Cannabis in America is stuck in a catch-22 situation of epic proportions. The lack of research is one of the many reasons that cannabis remains federally illegal. But one of the barriers to conducting the necessary research is its federally illegal status. In order to better understand cannabis, there also needs to be testing standards and regulations in place, which there are not. This has created a thriving atmosphere for fraud. These intertwining factors plaguing cannabis research must be eradicated for the sake of medical cannabis consumers.
One of the problems in the cannabis industry is that there aren’t any regulatory standards and this severely diminishes confidence for the consumer. However, the problem with the lack of testing standards and regulations extends beyond that of undermining consumer assurance. The problem also extends to cannabis businesses that are actively seeking out testing laboratories that will give them the testing results they desire in terms of contents and potency-even if it is inaccurate.
Industry officials have also explained that some cannabis businesses send in a sample of their products for testing which has been altered with a spray-on or dusting of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) crystals in order for the testing to come back with a higher THC content, for example. Cannabis industry regulators are in the process of shutting down laboratories that have supposedly supplied inaccurate testing results for products. An example of these laboratories is Praxis Laboratory which was said to have provided falsified testing data for more than 1,200 cannabis products. Another laboratory which has been suspended is Coalview Centralia, which is currently in the process of having their license permanently revoked by state regulators.
A statement was made about Praxis Laboratory which stated that “during the investigation, the lab owner attempted to destroy evidence of falsified data in an effort to obstruct (the agency’s) ability to conduct a complete investigation”. The lab appealed the statement by stating that their shutdown was based “in error and based on inaccurate information”. Their statements also included something to likes of an employee stealing data and then contacting the regulators. Along with the closing of Praxis Laboratory and the Centralia, the regulators also suspended the license of Certified Ag Labs for inflating THC levels.
An American study published in JAMA found that as few as 20% of cannabis products are accurately labeled with only 17% of the products accurately representing the THC quantity in cannabis. The same study found that 23% of the examined products were under-labeled, meaning contained more than what was stated, while 60% were over-labeled meaning it contained less than what the label stated.
The U.S Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, has failed to establish national testing standards which govern the laboratories which test cannabis products since it is still considered illegal under federal law. The FDA regulates almost every facet of prescription drugs which includes their testing, manufacturing, labeling, advertising, marketing, efficacy, and safety. However, since cannabis is illegal under federal law, the FDA has not established any national-level testing standards or regulations regarding cannabis testing.
Without the FDA regulations, cannabis testing standards and regulations have been left up to the states. States with legalized cannabis have been left to their own devices to discover their own standards to protect consumers. However, this state-by-state approach to cannabis testing standards and regulations leaves room for inconsistent and varied assortments of standards and regulations- thus making the testing processes and procedures also inconsistent and unreliable.
Although, there have been reports that the FDA is getting involved to a certain degree and are nudged by lawmakers to do so. They hosted a public forum on the “FDA Regulations of Cannabis and Cannabis Derived Products”. This forum is a Q & A which centers around information about the safety, manufacturing, product quality, marketing, sales, labeling, and management of cannabis products. However, there will not be much of a change in the lack of testing standards and regulations until cannabis is descheduled from the Controlled Substances Act, which lists drugs that do not have medical properties and run a high risk of abuse.
Cannabis product testing should analyze the contents of the cannabis products in terms of the following:
|What is Analyzed||Examples||Importance|
|Cannabinoids||THC, CBD, CBG, THCV, etc||Determines potency and correct medical dosing.|
|Terpenes||Myrcene, linalool, pinene, etc||To identify fragrances and other potential medical benefits.|
|Residue Solvents||Propane, butane, acetone||To identify if there are any potentially harmful substances from cannabinoid extraction.|
|Pesticides||Pyrethroids, organophosphates, carbamates||To identify if there are any leftover pesticides that could be potentially harmful.|
|Heavy Metals||Mercury, lead, arsenic, etc||To identify if there is any contamination in the soil that can be toxic.|
|Microbial Contamination||Mildew, mold, bacteria, mycotoxins, etc.||To identify any potentially harmful microbes which may have grown on the plant.|
In order to ensure consumer safety, it is important that cannabis be legalized at a federal level. When the federal government legalizes cannabis, the FDA will be able to perform its role and establish a national-level set of testing standards and regulations. By having one set of testing standards and regulations for the whole country, consumers will be able to make more informed and confident decisions on the cannabis products they are considering purchasing.
Legalization will be able to provide consumers with this confidence in products because the legalization will mean that researchers will be able to conduct large-scale studies on human participants, get a better understanding of the workings behind the cannabis compounds in the human body as they will be able to perform research easily and develop uniformed testing processes. Researchers will be able to set standards for regulations and, ultimately, provide the ability to ensure consumer safety since there will be a significantly reduced chance of consuming harmful contaminants left in the products such as pesticides.
If legalization doesn’t happen, the quality assurance of cannabis products will continue to be uncertain as growers and manufacturers of cannabis products are responsible for the quality, without having to conform to rigorous testing to comply with stringent rules and regulations imposed on a national level. Rigorous testing may not sound like something we would want, but in order to do away with the unsafe and “dangerous drug” stigma attached to cannabis, this needs to happen, not to mention the consumer safety and confidence aspect again.
Narendra Meruva, the principal marketing manager at the analytical lab Waters Corp, provided insight by explaining that state to state testing standards and regulations are constantly being written and rewritten which then makes “it a big challenge for product testing laboratories to meet these changes as they occur” -at least this much is true for labs who produce legitimate and ethical results.
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