Cannabis Equipment Marketplace

Cannabis Potency Variability and Cost-Effective Testing

Executive summary

Accurate drug labeling is critically important for patient and consumer health, and medical cannabis is no exception. While many of the jurisdictions regulating cannabis sales have begun to label the medicinally active ingredients of products, few have established methods for accurate and representative labeling. The problem of representative labeling is complicated by cannabis’ wide-ranging potency. An individual batch of commercial cannabis will contain hundreds or thousands of flower specimens of varying potencies. One solution for a representative estimate is to test multiple samples and average the results. However, current laboratory potency tests are lengthy and costly, making multiple tests impracticable. By contrast, spectral examination methods, though less accurate than the current industry standard, offer a quick and cost-effective way to leverage multiple tests. This white paper documents an extensive research study on the potency variance of cannabis batches legally acquired in Israel. It then deduces the number of spectral examination results required to achieve the accuracy of the industry standard method. In the end, spectral examination proves to be a far quicker technology capable of the same representativeness at a lower cost.  As cannabis and cannabis-based medicines gain international acceptance, myriad questions arise concerning their efficacy, dosing, delivery methods, and potency. Unfortunately, many of these questions have gone unanswered due to cannabis prohibition. Good Manufacturing Practices, as they apply to other pharmaceuticals, have not been uniformly enforced, if they have been enforced at all. The lack of pharmaceutical potency standardization, and the fledgling status of commercial cannabis analysis, should be of concern to prescribing doctors and medically fragile end users. In the foreseeable future, supply chain stakeholders may be liable for potency labeling errors. As cannabis moves from the black market into clinical acceptance, labeling will naturally be held to pharmaceutical standards. If pharmaceutical corporations were to sell products with active ingredient variance similar to cannabis crops, class-action legal suits would soon arise. Accurate potency labeling will be a priority for retailers, if only for the reason of self-preservation. Cannabis labeling accuracy stems from the plant itself; cannabinoid content varies widely, even within a single commercial crop. Research has documented this variability,1,2,3 but a casual survey of products for legal sale shows that cannabis doesn’t lend itself to potency standardization. It’s well known that potency differs between cannabis strains but, in fact, potency varies between plants of the same crop and even between flowers taken from the same plant.4 So, the concentrations of the active ingredients of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) in an individual commercial batch range widely. For that reason, cannabis testing cannot be approached in the same way as a single-compound pharmaceutical, neatly contained in a tablet or intravenous compound. While traditional pharmaceuticals are carefully tested by standards established uniquely for each patented drug,5 the ratios of THC, CBD and other cannabinoids continually shift expectations. Evidently, non-traditional and application-specific approaches to cannabis testing are needed.

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