Everywhere you look online, someone is peddling THC concentrates as a cleaner and safer way to consume marijuana. While these concentrates do remove the majority of plant matter, reducing carcinogens from burning and smoking, there could actually be worse health issues in the form of pesticides.
It’s a problem High Times explored a few years back, but it’s mostly unspoken about within the cannabis community.
The use of pesticides on crops is highly regulated on a federal level, but cannabis is different. As reefer isn’t federally regulated, neither are the processes of growing and processing it. This leads to a gray area that can be exploited by those looking to make a quick profit at the expense of patients and other ganja consumers.
In states where cannabis is medically legal, such as Arizona, Nevada, and California, independent lab testing is performed to ensure cannabis meets certain criteria. As the testing is state-regulated (like insurance), each state contracts a different testing lab, each with different quality control measures.
Typically these labs test levels of THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids and terpines, and even those tests vary greatly from test to test, regardless of the lab. In certain states, a handful of pesticides are also tested for, though some labs, like OG Analytical in Oregon, go beyond the standards to voluntarily include a full array of pesticide tests.
They can’t, however, fail a crop for unhealthy levels of pesticides found outside the scope of regulated batch testing. These tainted batches then make their way, unlabeled to retail counters.
Nationwide Concern in the Cannabis Industry
Debra Grosella at Oregon’s Microgrowery Guild in Eugene, OR explained several testing issues in great detail during our meeting last fall for a piece I wrote on Main Street. She expressed worry about dispensaries exploiting legal loopholes in order to sell unsafe cannabis by ignoring unfavorable tests.
The theme of concern about inconsistent testing guidelines isn’t limited to Oregon, however. Jessica Olsen at Green Hill Laboratories in Carbondale, CO expressed similar concerns to me during the International Marijuana Business Conference last winter in Las Vegas.
During this summer’s Medical Cannabis Cup in Daly City, CA, several vendors expressed distrust of cannabis batch testing, along with state regulators’ ability to reign in the testing to ensure safety for all marijuana users.
In Arizona, batch testing is mostly a joke, as dispensaries consistently misrepresent THC levels in order to convince customers to purchase “top-shelf” products for higher prices.
It’s not uncommon to hear medical patients in AZ brag about having strains of shatter or wax tested above 90%, information related to them by retail associates. If true, these concentrates would be an off-white eggshell color instead of the dark amber typically found in Arizona dispensaries.
The consistency also changes with higher THC levels, becoming more and more like a powder as levels reach above 80%. The below image shows the color difference between concentrates in the high-70th percentile vs the low 90th percentile. These concentrates are from White Label Extracts, owned by Will Thysell, and tests were performed by OG Analytical.
Consumer Due Diligence Is Necessary
With such widespread discrepancies in testing, it’s important for cannabis connoisseurs to perform their own due diligence when purchasing CBD or THC extracts, concentrates, and tinctures. While hippies will simply push the benefits of cannabis over opiate- and benzo-based pharmaceuticals, safety can vary greatly in such an unregulated environment.
Don’t blindly listen to percentages spouted off by retail stores. This isn’t the street-drug trade we grew up on – we’re living in a modern society with modern chemicals being used to grow and process cannabis. Calling a bud or concentrate “medical-grade” doesn’t make it automatically safer than street weed. Like any other purchase, it’s important to question everything.
Before signing up with any cannabis dispensary as a patient or a recreational user, find out where they purchase their crops. Ask about the testing company they use, and label requirements in your state. Use your eyes and intuition instead of simply accepting everything you’re told.
The cancer-curing benefits of cannabis can easily be counteracted by the cancer-causing agents of pesticides. It’s up to us as a community to take a stand against unregulated dirty weed fouling up the rest of an honest industry.
Dr. Brian Penny is a former business analyst and operations manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer. His work has appeared in Main Street, Fast Company, BBC, Huffington Post, Cannabis Now, and Hardcore Droid.