The Science of Cannabis Testing
Now that you can purchase cannabis in a store, it’s important to know exactly what you're buying and consuming.

Like most other consumer products, cannabis products that are commercially sold must be tested for potency and purity so consumers can make a more informed buying decision. 

Purity and potency of cannabis can vary a great deal as a result of different soils, environmental factors, and strains. Thanks to analytical cannabis testing and the data it reveals, both manufacturers and consumers can be more informed about the quality of cannabis products. 

We know why testing cannabis is important before it is distributed and sold to consumers, but what exactly goes on in the testing procedure? More specifically, what exactly are laboratory scientists testing for? 

THC:CBD Components

The two most abundant cannabinoids in the cannabis plant are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). Different strains may have different levels of each. It's important to know whether a product is more dominant in THC or CBD, because the effects can vary wildly. 

THC is the psychoactive cannabinoid that gets users high, while CBD does not produce any mind-altering effects. While many of their benefits overlap, each cannabinoid is distinct, and identifying the potency of a cannabis product in terms of THC:CBD is critical before consumption.

When cannabis is tested for its potency, the final product must be clearly labeled so you can choose the right product for the effects you’re seeking. 

Purity, Physical and Chemical Contamination

Of course, cannabis runs the risk of contaminants that affect its purity. Like with any crop, pesticides may be used to protect plants from pests and disease carriers. But such pesticides can be harmful for human consumption. 

While certain pesticides may be allowed to be used when growing cannabis, others are off-limits due to government regulations. Proper testing laboratory testing will identify the presence of any and all pesticides that could be in the plant.

Other chemical contaminants scientists test for include residual solvents, such as ethanol and butane. While a minimal amount of such solvents might be acceptable from a regulatory standpoint, too much could pose a problem. 

The legal amount of additives allowed will vary from one state to the next, and the third-party labs conducting the testing will need to ensure that the levels detected fall under compliance in the state in question. 

Laboratories also test for toxins like mold and mildew. Exposure to such toxins can cause negative effects in humans, including allergies and infections. 

If too much moisture is present at any stage of the growing, cultivating, and harvesting process, mold and mildew can grow. They can also develop as a result of inadequate cleanliness from grow technicians.  

If cannabis is not carefully grown or packaged, contaminants like dirt, dust, and other debris can make their way into the end products. Lab testing will help identify the presence of these physical contaminants.

Heavy metals like lead or mercury may also be found in cannabis products, which can compromise their purity and safety. These contaminants will also be tested during the lab testing process.

Lab testing will help identify the presence of these physical contaminants.

Nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy: This analytical chemistry method is used to test the quality, content, and purity of a cannabis sample. It's also used to test and identify the molecular structure. 

Nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy works on the premise that nuclei are electrically charged. An external magnetic field is applied, making it possible for an energy transfer to take place at a wavelength that corresponds to radio frequencies. Placing a sample in a magnetic field and charging it with radio waves will stimulate the nuclei, making it easier to detect them by radio receivers. 

The goal is to measure the magnetic fields' change in frequency, which will then help scientists to identify the molecular structure and chemical compounds.

Polymerase chain reaction testing: Also known as PCR, this molecular biology technique is able to detect species-specific mold strains by amplifying and analyzing DNA sequences that are present in cannabis. The process involves taking a double-stranded DNA sample and exposing it to heat, which will split the double strand into single strands.

Short single-stranded DNA sequences are then added to align with corresponding parts of the DNA, after which DNA polymerase is introduced to extend the sequence. This creates two copies of the original double-stranded DNA. The signals produced will help scientists identify the presence of certain species of harmful mold in the cannabis sample.

Significance of Cannabis Testing

You may be seeking out cannabis in order to experience a specific effect, but you don't want to do so if you're unsure about the quality of what you're using or consuming. For that specific reason, cannabis is lab tested. 

By testing for levels and concentration of THC and CBD, residual solvents, contaminants, and any mold or mildew, you can make a more informed decision about what you're buying and consuming. Even the same strains can yield different results when tested, depending on who grows the plants. 

That’s why it's crucial to test for potency and genetic makeup before products are shipped out and distributed for commercial sale, and state governments have strict regulations as far as this is concerned.

States where medical and recreational marijuana are legal require that cannabis testing and distribution strictly adhere to state laws, with each state having their own programs surrounding these requirements. Each state will also require that cannabis testing labs be properly accredited and meet all licensure requirements.

But while the required testing may vary from one state to the next, safety and quality of cannabis and its derivatives must remain constant. 

Before cannabis can be distributed and made available for sale, it must comply with all state regulations. That way, consumers and the producers who develop cannabis products can rest assured knowing that only safe, high-quality products are being distributed, sold, and enjoyed. 

Final Thoughts

Cannabis and its colorful array of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids certainly have a place in the world of health and wellness. But their safety and efficacy must be tested first before they reach the first consumer. In order to know exactly what you're taking in terms of THC vs CBD and the presence of contaminants, the product must first undergo rigorous testing first. 

Protecting cannabis consumers is the responsible thing to do – and it's also the law.