4 min read

Cannabis Lab Shopping is Damaging the Whole Industry. Here’s How to Avoid Getting Burned.

ByTrichome Team

September 27, 2022

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Cannabis lab shopping might not be well known to the average cannabis consumer, but that’s starting to change. Growing evidence of its existence and some recent high-profile incidents are now catching the attention of the media, and the issue is making its way into more mainstream coverage.

Lab shopping is driven mainly by manufacturers seeking the highest possible THC content for their flower or concentrates in order to get the greatest financial return—and to satisfy a market that still considers high THC levels to be the gold standard. This type of cannabis potency inflation might not seem like a big deal on the surface, but it points to greater deficiencies in the system that have far-reaching consequences for consumer safety.

Lack of Cannabis Education

Education and assistance in selecting products are severely lacking in New Jersey’s industry. Until consumers understand that high THC levels do not automatically translate to the best flower and concentrates, lab shopping will continue. The state currently has only a few adult-use dispensaries—most with lines out the door— and customers are not getting the service required to make an informed decision about what product to buy. 

When evaluating a product in New Jersey, consumers are more or less left to fend for themselves and really only have a couple details to examine: cannabinoid type/quantity and terpene type/quantity. If the customer is not an expert they are likely to assume that choosing the product with the highest level of THC will provide the best bang for the buck. And even savvy consumers who know potency is not everything might not be able to properly judge a product or compare products from different providers due to lab shopping.

What Are the Dangers of Lab Shopping? 

The two main reasons companies lab shop are to get higher potency scores and lower microbial results. Medical patients and/or adult-use consumers who rely on consistent products are those most affected when contaminated or incorrectly labeled products make it to the marketplace. They cannot make informed decisions, including dosing amounts, without accurate labeling. On the contaminant side, medical patients are also the ones at most risk from potential contaminants in the product due to poor lab practices. Those poor practices not only put consumers at potential risk, they also undermine the industry. Legal weed is supposed to be a safe, legitimate product to purchase. If it’s not, then what’s the point? It would be better to just decriminalize and deschedule if that’s how the legal industry operates.

On the operator side, the short-term gains lab shopping provides include the ability for labs to stay in business and companies to sell their products on dispensary shelves. But taking that fraudulent path can come back ten-fold, with class action lawsuits and recalls, causing brand-damaging publicity that could ruin a company.

How Do Testing Labs Enhance Potency?

There are a variety of ways laboratories could purposefully and inaccurately enhance potency. Improper manipulation of the sample during preparation through overdrying or selective subsampling (which increases the THC concentration) and blatantly dry labbing results (making it up) are some known methods. Often, laboratories simply do not even realize they are inadvertently increasing the potency results due to poor method development. If business is good and profits are rolling in, they might not be motivated to dig into the why.

Some labs also purposefully use unapproved methods for microbial testing which are known to underestimate the amount of yeast and mold within the sample. Trichome Analytical only uses AOAC approved methods for this type of analysis.

What Can States Do to Improve Their Cannabis Industries?

There are several ways that states can take action to curb potency inflation, flawed testing methods, inaccurate labeling and fraud. All states with legal markets should have a state-run lab that can run reference tests to confirm private lab results. The state should also regularly audit labs and inspect the data gathered for inaccuracies and inconsistencies. Data monitoring by the state in METRC will reveal outliers and round robin testing between in-state laboratories will do wonders for the safety of consumers and the culture of the testing side of the industry. Blind testing of products is also effective in confirming and denying results.

At the moment, in the absence of state oversight, it falls on consumers to demand the standards they deserve. In Arkansas, for example, medical cannabis patients were forced to act when they realized that they were not getting the correct amount of medicine as claimed by the labels on the cannabis they were purchasing. The patients took it into their own hands to hold the companies and labs accountable by filing a class action lawsuit.

What Can Operators and Consumers Do to Protect Themselves?

It is clear that not all cannabis testing labs operate according to the same standard, and not all operate with an acceptable level of transparency and accountability. Operators should be able to ask questions of a lab and receive clear and concise answers. Any type of pushback or ambiguity from the lab should be viewed as a red flag. Trustworthy laboratories need to be willing to engage in thoughtful discussion with clients to ensure results are correct and accurate. Labs should also be available to help operators better understand the results of their products’ tests and the methods they used during testing.

Consumers need to make sure that their provider is transparent regarding the testing of any product purchased. New Jersey’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission Resolution 2021-9 states that, “…the Alternative Treatment Center shall make Certificates of Analysis received from the Independent Testing Laboratory available to patients and caregivers upon request…” The Certificate of Analysis (COA) documents what tests were performed, how they were performed and lists the results. If the provider is not able to do so, the consumer should report them to the Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC). If enough consumers step up, perhaps they can effect real change to address the alarming lack of COAs currently available to consumers across the state.

Learn more about Trichome Analytical’s testing services for New Jersey, New York and emerging markets.