Cannabis and Quality Control- Recreational vs. Medical

As the cannabis industry continues to find its footing in the legitimate marketplace, new regulations and requirements are continuously being added. Safety and quality have not always been top priorities throughout the industry’s checkered history, but in its battle for legitimacy, producers, growers, and retailers will have to not only meet legal quality and safety demands but surpass them.

The History

Throughout its history as an illicit substance, cannabis went unregulated. As a result, consumers had no way of ascertaining the quality and purity of the product and were continually taking risks or relying on trusted sellers and producers.

But with legalization comes regulation, and as each state is still responsible for its own safety regulations, the quality requirements on cannabis growers vary. The same applies between countries legalizing cannabis around the globe. In addition, as cannabis evolves into a mainstream consumer product, businesses are pressured to adopt standardized safety methods, and provide accurate labels and back claims, especially therapeutic ones, with scientific evidence. The demand for quality compliance is only expected to increase over the coming years. 

Medical Cannabis

To date, the FDA has not approved a marketing application for cannabis for the treatment of any disease or condition. It has, however, approved one cannabis-derived drug product: Epidiolex (cannabidiol). This is only available with a prescription from a licensed healthcare provider. Importantly, the FDA has not approved any other cannabis, cannabis-derived, or cannabidiol (CBD) products currently available on the market.

For more cannabis applications to be approved for the treatment of diseases or conditions, companies must invest in scientific research to prove safety and efficacy. This, of course, involves significant investments which few companies can afford, long periods of times which many investors shy away from, and the chances for success are low. 

Despite the lack of federal approval, medical cannabis products are available in many countries and in 36 U.S. states. The companies behind these products must adhere to the regulatory requirements in their jurisdictions, which almost always requires them to test their products before they go to market. They need to make sure they are safe for human consumption, free of heavy metals, toxins, fertilizers, microbes, or fungi that can pose severe health risks to patients. Consumers also expect that the labels on these products, specifically related to the potency levels, are accurate. Potency is critical for ensuring safety and achieving the desired effect. 

Mandatory regulatory compliance testing needs to be carried out offsite, based on sampling, by a third-party certified lab. Companies, however, can boost their quality and reduce the risk of non-compliance by adopting in-house testing protocols. This is common practice in the pharmaceutical industry. Therefore, demand for in-house testing solutions for quality assurance is expected to grow significantly over the coming years. 

Recreational Cannabis

Recreational cannabis is still far less regulated than medical cannabis. Many pundits, however, recommend that producers follow the organization’s guidelines for regular food and beverage companies to ensure that a high standard of quality is maintained.

It is in the best interest of the industry stakeholders to maintain the highest possible levels of quality and safety to strengthen the industry’s reputation and cement cannabis as a mainstream consumer product. The smart companies will invest in testing, including in-house means, to make sure their products are consistently safe, and their labels are accurate. This will contribute to their efforts to build strong and valuable brands, differentiating themselves from those players delivering low-quality products for short-term profit.  

Is Lab Testing Enough?

Lab testing for quality isn’t federally standardized for both medical and recreational cannabis. This means that labs are using different protocols and adhering to varying standards. This often means that companies purchasing cannabis as a raw material for their production cannot take the accuracy of certificates of analysis for granted.  They would be wise to conduct their own in-house testing to ensure that the delivered product complies with the specification they need and paid for. 

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