Is your CBD what it’s called? Study shows high THC weeds are sold as hemp


Presented by SC Labs

March 31, 2021

This article was written by SC Labs, a Leafly Certified Labs partner.

Test errors underscore the need for national regulations for hemp

Since the federal and state governments are tackling the legalization of hemp as a stand-alone product of cannabis, the safety of products made from hemp is not given the same attention as that made from THC-based cannabis. While a cannabinoid test is required for every harvest to determine its identity as hemp rather than marijuana, the federal government and all but a handful of states have been silent.

In response to the Agriculture Act of 2018, the USDA and DEA have weighed up tentative rules establishing a system for producing massive amounts of hemp-derived CBD and other cannabinoids. This year will be a bumper crop and all of the cannabinoids derived from hemp will go into countless products, many of which will be marketed as medicinal products. However, the FDA has not yet proposed any safety requirements for these products.

However, a handful of states have regulations on the books that require some testing of hemp-based CBD products. California is particularly absent, where a bill that would have regulated hemp like other cannabis products failed during the previous legislature.

To study the contaminants found in hemp products and the accuracy of the labeling of active ingredients, SC Labs and the United Cannabis Business Alliance (UCBA) have jointly tested products purchased from unlicensed CBD retailers and traditional “smoking stores”. in the Los Angeles area. The results were worrying. Over 70% of samples failed either due to excessive contamination or contained too much THC to be considered hemp or both when tested against California standards for inhalable cannabis products.


** Sample has exceeded the hemp THC limit, but is probably not derived from hemp
Source: SC Labs ™ Analysis Report: CBD and Hemp Derived Products

Many samples bought from CBD and smoke shops and labeled as hemp were actually cannabis products high in THC.

The tests suggest that unregulated and dirty cannabis from unknown sources is making its way onto store shelves labeled as hemp and poses a serious safety risk for consumers. Most of the samples labeled and sold as hemp contained THC levels many times above the legal limit and sufficient to cause psychoactive effects and poisoning that could be frightening or even dangerous to an unsuspecting CBD consumer. Additionally, 42% of the samples tested exceeded the California legal limits for pesticides and heavy metal contaminants set for regulated cannabis.

* Detailed results available on individual certificates of analysis
** Sample has exceeded the hemp THC limit, but is probably not derived from hemp
Source: SC Labs ™ Analysis Report: CBD and Hemp Derived Products

A high level of consumer safety has been built into the regulated cannabis market for adults, which is being refined one after the other with the legalization of the states. Most places where they are legal have purity and testing requirements comparable to pharmaceutical products for THC-based cannabis products. As a result, there have been no major scandals regarding the sale of unsafe cannabis products in the legal market. The purity of the products has even become a differentiator for high-end brands in the cannabis industry.

Whether it’s adulterated or contaminated vape cartridges, or dangerous amounts of pesticides used by unscrupulous growers, unregulated and illegal cannabis products do not have the same track record in terms of safety. The most tragic example of this is the series of serious illnesses and deaths associated with the use of vitamin E acetate as a cutting agent in illegal vape cartridges.

Consumers of CBD products made from hemp can expect the same level of accuracy in terms of dosage and purity as products sold in the regulated cannabis market. However, this is not the case. While many hemp-derived CBD manufacturers voluntarily adhere to quality standards, the results of this survey suggest that some potentially dangerous products still hit store shelves.

High pollution

Of the samples that failed to contaminate at levels greater than allowed in California cannabis products, many failed at alarming levels of multiple pesticide and heavy metal contaminants. One vape cartridge contained 17 pesticides in concentrations up to several hundred times higher than the government’s limit of action for cannabis products. In addition, the cartridge contained at least 6.5 ppm lead – more than 13 times the legal limit. These values ​​indicate gross contamination of the extraction and / or packaging equipment. In this case, every batch made on the shared device would likely be similarly contaminated.

The vape cartridge wasn’t the only sample found to be severely contaminated. One flower and several pre-rolled samples (three out of six) contained defective heavy metal contents. Three out of four of these samples failed several metals. When comparing the unregulated CBD samples with the regulated cannabis market, the frequency of failed heavy metal tests in flower and pre-roll products and the incidence of multiple errors per product sample in the CBD samples were abnormal compared to the regulated cannabis market. In total, seven out of seventeen samples failed the required safety tests, including five faults with heavy metals and three with pesticide contamination.

Cannabis sold as hemp

Perhaps the most unexpected results of the study were that so many of the samples bought in the hemp-labeled CBD and smoke shops were actually just traditional, high-THC cannabis products. 53% of the samples, all of which were labeled as hemp or hemp-based, did not qualify as hemp by definition. The 2018 Farm Bill classifies hemp as cannabis that contains no more than 0.3% total THC.

Total THC content in CBD products

UCBA chart with dataThis table shows the total THC percentage in each tested product (blue) versus the action threshold (red), which classifies hemp as no more than 0.3% total THC

Nine of the seventeen samples, based on THC concentration, would be classified as cannabis rather than hemp, most of which were low in CBD and significant levels of THC. Five of the flower samples, the vape cartridge, and the edible product all contained levels of THC sufficient to provide a significant psychoactive experience to an unsuspecting user. The topical product also contained mostly THC and very little CBD, indicating that it was cannabis and not hemp. Since the edible had a low total concentration of cannabinoids, it did not exceed the technical threshold of 0.3%, but was clearly not derived from hemp either, which essentially bypassed the cannabis regulations.

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Beth Edmonds