Cannabis-Infused Edibles Analysis Reveals Inaccurate, Unreliable Labeling
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Cannabis for use in producing edibles can come in many forms from loose plant material, kilo bricks, buds to cannabis resin (hashish) and hash oil. Preparation for extraction involves drying, grinding and dissolving to release the medicinal cannabinoid fingerprints to be used in everything from brownies, cookies, and lollipops to gummies. Cannabis contains over 400 different chemical compounds including more than 100 cannabinoids (1) with different strains and growing conditions determining the cannabinoid concentration. As the plant ages, degradation alters some of these compounds and, their medicinal properties.
The current focus in the analysis of cannabis-infused edibles has been on THC and less frequently on CBD content. The potency of a cannabis-infused edible has been identified by its THC concentration. Current labeling requirements in states allowing recreational cannabis use vary and laws may require total milligrams delta-9-THC and the number of servings per package with a recommended 10 mg THC per serving (2).
Because cannabis is illegal at the federal level, no federal quality control, labeling, and food safety regulations are mandated. Despite the value of CBD/cannabidiol in edibles, few manufacturers report CBD content and if they do, it can be just as inaccurate as THC labeling.
Inaccuracies in labeling and inconsistencies in formulation were reviewed in the Denver Post in 2014 (3). The actual THC content differed significantly from the amount claimed on the label which led to a requirement in Colorado that THC concentration be assessed to ensure edibles did not contain more than 100 mg THC per serving (4). But this is NOT a measure to ensure label accuracy.
Numerous cannabis edible samples were purchased for analysis by EVIO Labs (www.eviolabs.com) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. They are an ISO 17025 accredited laboratory with competence and calibration certification. A summary of the analysis of 4 cannabis-infused products follows:
Kush Cakes sold on Amazon as "Premier Relaxation Brownie". Label states "formulated by a pharmacist" and indicates no more than one brownie should be consumed per 24 hours.
- Cost $5 each (56 grams)
- Result: CBD 0.00 mg/g and THC 0.00 mg/g
Cannabis Chocolate "To Whom It May" (California) with "high CBD" marked on the bottom of the box.
- Cost 4 truffles = $50
- Result: Zak truffle = CBD 0.52 mg/g and THC 0.00 mg/g
- Result: Ralph truffle CBD 0.40 mg/g and THC 0.01 mg/g
CBD Milk Chocolate Bar label states "20 mg 100% active CBD oil".
- Cost $10.50 (20 gram bar)
- Result: CBD 0.42 mg/g or 8.4 mg per bar and THC 0.00 mg/g
Hemp Gummies by Serenity label states 10 mg CBD per gummie
- Cost $1 to $2 per gummie
- Result: (5 gummies = 20 g) CBD 2.93 mg/g and THC 0.00 mg/g
- 1 gummie = 0.586 mg CBD
Cannabis-infused edibles are a convenient, discrete and tasty way to deliver CBD and/or THC for individuals preferring not to smoke or vape. Medical dispensaries are selling edibles but who is analyzing and determining the potency of CBD and THC? As the market moves to offer flavored drinks, teas, and infused nuts and fruit snacks, how is potency being analyzed so individuals can know what they are purchasing? How can dosing have any credibility if labeling accuracy is so poor like the examples described? Cannabis-infused products are expensive and the fastest way for the medical benefits of cannabis to be disregarded is from mislabeling and poor analysis.
As research continues to show the benefits of whole plant components- cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids discussed in Cannabis- A Clinician's Guide (5) why is analysis ONLY focused on THC potency? Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol is the psychoactive component but medicinal benefits from CBN, THCV, CBG, CBC along with cannabidiol (CBD) and terpenes need to be assessed and labeled to evaluate the therapeutic value of a specific product (6).
Steep Hills Labs explained the difficulty in getting an accurate analysis at the Pittsburgh Cannabis Conference in 2017. First the flowers must be tested if they are to be used in the production of an edible. This provides the amount of cannabinoid and terpene available for extraction. After extraction, testing determines how much cannabinoid and terpenoid extracts are available for use in making the "cannaceutical". Each testing stage can be costly and the inefficiency of extraction can result in up to 30 to 60 percent loss of cannabinoids and terpenoids.
Colorado passed No Edible Marijuana Products Shaped To Entice Kids legislation in 2016 (7) and another regulation requiring cannabis-infused edibles to have the universal symbol [! THC] within a diamond on the package. In addition, the legislation eliminates the difference in the amount that can be sold between in-state and out-of-state residents and requires the potency of the marijuana concentrate to be posted next to the name of the product on the display case (8). Canada is aiming to legalize cannabis-infused edibles a year after recreational marijuana is legalized across the nation in September 2018 (9).
