold the producers and manufacturers accountable. This means that we must be observant and educated. It also suggests that we all must communicate our expectations to the cannabis industry.

Controversy Breeds Opportunity

Thankfully, many of these cases were enough to generate interest in the industry and encourage many reputable and honest facilities to thrive. As a result we have advanced testing methods and more strict requirements.

If you frequent a local dispensary that sells products with limited testing, ask them why. Request that they provide more accurate and verifiable test reports. The technology is available and yes, it does cost these companies money. However, if money is not their sole objective and quality consumer product IS - they will likely provide more accurate testing.

Testing Cannabis Is Highly Complex

I read a very interesting article on MerryJane.com that highlights one root of this issue:

While product control is important in any industry, especially one as profitable and legally opaque as cannabis, what’s the point in results that may or may not be legitimate?

While some labs simply don’t know what they’re doing, with no accreditation to be conducting the tests they’re conducting, others receive samples that have been tampered with by growers. There will always be market participants who are willing to act unethically in order to turn a profit. So long as that is the case, we have to scrutinize and verify each and every company. By setting better industry standards it makes it more difficult for these sort of fraudulent behaviors.

Every state, country, and location has their own definition of ‘proper testing’. In some states this would mean qualified PhD technicians using the most high-tech equipment conducting tests, while other states it might mean some unqualified people with no equipment is sufficient testing practice.

In the MerryJane.com article Dr. Raber also highlights the fact that the general public does not fully understand the complexities of the testing process, nor do many of us realize the tactics that producers are willing to use in order to manipulate honest and ethical testing processes.

Even if we had nothing but highly trained and the most technologically advanced testing labs, there are still producers looking for ways to game the process for their own benefit.

“There’s no laboratory standard in terms of exactly how you should prepare your samples and test them,” explains Dr. Jeff Raber. “We’re not even sure if a lab can get the numbers right, but let’s assume they can. There are then certain ways people can game the system in terms of flower potency. Cherry picking, for instance, is a huge problem.” Cherry picking is a tactic where growers pick their best nug to send to the lab as a sample for testing the potency of the whole batch, knowing it will test higher than the rest. “It’s unfair,” says Dr. Raber. “You should be testing what’s being brought to market, not the way to make the numbers look as high as possible.” MerryJane.com article

Trust by Independent Verification

There are many Cannabis testing labs out there that can provide trustworthy results. However, it does not mean that we, the general public, are educated enough to truly understand how to read the results. I’ll be the first to admit that I am undereducated in this realm, so I am at the mercy of the lab report on the product that I purchase as a state licensed cannabis patient.

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Photo by Photo by Martin Lopez from Pexels

Standards Are Dynamic, Never Static

As we watch countries like the United States, Australia, Canada, Columbia, Italy, Spain, Netherlands experiment with legalization and decriminalization - we watch industry standards evolve. Of course, it takes some bad behavior to encourage this evolution. According to this AOCS.org article from 2016, The Highs and Lows of Cannabis Testing, there are some suggested standards that were developed to set some groundwork for developing laboratories.

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Independent Testing May Be The Answer

There are some growers that work with labs to develop in-house testing, which the product first is tested at the grow facility and then sent out to an independent lab for additional testing and verification.

Similar to the two-factor authentication that many smartphone users are well accustomed to, this two-part process enhances trust by verification. Results should be as accurate as technologically possible whether the product goes to a recreational consumer or medical patient.

Transparency is Critical

Cannabis consumers deserve to know what they are consuming, but government agencies, like the FDA here in the US, lack the oversight due to the classification of the plant. This means we are subject to State Rights and each state has their own protocols and definitions of testing.

What can we do?

We can advocate for better testing practices and standards and demand that local cannabis businesses further ethical practices and standards. Consumers cannot allow haphazard testing facilities and fraudulent test results to continue if we are going to have a global legalization. It just isn’t possible if we allow greed to conquer taking pride in the products that humans are consuming.

It’s important for us to trust the test results, but we must verify.

Many of the products that I consume are tested in-depth by a reputable testing facility, Steephill Labs. If you are familiar with my cannabis reviews, you’re no stranger to the lab reports. They are a well known facility and have been examined by several accredited external groups:

Steep Hill is the premiere analytical laboratory for testing the potency and safety of cannabis products. Our lab services have been validated by third-party groups like Emerald Scientific for accuracy and dependability. We employ state-of-the-art technologies and creative thinking to license the highest standards of cannabis analytics to states like AR, CA, HI, MD, NJ, OR, PA, WA, and DC.

