If you walk into any cannabis dispensary, you might be shocked to see the staggering selection of edible options on the menu. While edible cannabis options used to be confined to the ‘special brownie’, they have come a very long way. You can now chow down on cannabis in almost every edible form you can think of including sucking candies, mints, teas, spreads, nuts, gummy bears, candy bars, cereal, and wait for it…. gluten-free and raw vegan edible options. For many, 2019 is truly a wonderful time to be alive.
For those who are unfamiliar, cannabis edibles are food and drink infused with THC or CBD (although most commonly THC). Part of why accurate labeling in edibles is so important is because of their naturally stronger potency. Cannabis edibles can produce a much longer-lasting and stronger high than smoking, which can prove detrimental for novice users. While smoking cannabis produces a more immediate high that quickly dissipates, edibles kick in after about an hour with the effects lasting anywhere from six to ten hours.
The potency of a cannabis-infused edible is directly correlated to its THC concentration. Unfortunately, accurately identifying and labeling THC concentration in this ever-growing favorite has been less than reliable.
Just as anything you would reach for in the supermarket has a nutrition label displaying all ingredients contained in the product, the rise in edible popularity has brought with it the demand for the same accuracy and transparency tied to other consumables.
With discourse surrounding how to test the potency of cannabis and accurate labeling of products at an all-time high, edibles have been found to be the cannabis category hit hardest by unreliable labeling and inconsistent testing protocols.
This can be quite concerning for those turning to cannabis for medicinal reasons, an extremely popular cannabis consumption option in the medical cannabis community. An estimated 16% to 26% of patients using medical cannabis obtain their dosage through the consumption of edible products.
While edibles are indeed a popular option, the problem of accurate dosing is one of the largest hurdles for those turning to cannabis edibles for consistent medicating. Although medical marijuana potency testing and accurate product labeling has become a significant issue in the cannabis industry as a whole, it is particularly sensitive when it comes to edibles being used for medical purposes. As states now legally welcoming the plant continue to grapple with legislation, regulation, and quality assurance, accurate labeling on edible products are strikingly subpar.
One of the most common causes for mislabeling is the inaccuracy of the products THC count. This can come in the form of ‘under-labeling‘ (understating the amount of THC contained in the edible) or ‘over-labeling’ (overstating the amount of THC contained in the edible). Wherever the mislabelling falls on the spectrum, the desired result will not be produced for the user potentially causing negative side effects, or simply not being effective.
In a 2015 study for Johns Hopkins University conducted by Vandrey, Raber, & Raber, researches choose three dispensaries in San Francisco, California, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Washington; a total of 18 dispensaries. Edibles from each dispensary were bought in the categories of baked goods, beverages, and candy or chocolate. Products were considered accurately labeled if their THC and CBD content fell within 10% of its label. Of the 75 products purchased (47 different brands), only 17% were accurately labeled, meaning the THC stated on the label matched the actual THC content within the sample. In addition, more than half of the samples had significantly less cannabinoid content than labeled, with some products containing only trace amounts of THC. Such products would prove ineffective for those using them for medical purposes. Other products contained significantly more THC than labeled, putting patients at a higher risk for unwanted reactions.
Edibles are a microcosm of the ever-growing need for accurate and consistent potency testing and quality assurance across the cannabis landscape. Protocols in edibles are just one of the hurdles that need to be overcome for the cannabis market to continue to grow as a legitimate medical option, trusted by both the medical world and consumers alike.