Cannabis users have long made their own edibles but as mass production for a general population is undertaken, dosing guidelines are needed beyond the THC content. The general guideline is: 1-2.5 mg THC = mild pain relief, improved focus; 2.5-15 mg THC = stronger symptom relief, euphoria; 15-30 mg THC = impaired coordination, altered perception (10). These dosing guidelines may be appropriate for the new user but not a regular user who needs pain relief and symptom management in multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease or dementia.
Colorado and Washington declare one serving of cannabis-infused edible as 10 mg delta-9-THC but that overlooks CBD content which can act to control the receptor activity of THC (11). What about the cancer patient who uses cannabis- infused edibles not just for pain management but tumor suppression? When no data is provided on terpenes and flavonoids which provide antioxidant benefits, how can a cost-effective product be chosen?
Extracting cannabinoids from the cannabis plant can be done by steeping buds in butter or coconut oil or using a solvent like butane. Testing for solvent removal is just as important as analysis for pesticides and microorganisms. It is critical for any consumer but especially for those with immune disorders like Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis and lupus. Labels may not be large enough for the display of all the data needed in making an informed cannabis choice, but it needs to be available in dispensaries upon request.
More than 40 million servings of cannabis-infused edibles were described by Boero in his Food Technology 2017 article (12) and over 600 million servings are expected to be consumed by 2021. A national 2016 study of U.S. adults showed that almost 30 percent of the respondents had used edible cannabis products (13) but few studies are available since marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug that "has no currently accepted medical use" according to the DEA.
California's Proposition 215 (Compassionate Use Act of 1996) legalized medical marijuana and opened the door for more people to benefit from its medicinal qualities. In 2014 Colorado reported 1.96 million units of edible medicinal cannabis-infused products and 2.85 million units of edible retail cannabis-infused products were sold which accounted to 45 percent of the total cannabis sales in the state (14).
Accurate testing and labeling needs to be required for the cannabis market to thrive and gain the trust of the medical community and consuming public. Cannabis-infused edibles are considered one of the top 10 food trends for 2018. Science and technology needs to ensure that it is safe for everyone to use.
1. Radwan MM, ElSohly MA, El-Alfy AT, et al. Isolation and pharmacological evaluation of minor cannabinoids from high-potency Cannabis sativa. J Natural Products;78(6):1271-1276.
2. Vandrey R, Raber JC, Raber ME, et al. Cannabinoid dose and label accuracy in edible medical cannabis products. JAMA 2015; 313(24):2491-2493.
3. Baca R. Tests show THC content in marijuana edibles is inconsistent. The Denver Post. Mar 8,2014.
4. Orens A, Light M, et al. Marijuana equivalency in portion and dosage. Colorado Dept of Revenue, Denver, CO. 2015.
5. Wedman-St Louis B. Cannabis- A Clinician's Guide. CRC Press 2018.
6. Russo EB. Taming THC: Potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpene entourage effects. British J Pharmacology 2011; 163(7):1344-1364.
7. HB 16-1436 Colorado General Assembly. No Edible Marijuana Product Shaped To Entice Kids 2016.
8. HB 16-1261 Colorado General Assembly. Retail Marijuana Sunset. 2016.
9. Bill C-45 "A Framework for Legalization and Regulation of Cannabis in Canada". Health Canada 2017. "Proposed approach to the regulation of cannabis: summary of comments received during public consultation". www.canada.ca.
10. Malka D. Delivery and dosage of cannabis medicine. Medical marijuana- an educational symposium for Florida physicians. June 3, 2017. www.slideshare.net/CannaHoldings/delivery-and-dosage-ofcannabis-medicine-by deborah-malka-md-phd.
11. Hayakawa K, Mishima K, Hazekava M, et al. Cannabinoid potentiates pharmacological effects of 9-tetrahydrocannabinol via CB1 receptor-dependent mechanism. Brain Research 2008;1188:157-164.
12. Boero FJ. Bring food science into the cannabis, hemp edibles conversation. www.IFT.org/Food-Technology/Perspectives/2017/August/02/bring-food-scirnce-into-the-cannabis-hemp-edibles-conversation.aspx.
13. Schauer GL, King BA, et al. Toking, vaping, and eating for health or fun: marijuana use patterns in adults, US 2014. American J of Preventive Medicine 2016;50(1):1-8.
14. Brohl B, Kaammerzell R, Koski WL. Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division: Annual update. CO Dept of Revenue, Denver, CO. 2015.