The Highs and Lows of Cannabis Testing

Cannabis is a common name for the plant Cannabis sativa, an annual herbaceous plant that is found in most parts of the world. The other variants are Cannabis indica and Cannabis ruderalis. It is a plant that has ambivalent views about its importance and scope of use in the food and drug industries.

Cannabis: The history of controversy surrounding its use

The use and mention of cannabis as a medicinal herb existed for centuries. Ancient Greeks used its leaves to dress open cuts and lesions on humans and animals. Even in the early twentieth-century cannabis was regularly used by physicians to treat their patients. Its use alleviated the effect of inflammation in wounds and body pains. Nausea, loss of appetite, pain, anxiety, insomnia, and muscle spasms are cured effectively through its use.

Between 1937 to 1970, the use of cannabis-derived compounds in food or drug processing was prohibited mainly due to a lack of awareness and campaigns to remove its importance in the pharma industries.

In 2016 the state of California approved the use of cannabis for adult recreational and medical use vide passage of Prop 64. With the change in provisions, the legal cannabis industry gained traction. California is now home to a burgeoning number of legal cannabis producers, vendors, and investors.

With the legalization of its medical use one important factor that cannot be overlooked is cannabis testing so that it meets not only the regulatory framework set out by provisions of the Controlled Substance Act (CSA) and FDA guidelines but also the pharma industry standards for clinical trials.

Medical vs Recreational Cannabis

The category of medical and recreational cannabis is dependent on its components. Cannabis is made up of more than 100 compounds popularly known as cannabinoids. The exact effect of each cannabinoid is still in the research phase. However, studies till now have confirmed two cannabinoids known as cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and their composition will determine if it is medical or recreational grade cannabis.

In simple language, CBD is psychoactive yet non-intoxicating and THC has similar properties but is intoxicating. So if cannabis gets anyone ‘high’ it is courtesy of the potency offered by the presence of THC in the variant.

With the rise in many states legalizing the use of cannabis it is important to follow through with proper testing for potential reasons and benefits stated here:

The US federal government has left the choice of legalizing cannabis for medical and recreational reasons to individual states. A total of 37 states regulate cannabis for medical use as a Schedule 1 drug. Different states have different testing rules that are mainly circumambient around potency and contamination of cannabis.

Rules on taxation and purchase limits govern the major difference in the application of medical and recreational cannabis in different states. Medical cannabis users pay less tax and purchase as recommended by the prescription than adult-recreational users.

As iterated the potency of cannabinoids determine the category of medical grade vs adult recreational cannabis. The primary cannabinoids that are tested are THC, CBD, and CBN. The percentage of THC determines the intensity of intoxication in cannabis and categorizes if the product has a recreational and social purpose that cannabis is used. CBN is used to determine the age and deterioration of cannabis due to poor storage and mishandling.

Though there are studies that say that there is no rational or unified rule for the difference in potency of cannabinoids in medical or recreational products, most products in medical programs contain less than 5% CBD and close to 18% in recreational cannabis-derived products.

Cannabis products are plant-based and grown in different conditions that are not regulated at the seed stage. By the time the formulation is packed and sold in pharmacies, it changes many forms arising to contamination.

Metals in the soil are absorbed through roots and can also be passed through the hands of harvesters. The natural moisture in the leaves attracts microbes and pathogens that can contaminate the contents. Pesticides used by farmers can lead to unwarranted complications for cannabis users. Testing for a safe product safeguards the interest of the users without posing any external risks of using cannabis.

Apart from the regulatory compliance of quality measures recommended by the FDA for medical cannabis products, even other products need to establish a uniform code that can be trusted by the consumers for the safety and quality of the product.

Inconsistencies in the product development stage can be bad for business and reputation. When a company is formulating its cannabis product, getting it tested for potency and contamination is one part. But to avoid negatives related to different perspectives that revolve around the use of cannabis, getting quality assurance testing done by the same lab is a recommended call for action.

A lot of entrepreneurs invested their time and money into growing cannabis for medical and recreational use. But without any standardization of best practices, many cannabis investors are facing a bumpy road ahead. Without any prior qualification in agricultural science or farming knowledge, they made first-timers mistakes like overuse of pesticides or growing too many fungi crops to benefit from the symbiotic relationship that plant roots have with beneficial mycorrhiza. The community of cannabis growers has to come together and share best practices and other useful information to support each other to overcome such problems in the future.


With the rising acceptance of cannabis use in medical and adult-recreational categories and its legal realm, testing the product will be a key tool to standardize products and improve quality control and brand image of the product. Meeting the state regulations of different states can be a tough task and diminish the reach of the product without proper testing. The investment into a field that is at a nascent stage of legal and social acceptance is already dotted with high risks. Without proper testing, the risks and threats increase to consumers and have a dominion effect on the business of growing cannabis.

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