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Why is Cannabis Testing Important?

Here’s the thing. When consuming foods, beverages, medications, or even regular products like cars, bikes, and chairs, we can all agree that a tested, known item is better than something that just came on the scene. We wouldn’t want a piece of chicken that doesn’t look cooked or a new bike with one of the wheels missing. So why is it that with cannabis, consumers are willing to settle for untested, illicit products in the name of convenience and saving money?


A woman in a cannabis testing lab performing lab tests
Photo courtesy of jarmoluk

Well, the answer is complicated. When the popular opinion of marijuana shifted into a negative light in the early 1900s and then subsequently, the federal government made it illegal in 1937, the concept of “safe” cannabis went out the window. The logic was: if something is illegal, why must it be safe or accurately labeled? The problem is that people never stopped cultivating and consuming cannabis; they just stopped cultivating and consuming safe and ethically labeled cannabis. Federal illegalization allowed unsafe levels of pesticides, mycotoxins, residual solvents, and more to reach consumers’ hands.


Separately, in states where cannabis has become legalized, a fixation with unattainably high levels of THC has started to overwhelm the markets. As a result, some cannabis testing labs have fallen into the trap of potency inflation. However, that is an entirely different problem. This post talks explicitly about illicit cannabis products, which have also mislabelled (albeit not as officially) their contents and potency.


Cannabis testing is essential because it ensures that the cannabis entering consumer hands is labeled appropriately and suitable for human consumption.


What Cannabis Testing Provides & Prevents

Cannabis testing, much like the safety testing of medicines and cars, gives cultivators and consumers valuable information on what is being sold and consumed. Illicit cannabis, while it can be cheaper and, depending on where you live, more accessible, runs a constant risk to consumers’ health, well-being, and pockets.


This is because illicitly grown and sold cannabis is not held to safety standards, ethical standards, or regulations. If it does cause a noticeable health issue in users, there are very few avenues for retribution to those affected. Essentially, illicitly grown and sold cannabis operates in a land untethered to legal safety standards, putting everyone who uses it at risk or, at the very least, in a situation where they’re purchasing mislabeled products.


A 2021 study conducted by British Columbia’s Cannabis Secretariat found that out of 20 illicitly cultivated and sold dried cannabis samples, there were 24 pesticides and “unacceptable levels of bacteria, fungi, lead, and arsenic” (General P. S. & S.) Similarly, in 2022, the Ontario Cannabis Store and Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) studied 22 legal edible cannabis products and 22 illegal edible cannabis products. They reported that “most illegal products had less than 20% of the advertised THC levels… (and) some illegal samples contained up to 50 times below the advertised levels” (Asadi).


A Nikon microscope used in cannabis lab testing
Photo courtesy of fernandozhiminaicela

Diane Botelho et al. found that when comparing illicit samples to licit samples, the illicit cannabis had a much lower accuracy rate in its reported THC percentage (meaning that it reported much higher THC percentages than it actually contained). It also had much higher amounts of microbes, bacteria, yeast, and mold than the licit cannabis samples (n.d.).


Across the board, illicitly grown cannabis shows high levels of hazardous substances and inconsistent, misleading levels of THC. As states legalize marijuana, cannabis testing labs have been introduced into the licit cannabis market – when labs produce reliable results, they ensure that the cannabis reaching consumers’ hands is safe and accurate.


Cannabis Testing with Steep Hill Illinois

Steep Hill Illinois is part of a distributed network of cannabis and hemp testing labs providing regulatory, quality assurance, and R&D testing services to growers, processors, distributors, and retailers across the United States. We proudly provide accurate, reliable results on everything we test.


Located in Aurora, Illinois, our services are easy to use, and our teams are committed to providing the best possible solutions to some of the cannabis industry’s toughest science challenges. We offer a seamless experience from sample submission to COA, all while leveraging cutting-edge Information Management Systems and analytics to provide our customers with the results and insights they need, all while keeping their schedules in mind.



References:


Asadi, O. (2022, April 6). Ontario cannabis study shows illegal cannabis fails to deliver the goods. Ontario Cannabis Store. Retrieved March 21, 2023, from https://ocs.ca/blogs/news/ontario-cannabis-study-shows-illegal-cannabis-fails-to-deliver-the-goods


Botelho, D., Bondreau, A., Rackov, A., Attiq Rehman, Phillips, B., Hay, C., Broad, K., Crowhurst, P., Cockburn, S., Smith, T., & Balonova, B. (n.d.). Analysis of Illicit and Legal Cannabis Products for a Suite of Chemical and Microbial Contaminants. RPC. Retrieved March 21, 2023, from https://rpc.ca/english/press/Comparison%20of%20Illicit%20and%20Legal%20Cannabis%20Samples.pdf


General, P. S. and S. (2021, June 9). Testing finds contaminants in illegal cannabis. Retrieved March 16, 2023, from https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2021PSSG0050-001115

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