Remember Forrest Gump’s famous catchphrase? “Life’s like a box of chocolates; you never know which one you’re gonna get!” While this whimsical phrase might seem innocent enough, it should never apply to cannabis products. As a cannabis consumer, you should absolutely know what you’re getting in terms of purity, potency, and efficacy. There are many brands who go the extra mile to ensure you’re getting a premium product by subjecting their hemp-infused wares to third-party independent labs for rigorous testing. In this article, we’ll go over exactly what labs test for, why this is so important, and ultimately, what it means for you!
Why Testing Cannabis Products Is Important
The FDA does not regulate anything in the hemp space. This means that despite a company’s claims to have pure and potent products, are sourced from premium plants, contain no harmful contaminants, etc., there’s no repercussions if these claims are found to be false.
To combat this, companies have successfully found a way to ensure peace of mind amongst current and future customers: Certificates of Authenticity. CoA’s, as these tests are commonly shortened to, are certificates from a third-party independent lab that confirmed the authenticity (of purity and potency claims) of the product. These labs specialize in testing for a variety of contaminants and are only paid for the testing itself. The labs are strictly instructed to report their findings free of bias; they are also prohibited from accepting any additional compensation for falsifying or “fudging” the results for a more favorable outcome.
Can Brands Do Their Own Testing?
The majority of cannabis products are not “raw” hemp; that is, the product must undergo some kind of processing in order to make the product viable. For example, if you consume CBD gummies, you know it didn’t come naturally from a gummy-bearing tree; the CBD was extracted from hemp and infused into the gummy. The brand that created the gummy will have a state-of-the art lab for creating their products, so why not use the same lab to test the gummy? They surely have the equipment to do so.
The problem lies with the ethics regarding this practice. Consider this: if you were to have a classroom full of students take a test, then grade the test and submit it with no confirmation of the results, you’d most likely have a majority of honest students submit accurate test results. Yet for some overachievers or discouraged students, the temptation to give a slightly higher grade may be too great to resist. The same is true for brands testing their own products; you can’t be sure that the tests would always be honest and ethically correct. You might find brands that do their own testing, but you can’t be sure if those results are unbiased or 100% honest.
What’s Involved in Cannabis Regulation and Testing?
In 2018, the 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp on a federal level, provided that the total THC content be at 0.3% THC or less. This distinguishes “hemp” from “marijuana”, despite both coming from the cannabis plant. To learn more about the differences between the two, you can check out our article here. However, states have their own distinct legislature regarding the legality of hemp (and marijuana) within the state and often in different sections of that state. At the time of this article, 33 states have legalized cannabis in some way, so you’ll need to check your state’s laws to confirm the legality of either hemp or marijuana. Once a state votes to legalize cannabis, it can take up to a year for dispensaries and retailers to be fully operational for the public. These locations can be either online or brick-and-mortar. The regulations for cannabis will vary depending on if the product is derived from hemp or marijuana. Retailers will need to have specific licenses in place to sell the products, but not necessarily to confirm the purity/potency of their products.
What Do Independent Third-Party Labs Test For?
Cannabis testing can vary depending on what the lab is asked to test for. The tests will typically involve testing for potency, chemical contaminants (pesticides, solvents, heavy metals), microbial contaminants (mold, mycotoxins, and bacteria), and physical contaminants (hair, insects, etc.). Some labs may also conduct water tests to determine if there’s enough moisture available for mold to potentially grow in, while others will do terpene and minor cannabinoid testing to confirm the exact compounds in their cannabis.
Potency measures the total percentage of THC to ensure no more than 0.3% is present, ensuring it is legal on a federal level. They may also include the percentage of other minor cannabinoids found, such as CBD, CBN, CBG, etc.
Pesticides are an unfortunate but necessary evil on many cannabis farms. High levels of pesticides can result in rendering the product unfit for human consumption. To combat this, some organic growers will opt for organic pesticides (neem oil) or use beneficial insects to eat pests but leave the actual plant alone.
Solvents like propane, butane, and others are required for several parts of the extraction process. They are typically purged during the refining and packaging process; any lingering solvents should be tested to ensure the final product is safe for human consumption.
Heavy metals found in the soil that the cannabis grows in can eventually become absorbed into the plant, making the plant toxic even before it’s processed. Additionally, heavy metals can be transferred using non-food grade metal racks or via improper manufacturing processes. Testing can ensure that these heavy metals aren’t present in the final product.
Mycotoxins occur when mold is present; they look like residue on the cannabis flower but are extremely toxic if consumed. If moldy weed is inhaled, it can cause damage to your liver and, in long-term exposure, can even cause cancer. While testing is done for the presence of mold, the tests are more focused on the presence of mycotoxins. Water tests will confirm the amount of moisture to ensure it’s not enough for mold to even occur. This helps to ensure the cannabis flower keeps an extended shelf life.
Bacteria like salmonella, E. coli, and others may be present in the soil if feces are present. This bacteria may contaminate the cannabis if the plants are laid on the ground during the harvest or if dirt is kicked up/sprayed onto the plants. Testing helps to ensure the plants are safe to consume after harvesting is complete.
Nothing in life is perfect, but consumers like to see that their prospective purchases look perfect! Testing helps to ensure that the product is free from any lingering physical contaminants like rodent feces, human hair, insect parts, and others. Even if the contaminant is barely visible, any finding of contaminants will result in an automatic test fail.
Terpene and cannabinoid profiling
Some independent labs offer terpene and profiling for an extra fee. Lab tests are already expensive and time-consuming; yet seeing this specific test may instill confidence that the brand truly cares about the consumer’s happiness. As you learn more about what’s available in the cannabis market, you may be curious to learn exactly what terpenes and minor cannabinoids are present in your product. The presence of this test shows that the brand is being as open and transparent as possible about what is found in their cannabis products. This is why some brands will claim to have multiple cannabinoids in a single product; the claims of additional cannabinoids must be verified by lab testing to prevent false advertising.
Buying cannabis products can be stressful if you don’t know what to look for. Brands pop up seemingly overnight with claims of wonderment and fantastical promises. Yet thanks to the information in this article, now you understand why CoAs are so important, and that the tests come from independent third-party labs. Purity and potency confirmed, free of any bias or compensation-based alterations, and peace of mind all around!
Here at Erth Wellness, we’re very serious about quality, purity, and potency. All of our products have been thoroughly vetted by third-party independent labs to ensure that our customers are getting a premium product. We carry a delightful assortment of edibles like gummies and softgels, inhalables like pre-rolls and CBD vape juice, sublinguals like tinctures, topicals, and even Pet CBD. We offer both full-sized and sample sizes of all our products, ensuring you actually like the product before fully committing. We’re confident that we have something specifically tailored for you; should you have any questions, feel free to reach out to us! Our team of cannabis specialists look forward to speaking with you and sharing our vast knowledge as you progress on your cannabis journey.
In our next article, we’ll be exploring a unique product type that’s quickly gaining traction in the industry: amanita mushrooms! Never heard of these before or curious to learn more? We hope you’ll join us in our very next article; we look forward to seeing you there!