Recently, a VICE report highlighted the possibility that cannabinoid testing labs in the US could be artificially inflating their test results in order to satisfy customers. Let's take a closer look at this controversy, and find out how it could affect you...
The Growing Importance of Routine Cannabis Testing
In the USA, as the medicinal cannabis market has grown from strength to strength, concerns over the safety and effectiveness of cannabis medicine have grown hand-in-hand. Thus, an entire sub-industry dedicated solely to testing cannabis for its cannabinoid, pesticide and mold levels has sprung up in just a few short years. Almost inevitably, reports of testing fraud have begun to pop up; growers and laboratories may be taking advantage of the fact that the industry is in its infancy and it remains extremely difficult to cross-check and determine accuracy once and for all.
Ostensibly, this industry exists to safeguard patient and consumer concerns – but if the system is found to be untrustworthy, who can the general public turn to for accurate information? The answer, worryingly, is that there may not yet be a cannabinoid testing facility that can be entirely, 100% relied on to provide accurate results.
Cannabis Testing Fraud
On the one hand, we have the possibility that laboratories are artificially bumping up their test results to keep clients happy. Perhaps the client needs to test out at a certain THC or CBD percentage for a dispensary to buy their cannabis, for example. In general, boosting the cannabinoid levels in the test results can cause the value of the cannabis to become higher.
In some cases reported by Vice, certain labs have outright offered to growers the chance to falsely bump up their cannabinoid test results, and some examples of cannabis packaged for sale have been re-tested and found to contain fewer cannabinoids than stated.
There Are Deeper Flaws with Cannabinoid Testing
On the other hand, even if a testing laboratory acts in good faith and provides results that are accurate to the best of their knowledge, they may still fall some way short of actually being truly accurate. According to several sources, the whole concept of cannabinoid testing falls down due to one very salient point – no-one has actually established a proper standard to test against, that is used by all laboratories.
Just to provide a simple analogy: the world knows what a kilogram is, as plenty of scientists have agreed on the definition, and there is a world prototype kilogram sitting in a museum somewhere in France as we speak. So every time someone measures a kilogram in mass, they have a direct point of comparison that is agreed on the world over.
But in the cannabinoid testing industry, there does not seem to be a consistent, universal measure by which to establish exactly how much THC or other cannabinoids are present in a sample. As the American Oil Chemists’ Society (AOCS) states: “However, because most cannabis testing labs have developed their own proprietary methods, with little cross-validation among labs, many experts believe that there is a need for standardized analytical methods.”
The Analytical Scientist states: “Whereas established industries have longstanding guidelines and standards, the cannabis industry is feeling its way as it develops. Consequently, there is a widespread lack of standards, reference materials, proficiency testing and laboratory certification.”
However, this doesn’t mean that cannabinoid testing should be forgotten. As the industry develops, we will soon establish the necessary guidelines to make sure that results are consistent across the board. One service that aims to fill this exact need is The Emerald Test: “an Inter-Laboratory Comparison and Proficiency Test (ILC/PT) program for cannabis testing labs. It brings to the cannabis industry a well-established standard for testing in the environmental, food, pharmaceutical, water, and petrochemical testing industries. Through the participation of labs around the world, the ILC/PT helps establish an industry benchmark for cannabis testing.”
As well as this, laboratories also do not remain consistent in what they actually test. Some labs test only for cannabinoids, while others test for terpenes too. Some labs will test for pesticide or fertilizer residues and evidence of mold and fungus, while others do not.
Even the laboratories that do test for pesticides, fertilizers, mold, and fungus may not be testing for the same things – there are tens of thousands of pesticides and fertilizers that may be used on cannabis, and tens of thousands of different strains of fungus and bacteria that could be present and which could potentially cause ill effects in susceptible individuals. The likelihood of a lab testing for every possibility is extremely low.
The quicker these standards are brought into place, the more difficult it will be for unscrupulous cannabis producers and testing labs to artificially bump up their cannabinoid test results.