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Chocolate is Really Confusing Cannabis Testers

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Aug 25, 2019   
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The combination of chocolate and cannabis, which has forever dazed marijuana users, is now confusing the cannabis professionals who analyze the infused edibles.

Researchers in California claim that components in chocolate could be interfering with cannabis potency tests, which could mean thousands of cannabis-chocolate products across the US are inaccurately labeled.

Weighing in

The research, which was presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society, found that one gram of cannabis-infused chocolate showed higher levels of THC than two grams of material. The analysts say this error indicates that the chocolate is disrupting the cannabis testing equipment.

“One gram gave higher values than two grams across the board,” David Dawson, a researcher at CW Analytical Laboratories, told Analytical Cannabis. “That is not what you expect. And that was with a commercially available chocolate bar. I got it off the shelf.”

After follow-up experiments, Dawson induced that the disruptive elements in the chocolate were likely its fats rather than any unique cocoa chemical, such as theobromine.

“I bought commercially available cocoa powder, baking chocolate, and white chocolate, all of which have different levels of chocolate components. The cocoa powder has minimal fats, the baking chocolate has natural cocoa fats but no added milk fats, and then the white chocolate has a lot of added dairy fats and sugars.”

“I ran an experiment with a THC solution and the cocoa powder had the least issues… so that points me away from the organic cocktail [of chocolate] and more to the fats.”

It’s currently unclear whether Dawson’s discovery is an isolated incident or reflective of a wider testing issue.

“I cannot really speak to how widespread this is because I have no idea how other labs are testing,” he said. “There is not a lot of collaborative communication between testing labs, but I am hoping that we eventually do come to the table.”

In California, where the finding was made, inaccurate label claims are the leading reason for denied licensing applications by the state regulator.

But if the testing error is common, Dawson warns that it won’t just be chocolate bars being mislabelled.

“If it’s [the] fats then that is not just an issue that pertains to chocolates,” he continued, “that is an issue that pertains to baked goods, brownies, topicals – any product with fat content.”

A fat load of cannabis

Most cannabis edibles rely on fats to bind with THC and carry the cannabinoid through the body’s epithelial layers to create the desired intoxication. When this is achieved, the edible’s psychotropic effect can last much longer than inhalable products.

Because of this potent reputation, many US states and countries have placed cannabis edibles under stricter regulations; the products will only be legal to buy in Canada this October, despite the country legalizing cannabis in October 2018.

Regardless of impediments, the edibles market is set to grow from $1 billion to $4.1 billion in Canada and the US between 2017 and 2022.

But in light of his findings, Dawson says that cannabis edibles still need higher testing standards before this consumer boom hits.

“I think this should be a microcosm of why we need to be investigating in the commercial sphere,” he said. “It's really shocking for an industry to come from decades of black-market obscurity and then, in the period of two years essentially, have FDA-pharmaceutical-level testing requirements on products.”

It’s not the first time cannabis analysts have called for more reform in edibles testing. Kim Rael, CEO of the cannabis edibles company Azuca, told Analytical Cannabis last year that inaccuracies are best addressed when the testing community acts together.

“My intent in discussing this challenge is not to accuse the labs of foul play, it’s quite the opposite,” he said. “Working within an industry where the scientific community is still fighting the technical and legal battles necessary to even establish reliable reference-standards for testing means that reduction in variability is something we as an industry must work together on, for the ultimate benefit of our patients.”

Dawson’s team now aim to test the levels of other cannabinoids, such as CBD, in more edible products, in the hopes of developing such standard methods for cannabis edibles potency testing.

Leo Bear-McGuinness

Science Writer & Editor

Leo joined Analytical Cannabis in 2019. From research to regulations and analysis to agriculture, his writing covers all the need-to-know news for the cannabis industry. He holds a Bachelor's in Biology from Newcastle University and a Master's in Science Communication from the University of Edinburgh.


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