Cannabis testing labs all across the country have an open secret that cannabinoid potency results can vary from lab to lab, and that higher potency results can essentially be bought if you know which lab is inflating results. An independent investigation of laboratories by Jamie Toth recently demonstrated this phenomenon . Now, California is seeking to enact new standardization for cannabis potency testing to curtail bad actors that are inflating results . However, this well-intentioned regulation could create big problems for bad actors and upstanding laboratories alike.
How Cannabis Testing Labs Cheat
With prices of cannabis sinking, producers are depending on higher potency results that typically dictate higher prices for cannabis flower. This problematic pricing model has become standard and neglects the value of quality versus potency while encouraging potency result cheating. As part of Jamie Toth’s independent investigation of potency result inflation, she reviews the main ways potency data can be manipulated to yield higher results . These include:
- Using moisture content to alter the potency result and/or calculating moisture loss differently (dry versus wet weight)
- Spiking the sample with cannabinoids
- Sampling in a manner that is not representative of the entire batch or entirely swapping sample material with another material that will give higher results
- Using a standard that gives higher results
- Intentionally mis-calibrating equipment to yield higher results
- Using incorrect sample weights
California’s New Proposed Cannabis Testing Legislation
The new testing regulations proposed in California include a standard operating procedure (SOP) that all laboratories would be required to follow . This SOP mandates labs to use specific methods for calibration, analysis, and sample extraction.
Josh Wurzer, Ph.D., COO of SC Labs, shared his concerns about the new proposed regulations saying, “Creating a single method for testing cannabinoids will not address the issues of lab shopping and the inflation of THC values by some labs. Further, this move to standardized testing methodology will make it difficult for the rest of us to develop tests that are more efficient and more innovative. … Although we’ve been asking the DCC to address these issues for some time, a one size fits all approach is not the answer and will compromise consumer safety through the inaccurate labeling of products. If you are requiring labs to use a standardized testing method, the method needs to accurately measure cannabinoid levels in all types of sample from flowers to infused products. Reputable labs have spent years developing and refining their methods to accurately quantify cannabinoids in a diverse set of sample types.”
Per the proposed SOP, all samples must be extracted using methanol or an 80/20 mix of methanol and acetonitrile. However, these solvents are not ideal for extracting cannabinoids from matrices like edibles, lotions, and drinks. Those matrices are very different from cannabis flower and may be more accurately extracted with solvents like tetrahydrofuran (THF) with the addition of QuEChERS (a salt mixture) that removes excess water and separates out fats and oils from the cannabinoid fraction which is analyzed. Also, the required quantity of solvent used is more than some labs have found necessary.
Alternatives to New Regulation
Instead of mandating a single method for all testing laboratories, there are some other ways California could stop bad actors. These include using secret shoppers, regularly auditing testing results and laboratory facilities, and performing analyses to audit and verify accuracy of results. If an independent investigator like Jamie Toth can pick out which labs are inflating results through these methods, then surely the Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) could do the same. A one-size-fits-all approach to cannabinoid testing doesn’t account for variables such as standard availability, product compositions that are not able to be extracted in methanol or acetonitrile, lab environment variables, and the different equipment laboratories use. Currently, the regulation is in its public comment period so there is still hope that these concerns will be addressed in the final legislation.
1- California Proposes New Cannabis Lab Testing Regulations. JD Supra. JD Supra. Published 2022. Accessed August 7, 2022. https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/california-proposes-new-cannabis-lab-8962971/
2- Department of Cannabis Control California Code of Regulations Title 4. Accessed August 7, 2022. https://cannabis.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2022/06/DCC_Cannabinoids-Test-Method_Text_CD.pdf
3- Toth J. 8 Ways Corrupt Cannabis Labs Cheat The Numbers (and You). Medium. Published June 20, 2022. Accessed August 7, 2022. https://medium.com/cannabis-explorations/8-ways-corrupt-cannabis-labs-cheat-the-numbers-and-you-bc552dd360b7
4- Toth J. The Corruption of Trust in Oregon’s Cannabis Labs – Cannabis Explorations – Medium. Medium. Published February 4, 2022. Accessed August 7, 2022. https://medium.com/cannabis-explorations/the-corruption-of-trust-in-oregons-cannabis-labs-890b0ff3a4c4
Image: https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-holding-laboratory-flask-2280571/ by Chokniti Khongchum via Pexels