- Most edible cannabis products available in three major US cities have inaccurate labels, promising more active ingredients than they actually contain.
- Only 17 percent of the cannabis edibles tested had packaging accurately portraying the amount of THC, with 60% promising more THC than was actually present.
- Nearly a quarter of consumable cannabis products reportedly contained more THC than suggested, posing a potential risk of overdose and resulting mental health issues.
- Two out of five medical cannabis edibles did not contain any significant levels of CBD, further contributing to the mislabeling issue.
- The lack of federal regulation and proper labeling requirements is at the crux of these discrepancies, requiring states to instate quality-control policies and regulations ensuring labeling accuracy.
The integrity of medical cannabis products is being questioned, as research suggests that people suffering from various ailments are likely to receive less than they bargained for when investing in edible cannabis-infused products.
Most edible cannabis products available in three major US cities were found to have inaccurate labels, often promising more active ingredients than they actually contain, according to a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Scope of the Mislabeling Issue
Co-author of the study, Ryan Vandrey, highlights the core issue, noting, “The concern is that people are purchasing a product, and not getting what they are paying for.” He underscores the importance of this issue, explaining, “These are individuals who are using cannabis for a medical benefit, and they won’t get the benefit if the drug is not in there.”
A startling observation of the study demonstrated that only 17 percent of 75 cannabis edibles tested in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle had packaging accurately portraying the amount of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the chemical in cannabis renowned for its mind-altering effects.
Perturbingly, three out of five cannabis edibles showed lesser THC than was promised. “We had products that were supposed to have 200 milligrams and only had 2 or 3 milligrams,” Vandrey noted.
On the contrary, almost a quarter of consumable cannabis products reportedly contained more THC than suggested. This type of mislabeling could potentially lead to an overdose, instigating anxiety, paranoid delusions, panic attacks, or in worse cases, hallucinations or intense psychosis.
Overshooting the consumption of THC can lead to a long-lasting and unpleasant experience. “It can be a miserable experience, and through the edible route of administration, that miserable experience can last many hours,” he warned.
Sourcing and Selection Procedure
For this particular study, researchers collated 75 different types of edible cannabis products such as baked goods, drinks, candies, and chocolates, collectively covering 47 different brands. These items were legally procured from select medical dispensaries across the three cities.
Potential inconsistencies in results due to transportation restrictions were kept in check as testing was confined to labs located in the corresponding cities.
The study also revealed that two out of five medical cannabis edibles did not contain any significant levels of CBD (cannabidiol), a beneficial, non-psychoactive cannabis compound. Sadly, only a paltry 13 out of the 75 products tested made any attempt to detail their CBD content, all of which were mislabeled.
Crunching the numbers, the mean ratio of THC to CBD was 36 to 1. Only a single product had a 1 to 1 ratio, which is commonly associated with reduced side effects and enhanced clinical benefit, as per existing literature.
Reactions to the Findings
The mislabeling drew criticism from various sections. Mitch Earleywine, Chair of the pro-cannabis group NORML, labeled such inaccurate reporting as nothing short of “theft”. Any product having surplus THC was viewed as unacceptable and potentially disorienting.
However, he also noted that the reported research fell short of providing clear data on the precise quantity of THC that the mislabeled products contained, or their deviation from the acceptable range.
Regulatory Gaps and Future Measures
Expert opinion suggests that a critical lack of federal regulation and proper labeling requirements is allowing such discrepancies to occur. The issue is compounded by the wide range of possible doses due to plant-based manufacturing.
Dr. Jeremy Koppel, who is studying the use of medical cannabis to manage agitation in Alzheimer’s patients, posits, “If these guys don’t have to, they aren’t going to spend a lot a money testing and retesting and retesting to make sure their labeling is accurate.”
Experts stress that it is the responsibility of states to instate quality-control policies and regulations that ensure strict labeling accuracy for medical cannabis products, mirroring the standards held for other medicines.
Surprising THC Levels Beyond Medical Products
Not limited to medical cannabis, a recent study reports previously unseen THC levels, showing 30% levels in the retail supply in Colorado, where recreational use of cannabis is legal. This amount is a notable increase, being three times the THC level found in street cannabis three decades ago.
For further information on medical cannabis, visit the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse.