One reason cannabis needs to be regulated by government agencies in a legal market is to keep the public safe. Criminal enterprises can’t be trusted to provide their customers with ethically grown and manufactured products. Historically, black-market cannabis producers have used any means to generate as much income as possible, even if that means subjecting their customers to harmful chemicals. The organizations don’t have a cultivation license or brand name to protect and can get away with cutting corners.
Even in some legal markets, cannabis is going untested, leaving the end-user at risk of being exposed to heavy metals and pesticides. The Netherlands’ unique relationship with recreational cannabis particularly leaves products manufactured for consumption without oversight. Tolerating public use in coffee shops without a rigorous testing protocol in place isn’t sustainable.
As more countries legalize medical and recreational cannabis, we expect legal markets like the Netherlands to adopt testing requirements and existing programs to continue to evolve.
What Does Cannabis Need to Be Tested?
Cannabis products come in many forms in the modern legal market. Consumers are no longer tasked with choosing between flower, hash, and brownies.
A diverse array of products requires manufacturers to produce more flower and develop new extraction methods for concentrates.
Any profitable industry needs oversight to keep businesses from making sacrifices in the pursuit of profits. Producing cannabinoid-rich flower at the lowest price possible has never been more competitive.
Cannabis needs to be tested for harmful chemicals used to scale production and beneficial cannabis compounds to support claims by retailers.
The ‘big four’ heavy metals tested in the cannabis industry are lead, arsenic, mercury, and cadmium. These metals make their way into cannabis in various ways.
First, the cannabis plant is particularly effective at extracting metals from the soil. Areas like Northern California, where cannabis grows just as well as anywhere on Earth, also have a history of mining. When these materials are unearthed, they spread into the water and soil. Cannabis plants absorb these metals and distribute them throughout the entire plant.
Hemp is one of the plants used for soil restoration. Researchers have even used industrial hemp to restore the soil contaminated in Chernobyl.
Fertilizers can also leave behind heavy metals. Growers utilizing liquid fertilizer to force plants into flowering and increase production risk producing contaminated cannabis.
One of the biggest challenges in cultivating cannabis is keeping bugs and microorganisms from destroying crops. Most cannabis producers protect their crops; an infestation can cause thousands of dollars of damage overnight.
Pesticide use in the cannabis industry is a touchy subject. While everyone agrees they don’t want to inhale harmful chemicals, large-scale production is nearly impossible without the help of some form of pesticides during plant development. The term ‘pesticide-free cannabis’ is used loosely and isn’t as simple as growers using pesticides or not.
While the legal cannabis industry hasn’t come up with a comprehensive agreement for which pesticides can be used safely, the issue further supports the idea of regulations. California has done a sufficient job in identifying the chemicals and amounts that should never be found in a product ready for consumption, but other states don’t have the infrastructure in place to effectively regulate cannabis production. The US would benefit from federal legalization simply by giving agencies like the USDA and EPA jurisdiction over the industry to manage pesticide and heavy metal content.
The legal cannabis industry has evolved the concentrate market exponentially since Western nations have opened up legal marijuana and hemp. Extraction is required to produce tinctures, dabs, topicals, and edibles. Separating valuable cannabis compounds from the original plant involves using heat, pressure, and solvents.
During the extraction process, solvents can easily be left behind, creating a risk for consumers. Testing concentrates becoming more necessary as the industry demands more of these products.
Cannabinoids and Terpenes
Consumers also need to be protected from marketing claims made by cannabis companies. We see this particularly in the online hemp cannabinoid industry but also applies to marijuana products. Cannabis users need to know if the amount of cannabinoids advertised is legitimate. Testing is getting more complicated as THC is only one of the many beneficial cannabinoids intriguing users.
Terpene testing is also becoming more important to consumers. Research suggests the presence of plant oils influences the cannabis experience. As cannabis users become more educated, terpenes emerge as an essential part of cannabis testing.
What happens if Contaminated Cannabis is Consumed?
The data on long-term consumption of cannabis is far from complete, let alone cannabis with heavy metals. We are beginning to see the effects of cadmium from cigarette smoke. Research shows that long-term lung exposure to heavy metals can build up over time and cause kidney, liver, bone, and blood damage.
Why Cannabis Companies Need Consulting
The risk of exposure to dangerous chemicals such as heavy metals, pesticides, and solvents is clear; the challenge becomes navigating the legal framework presented by government agencies. Staying compliant in an ever-evolving industry requires help from legal professionals that dedicate their time to staying up to date with regulations.
While the Netherlands has one of the legacy cannabis industries, it is among the least sophisticated. We expect drastic changes to testing requirements in the near future. Being prepared for changes in government regulations will keep businesses from experiencing disruptions in sales or production.
Cannabis Testing is Essential to a Safe Legal Market
The public is becoming more aware of what they put into their bodies regardless of the industry. The majority of countries legalizing recreational cannabis are putting testing requirements into legislation.
Markets tolerating cannabis or preparing for a shift to legal recreational cannabis need to be prepared to adhere to strict government regulations regarding testing, banking, and advertising.
One of the goals of a legal cannabis market is to keep consumers safe. A robust testing framework is necessary to prevent heavy metals, pesticides, and solvents from consumption. Cannabis companies need to take testing seriously and always be prepared for dramatic changes to the policy. Hiring a cannabis consulting firm can prevent any surprises to new regulations and help businesses navigate complex cannabis testing requirements.