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The Future of Pesticide Testing in Cannabis: What Cultivators Need to Know

ByTrichome Team

March 5, 2022

Reading Time: 3 minutes

AOAC—a nonprofit science organization that uses scientific rigor and proven processes to keep food and environments safe—is starting a new conversation about pesticide contamination testing, and it has big implications for the cannabis industry.

The organization has issued an open call to develop and submit pesticide testing methods that meet specific performance requirements. The method developed could then be adopted as an official AOAC-approved method for use on cannabis, potentially shaping cannabis testing policy at the state level. Here’s what it means for labs, cultivators and the industry as a whole.

104 is the Magic Number

AOAC has designated 104 pesticides for testing with recommended action limits for each. And not at random: the list is drawn from various state regulations as well as Canadian regulatory bodies. The goal is to develop a repeatable method for detecting and quantifying all 104 pesticides in cannabis that meets the recommended action limits. At Trichome Analytical, we’ve been working diligently on a method to submit, which our Chief Scientific Officer Tom Barkley will discuss at length in an upcoming free webinar at the 2022 Pittcon Conference on Thursday, March 17th. This transnational conference, which presents the latest advances in analytical research and scientific instrumentation, is designed for anyone who works within the broad field of laboratory science. We highly recommend anyone interested in up-and-coming testing methods for cannabis (and beyond) attend.

States have various standards for the presence of pesticides and levels of contamination on cannabis products. This latest development to include 104 pesticides in a testing method takes the broadest look at these requirements to suggest a harmonized method meeting all existing state requirements. Such a testing method and action limits may also serve as the basis for possible future federal regulations down the line.

Consumer Safety is at the Heart

When pesticides are combusted and inhaled, they can cause serious harm to cannabis consumers and patients. Immunocompromised individuals or those with health issues pertaining to their lungs are considered most at risk, although it can be argued that nobody, regardless of health status, should be inhaling pesticides. Pesticide and insecticide exposure is linked to higher levels of oxidative stress and inflammation, and can actually worsen symptoms of neurological disorders patients may be using cannabis for.

Since flower is still the most commonly consumed form of cannabis, it’s important to make sure these products are safe and free from potentially harmful pesticide residues. However, consuming cannabis in other, more processed or concentrated forms doesn’t always remove the danger: pesticides (and other contaminants) are found in all formats of cannabis products.

What Cultivators and Processors Can Do Now

Due to environmental drift, even cannabis grown with the highest level of care and caution can test positive for pesticides, especially if grown outdoors. This rings true for a host of contamination issues, from heavy metals to mycotoxins—cultivators can’t necessarily control what their neighbors are doing, nor can they be sure industries in the area are adhering to dumping or pollution regulations that could impact the safety of groundwater. Some pesticides have even been designated as “forever chemicals” and may still remain in the environment despite being banned decades ago.

We recommend that, especially for outdoor or sungrown cultivation, growers not only test the soil but also plant a few trial-run plants and have those tested by a reputable, third-party laboratory for contamination of all kinds. It’s important to exercise caution when it comes to staking out new areas for cultivation, and a laboratory with expertise in cannabis products and testing methods can help with proper quantification of contaminants.

Each year that passes brings the potential for federal legalization closer and closer. But now is the time to act: We expect more stringent state regulations in the lead-up to any kind of federal legalization, and many state regulators turn to the AOAC to determine their policies regarding contamination. Working to ensure compliance with pesticide contamination regulations now will set businesses up for success in the future, federal legalization or not.