Why Does Cannabis Need to be Lab Tested?

What You’ll Learn in This Article

  • Cannabis plants act as a sponge during cultivation and absorb everything to which they’re exposed.
  • Similar to tomatoes at a grocery store, there are acceptable limits that agencies have set for each foreign compound.
  • Lab testing is the only way to know the cannabinoid makeup and terpene profile of the cannabis product you’re consuming.

Cannabis has many medicinal benefits, and as all medicinal products have information regarding their strength and dosage information, cannabis products are starting to be held to the same standards. Regulations and standards for acceptable limits of specific compounds are currently being developed by international organizations to ensure cannabis products do not compromise a person’s immune system. The two major reasons cannabis products are tested in cannabis testing labs are: to verify the products are safe for human consumption, and to give consumers an idea of the potency of the product they are using.

The two major reasons cannabis products are tested are: to verify the products are safe for human consumption, and to give consumers an idea of the potency of the product they are using. (Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps)

What Do Cannabis Labs Test For?

Human Safety

Cannabis plants act as a sponge during cultivation and absorb everything to which they’re exposed, from the nutrients and heavy metals in the soil to the pesticides that may have found their way into a greenhouse from a neighboring farm. For this reason, cannabis products are now tested for any materials that can remain present in the final flower. Regulatory agencies have started establishing maximum quantity limits for residual solvents, pesticides, heavy metals, microbes, and mycotoxins in cannabis test results.

The use of pesticides, fungicides, and plant growth regulators on cannabis has been documented. These residual chemicals create potentially dangerous safety issues for patients when consumed. Mold and fungal contaminants can harm anyone who consumes medical cannabis, especially patients prone to asthma, allergies, or immune-system-compromised.

There are acceptable limits that agencies have set for each compound and they are all listed in a cannabis product’s certificate of analysis. (Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps)

Similar to the tomatoes at the grocery store or a shirt you buy online, there are acceptable limits that agencies have set for each compound and they are all listed in a cannabis product’s certificate of analysis, which shows the lab testing results and allows consumers to ensure the products they consume are free of unwanted residual solvents, microbiological contaminants, mycotoxins, heavy metals, and pesticides that can compromise a person’s immune system.

Cannabis Potency

Testing marijuana is the only way to know the cannabinoid makeup and terpene profile of the cannabis product. These two variables are the most important to consider when selecting your cannabis for effect, as they will directly influence the experience you will have.

Because cannabis is influenced so much by the environment in which it grows, a cultivar grown in one part of the world might look the same as an identical cultivar grown elsewhere, but it could contain different amounts of cannabinoids and terpenes, which can change your experience. In simple terms, one cultivator’s Blue Dream may have different potency and chemical makeup than another’s. Medical marijuana testing labs use cannabis testing equipment to determine this chemical makeup. For example, a cannabis lab technician may use a THC testing machine to measure the presence of this psychoactive compound. It is important to pay attention to the amounts of cannabinoids and terpenes present in cannabis prior to consumption to best anticipate the effects you may experience.

How to Open a Testing Lab

To open a cannabis testing lab, you should first determine the laws in your state regarding product testing and marijuana. Formal accreditation within your state may be necessary to open a lab. Next, decide whether your lab will test recreational marijuana, medical marijuana, or both. 

Recreational vs. Medical Marijuana Testing Labs

Recreational and medical marijuana medical testing labs are not necessarily housed in separate locations. The medical marijuana that doctors prescribe and the recreational weed that you enjoy at home may be tested in the same lab. However, the procedures used to test the cannabis may be different. For example, testing of medical marijuana may place greater emphasis on the potential healing properties of terpenes which include antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial, to name a few.