You can read the 20 page PDF that Steephill Labs published if you’re interested in seeing just how this company is driving the cannabis industry forward. They are currently operating in 10 U.S. states and offer a transparent reporting process. If you would like to request a specific report, you can actually do so!

Yes! If you are looking to gain access to Steep Hill's online reporting portal, please submit a ticket by emailing [email protected] Please include: Name, Email Address, and the organization (if any) of affiliation. We will send you an invite link where you can setup your account. you may find this information here.

We have the attention of the world and we must act accordingly

The vape crisis is in full swing and the world is watching closely. The need for oversight and industry standards is not #news to many at this point. Media is swift to report on the lack of standards amongst the cannabis industry and has no issue inflating their own results in order to turn a profit.

It is more critical than ever to work together and establish trust.

That is my reasoning for sharing this information with you - we need to communicate and we do not require media outlets in order to initiate this discussion. I think it is critical to educate the community and even businesses that seem to need guidance. The media would rather cling to one topic that they can relentlessly exploit, so while they’re narrow-focus is occupied, let’s start making meaningful change.

If consumers cannot trust the products that they are consuming - that creates doubt and question, which impact the entire global cannabis market.

If we are going to continue our progress of global cannabis legalization then we must remain vigilant. It is vital to show the world that we are capable of creating standards and practices that provide safe and secure access if we are ever going to reach our goal.

We cannot rely on governments to shape this industry while allowing corruption and greed to triumph over truth and transparency.

Cannabis research is more important than ever.

Support legalization by educating ourselves and others about cannabis. Knowing is half the battle. Now let’s get to work!

Referenced Materials:

The Complex World of Cannabis Lab Testing: Ethics, Regulations, and Lack Thereof
The Highs and Lows of Cannabis Testing
Steephill Labs

Important Links:

State registered MMCC cardholder. All content of this post was generated, by the author, for educational purposes only.

Please use #Cannabis responsibly and support #legalization through thoughtful & responsible action.

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This is absolutely the sole reason I support regulating the industry.

Testing needs to be done on all ingested products.

Free-market is great, but for consumable products it's too much trust put into a producers hands.
Businesses go for growth and earning, even if they start with the best intentions. They get bought or acquired by those who have dollars in mind and will cut any corners that they can get away with.

This needs to be a corner that nobody cuts.

Potency levels are awesome, but it's the heavy metals, pesticides, residual chemicals/solvents, mold spore count and genealogy that needs to be accounted for.

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It’s sort of mind boggling that the government won’t let me go across the street to a dairy farmer and buy milk directly, before it’s tested and processed. BUT they will allow medical products to be ingested by consumers without much oversight of the safety of those products.

There are many big companies that have acquired cannabis businesses and grow operations. I’ve seen many instances where the acquisition itself seems to destroy the mission of the company and devalue the structure. It becomes all about the profits and less about the passion once large sums of $ are introduced.

I’m happy to see testing facilities are really ramping up and cannabis research is beginning here in the US (finally). So, I’m hopeful that this will afford many craft cannabis companies to prosper. We need the small and passionate companies much more than we need another ‘Comcast of the Cannabis Industry’.

I was recently discussing with someone the importance of testing and results, which they claimed are all just about falsified and inaccurate. I mentioned the tests are far more in depth than just THC and terpenes Profiles. And then reminded them that black market products aren’t tested at all and some of the things you find in that stuff is.... well, I’ve seen bugs, asphalt, hair, and that’s just visible contaminants.. Any testing and regulating is better than none in most cases.

We cannot rely on governments to shape this industry while allowing corruption and greed to triumph over truth and transparency.
Cannabis research is more important than ever.
Support legalization by educating ourselves and others about cannabis. Knowing is half the battle. Now let’s get to work!<

This is a must! I love this part and I know people could make it. Everybody must be vigilant to avoid this kind of corruption and manipulations.

This is a good encouragement and thank you for your good content.

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Thank you, @lawlai. It’s a topic that I feel is worth discussing now that many people are observing the legal cannabis industry. As long as we are persistent and demand safe access to cannabis - we will eventually obtain that 😉

Good point. As a lab worker, we need strong industry certification.