One of the major misconceptions about medical cannabis is that the higher the THC level in a strain, the better it is. This could not be further from the truth. In this post, I hope to educate patients and to dispel this myth by talking about medical cannabis lab testing. My goal is not only to explain the importance of testing but also to explain what the test results mean to each and every patient.
So, without further ado, please meet Jeff Nemeth who created Act Laboratories in Lansing, Michigan and Jacob Idoni who joined Jeff right after its launch. They were kind enough to spend time talking to me about the medical cannabis testing process. Like countless people who get into the medical cannabis industry, this was personal for Jeff. For 5 years, he took huge amounts of Oxycontin, due to a shoulder injury, which left him “like a Zombie.” Some friends recommended medical cannabis with a high percentage of THC and he became a different kind of “Zombie” since he was stoned all the time. Then, he realized there is SO much more to the cannabis plant. He could use a strain with lower THC content, but with CBD and terpenes added which would allow him to be pain free yet clear headed and highly functional. Soon afterwards, Act Laboratories was born!
Act Labs, which does the testing for more than half of the Illinois cultivation centers, is 1 of only 11 labs in the US with ISO 17025 accreditation. It is the 5th highest rated lab in the country with such accreditation. The guys wanted me to tell patients that Illinois cannabis is some of the cleanest in the entire country. This means it is very low in pesticide rate, mycotoxins rate, microbiological contaminants rate and low moisture readings.
I had a list of questions to ask Jeff and Jaco. So, here we go:
What are the required lab tests in Illinois?
There are 2 categories for lab results; Potency and Contaminants
The Potency Testing refers to the percentage of each of the following compounds in a given strain and are listed on the label:
CBD CBDa THC THCa
ACT Labs also tests for the following compounds that are not listed on the label:
CBN CBG CBN Terpenes*
*As a side note: Terpenes are NOT listed on the label but they are included in the final lab report. Be sure to ask your dispensary agent to see that report
Here’s the link to a previous post I wrote about Terpenes
The Contaminants Testing includes the following:
Pesticides, Mycotoxins, Microbiological Contaminants and Residual Solvents
What do these test mean to the patients in practical terms?
It tells you whether or not you are getting a clean, safe product. Act Labs also tests for the moisture readings. The perfect moisture content for cannabis is 9-11%. If there is too much moisture, the cannabis will become moldy. Just because you can’t see mold on the plant does not mean it is safe to consume. If you CAN see the mold, it is way past the point for safe consumption.
What is the accuracy of this laboratory testing?
On a weekly basis, a 10 sample control is used to determine the accuracy of the potency. For example, a flower that tests at 10% has an uncertainty that ranges from 9.5% to 10.5% Once a year, ACT labs goes through a third-party audit and is the only lab in the state to do so. This audit is much more extensive. I won’t get into it, since my head would probably explode.
Can testing different parts of the plant produce different lab testing results?
Yes. That is the nature of the cannabis plant. Potency can vary even on the same plant. Top buds that were closer to the lamps are likely to have higher potency. Testing is done from the top to the bottom of each plant and an average is reported.
Is there ever a reason that the same product would have varying results if tested more than once?
Yes, again due to the nature of the anatomy of the cannabis plant. Every cannabis product except edibles can and will have varying results. Labs are sent a random sampling of flower for testing. This means that they have no idea what part of the flower the sample came from. If the lab were to test a different portion of the same sample, the test results would most likely be different.
Are there additional tests not required by the state that would provide valuable info to cultivators, dispensaries and patients?
Act Labs does 2 tests for Illinois cultivators that are not required by the state and for which they do not charge the cultivator. Terpene Testing and Moisture Readings, both of which I have already discussed.
The takeaway from this article is that the key to finding the best medicine for each patient is NOT about THC. It is about finding the right aggregate of THC:CBD:Terpene for each individual’s need. If you want to relieve pain while feeling calm and clear headed a 1:1 THC:CBD is best. If you want to relax after work and sleep well, a higher THC strain is recommended. Do your homework before you visit your dispensary. Find out what ratio of THC:CBD:Terpene is best for you. Some agents are more knowledgeable than others. It is not uncommon for budtenders to push strains and products with high THC which is more expensive. Those with epilepsy will want a higher ratio of CBD:THC.
To illustrate this point, an example Jeff used was that those with serious, debilitating diseases like cancer, fibromyalgia and PTSD may require as much as 1000mg day. If you are using a product with high THC content, you would not physically be able to ingest that amount. A ratio of 1:1 THC:CBD at around 20% of each would be ideal.
Coming soon, December, 2016: Act Laboratory has developed a free phone APP for patients that allows them to track the cannabinoids and terpenes in the products they purchase. They can request a lab test result, go over the profile, do research and compare product information from the convenience of their smart phones.