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Why you can’t always trust the cannabis label

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This article was created in collaboration with PSI Labs.

With inconsistent testing and market pressure, the numbers don’t always tell the whole story.

With cannabis legalization, consumers are better informed than ever – at least in theory. Most legal cannabis states have some sort of testing requirement to put safe products on store shelves and give the public some idea and assurance about what they are buying.

The problem: too often, cannabis isn’t quite what it says on the label.

If you follow cannabis regulations, you’ve already seen some pretty epic glitches. California has seen a number of recalls – some due to inconsistent laboratory results, others due to obvious falsification of laboratory results. In Washington state, a top testing firm’s license for inflating THC numbers has been suspended.

Courtesy of PSI Labs

An ongoing problem in many states is “lab shopping,” where cannabis producers specifically select testing labs that they know are deliberately booming potency levels or simply passing on purity.

According to chemist Lev Spivak-Birndorf, Ph.D., co-founder of testing company PSI Labs in Michigan, the results can be pretty crude – and this is an issue that calls into question the safety of regulated cannabis.

“Consumers simply assume that they have passed the test when they are on the shelf,” says Spivak-Birndorf. “Michigan had problems with it: the flower has visible mold or mildew and certain microbial tests go undetected. People will report to the state, “Hey, there is mold on this weed that I bought from a pharmacy. How did that pass the tests?” ”

A combination of regulatory errors and market forces has made inconsistent testing an increasing problem. If consumers, or even budget tenders, are just looking at the numbers on a lab label and not where they’re from, they don’t have the full story.

A tough market

When pharmacies choose which type of bud to buy, they know that in most cases, potency sells itself. In the race for the strongest weed, producers look for bigger numbers on the label. It’s a vicious circle: when some bad actors look for excessive THC levels, the baseline that other manufacturers have to reach in order to get their products to the shelves grows.

Courtesy of PSI Labs

Since cannabis producers choose their test labs themselves, it’s not just about the incentive to shop in the lab, but also about the problem, says Spivak-Birndorf. The laboratories themselves need to attract these producers.

“We have built a reputation over the years for being a reliable and accountable laboratory that delivers accurate and honest results,” said Ben Rosman, co-founder of PSI Labs. “Because someone thinks: ‘I may not get the results I want from PSI Labs’, they can shop in the laboratory and hope to find cheaper results elsewhere. However, we also have customers who are proud to have PSI Labs on their label because they know it is a sign of their commitment to the accuracy, safety and quality that consumers deserve. “

Inconsistent science

Courtesy of PSI Labs

While there are bad actors out there, many cannabis producers only want to make the highest quality products backed up by accurate laboratory test results. However, some testing methods and regulatory processes are not necessarily designed to withstand the test. In Michigan, Rosman says, laboratories are often asked to review their own work.

“We’re already testing everything ourselves twice to make sure high potency numbers are legitimate,” says Rosman. “If the government process for testing samples is to ask the laboratory that did the original analysis to review its own work, that laboratory can simply confirm its own inflated results. Wouldn’t it be a better approach if another licensed laboratory also tests the sample and provides a new data set? “

PSI Labs has strict internal standards, but they are self-implemented: while changes to regulations are in the pipeline, most laboratories do not need to use the most precise processes to look for contaminants.

“It’s incredibly difficult to understand which laboratory is using the right process,” says Spivak-Birndorf, “and consumers are only 100% in the dark.”

The reality is that the necessary standardization for cannabis testing methods will not materialize as long as cannabis remains illegal nationwide and the patchwork of state laws and recommendations continues to fail consumers and gullible players in the industry alike.

Find results you can trust

Inaccurate labels are an obvious problem right now: Nobody wants disappointing or dangerous weeds. In the long run, however, inaccurate numbers could be worse than no labels at all.

“When there is so much variability and you can’t trust the data from one lab with another, it doesn’t matter if it says“ lab tested, ”” explains Rosman.

Courtesy of PSI Labs

Fortunately, states are beginning to recognize the need for standardized testing. California, Alaska, Colorado, and Maryland have tightened their regulations in recent years.

As other states refine their policies and federal legalization efforts continue, it’s important that consumers and budget tenders know that the numbers don’t tell the full story right now. For now, consumers should be on the lookout for recalls by government regulators and push lawmakers to button testing prescriptions that are less self-regulatory, more objective, and able to stand up to scrutiny.

PSI Labs, the premier testing laboratory in Michigan, helps customers offer superior cannabis through accurate testing and transparency. Visit PSILABS.org to learn more.

Leafly Staff

Leafly is the world’s largest cannabis information resource, enabling people in legal cannabis markets to learn about the right products for their lifestyle and wellness needs. Our team of cannabis professionals share years of experience in every corner of the market, from growth and retail to science and medicine to data and technology.

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Beth Edmonds