Licensed cannabis retailers may only sell lab-tested products approved by certified analytical institutions whose job it is to ensure that marijuana is both effective and safe. When you pick up a prescription drug at the pharmacy, you know that it has been tested (and tested again) before it has been delivered to your local drugstore. It’s the same with cannabis.
So, what specifically are these labs looking for? Well, comprehensive testing mainly covers four things: residual solvents, contamination, potency, and terpenes. Let’s look at each one.
The purpose of residual solvent analysis is to detect and remove any solvents that might be left over in marijuana products from the production process itself. Solvents, like ethanol, can be found in flowers, concentrates, tinctures, topicals, and edibles. Solvent analysis and extraction make sure that retailers are getting the safest and purest form of cannabis products to offer their customers.
Marijuana is a harvested plant, and just like any harvested plant, it can be susceptible to contamination (for example, salmonella in lettuce). Microbial contamination can come from two major sources – either during production from water or manure, or from people handling the product. Laboratories conduct microbial pathogen screening in order to detect harmful bacteria and fungi at the genetic level, making certain none of it makes its way to the consumer.
In a previous post we talked about the many different types of cannabinoids that are present in marijuana, the two most significant ones being THC and CBD. Laboratories testing pot can determine the potency values of the cannabinoids in a retailer’s products, as it is vitally important that both the seller and consumer are particularly aware of how much THC and CBD are in each strain.
There are a few different ways that labs can determine levels of THC and CBD. The most common method is called High Performance Liquid Chromatography. In an HPLC test, a sample from a cannabis flower is mixed with a solvent such as ethanol. Using high pressure, the solution is then pumped through a tube filled with an absorbent material. Each ingredient in the sample reacts differently to the absorbent material, allowing analysts to look at each component separately and determine how much of each (i.e. THC and CBD) is present in the solution.
As a reminder, terpenes are what give cannabis its unique scent. They also influence the medical and psychological effects of marijuana. Most people think that nothing matters more than THC, and when they look for a particular strain of pot they seek out the highest THC level, thinking that the higher the THC the better the pot. But it’s actually the combination of terpenes and cannabinoid content that determines the various benefits you’ll get from each strain. For example, a particular terpene may determine whether the plant will make you feel more energetic or so sleepy that you sink into your couch. The partnership between terpenes and cannabinoids (such as THC and CBD) is referred to as the “entourage effect.”
Gas chromatography is typically used in terpene analysis. This can either be done with mass spectrometry, during which molecules are blown apart into searchable patterns, or flame ionization detection, during which the cannabis sample makes contact with a flame and creates an electrical signal that is proportional to the amount of the compound present. Phew! Is your head spinning yet? Suffice it to say, terpene testing allows both retailers and their customers to know what effect, medical or otherwise, a particular strain can have on the consumer.
WHAT YOU GET AT CANNA4LIFE
Marijuana is a complex plant, so there’s a lot of work for a laboratory to conduct in order to ensure the safety of a cannabis product and to determine its physiological and psychological effects. You can be completely confident knowing that any products for sale at Canna4Life have passed all of the rigorous testing requirements dictated by the state. And remember, we encourage you to talk with our friendly budtenders about the ingredients in our products and particularly the levels of THC and CBD in each one. A discussion with a budtender can help you find the right strain of cannabis for you!