Whenever we hear about independent, third-party tests on some type of cannabidiol (CBD) products from a representative sample of companies, the results are rarely good, and that’s not because bad news travels fast. The reality is, such independent, third-party testing rarely makes for good news, and the reason for that is the need for independent, third-party testing in the first place.
SC Labs performed two tests – one on hemp-derived CBD products from California and another on rolling papers, which generally present even less of an interest to regulatory and testing bodies. SC Labs’ results perfectly illustrate the consequences of this lack of oversight, which seem to go beyond mere negligence and into something more clandestine and premeditated in the case of hemp-derived products.
Let’s start with the test on rolling papers, however, which revealed smaller and more innocent issues.
SC Labs purchased 118 products (rolling papers, cones, and wraps) from Amazon and several smoke shops in the Santa Cruz area, 101 of which were tested for heavy metals and 112 of which were tested for pesticide contamination.
“At least one heavy metal was detected in 90% of the rolling paper products with 8% containing at least one heavy metal in concentrations above the allowable limits in California. Lead was the most commonly detected metal by a considerable margin. Pesticides were detected in 16% of the samples, with 5% coming in over the allowable action limits,” the report states.
While these results aren’t good, and “11% of the rolling papers in this study would fail above the action limits for inhalable products in California,” it’s important to remember that we are talking about rolling papers that account for a tiny portion of the overall mass of a pre-roll.
“I don’t think we uncovered a huge consumer safety issue, rather something both consumers and manufacturers should take note of,” Josh Wurzer, co-founder of SC Labs, explains. “As a consumer, I’m going to avoid cellulose-based rolling papers and I might consider blunt wraps as a special treat for once and a while rather than something I consume daily. Sort of like certain species of fish known to contain mercury.”
Nevertheless, these results are food for thought for manufacturers, showing the need for stronger scrutiny of the elements that go into making their final product.
“The cannabis can be completely clean but if the rolling paper has 100 times the allowable limits for lead, it doesn’t really matter,” Wurzer says.
The likely culprits for heavy metal contamination in rolling papers, which seems to be much more prevalent than pesticides, are trees and their pulp as a source material, as well as the manufacturing equipment, especially one with poor-quality components. And we’re not talking about a case of nit-picking – eliminating heavy metal contamination is entirely feasible.
“It’s entirely possible to avoid introducing metals contamination during the manufacturing process and really shouldn’t happen if best practices are followed. We had plenty of samples that didn’t have any detectable metals, and if it’s important to the manufacturer, it should be entirely possible to produce rolling papers without detectable levels of heavy metals contamination,” Wurzer explains.
Now, let’s move on to the hemp study, the results of which are more eye-opening and downright startling.
SC Labs tested 17 supposedly hemp-derived CBD products purchased from unlicensed CBD shops and retailers throughout Los Angeles by the United Cannabis Business Association (UCBA).
For starters, the rate of failure is high enough to be an unequivocal testament to the negligence that almost inevitably goes hand in hand with an unregulated market.
“Over 70% of the samples failed either for excessive contamination or did not qualify as hemp. 42% of the samples failed the safety testing compared with approximately 1.5% of samples that fail for contaminants on the regulated market.”
However, it’s not so much negligence that these results highlighted, but on the contrary, something carefully thought out, premeditated.
53% of the products didn’t qualify as hemp by the definition of the 0.3% limit, and while that is a limit that can be easily exceeded by accident, “most of the tested products contained levels of THC sufficient to cause serious psychoactive effects which may be entirely unwanted by CBD users.”
Such consistently drastic THC excess is a sign of intention, which most likely is bypassing the strict regulations and quality control that cannabis-derived psychoactive products have to go through.
“I think some of these products absolutely were cannabis products posing as CBD products. With the products that were obviously cannabis (predominantly THC) I can’t imagine a customer wouldn’t catch on pretty quickly. So, there must be some sort of wink-wink nudge-nudge going on at least in LA-area CBD shops,” Wurzer says
On another, equally alarming note, especially in the context of all the vape-related deaths and illnesses from last year, the single vape cartridge that SC Labs tested turned out to be “one of the most grossly contaminated samples ever tested at the laboratory,” containing failing concentrations of 17 different pesticides, “with some of those pesticides showing up in such high amounts they maxed out the laboratory instrumentation, measuring at least tens or hundreds of times the state limit.” Lead was more than 13 times over the limit.
Such ridiculous levels of contamination show that with unregulated CBD concentrates come direr, “concentrated” consequences.
“The extraction process concentrates pesticides and as well as impurities in the extraction solvents. Careless assembly of vape cartridges can cause metal or plastic particles to essentially wear off and contaminate the concentrate,” Wurzer says.
On top of that, the advertised cannabinoid levels were “roughly half that of similar products tested for the regulated market which indicates the potential use of a ‘cutting agent’ to covertly dilute the expensive cannabinoid active ingredients with cheaper ingredients.”
While the two studies stumbled upon different issues, including potentially unexpected ones like the conspiracy involving CBD pretenders in the hemp study, they all lead back to one, huge, overarching problem – the lack of regulations, which is particularly damaging to the CBD industry and its still shaky reputation.
“We were able to find some great examples of why CBD products need to be regulated similarly to their cannabis counterparts to avoid an unfair advantage. Don’t get me wrong, many CBD producers emphasize quality control and put out great products. It’s the bad actors that need to be weeded out,” Wurzer concludes.