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Inter-State Cannabis Testing is Too Inconsistent, Say Americans For Safe Access

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Jul 13, 2023   
Person in PPE touches cannabis plants.

Image credit: iStock

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The testing landscape of the legal US cannabis industry is too fractured, according to the non-profit Americans For Safe Access (ASA).

Not all states require cannabis to be tested for the same contaminants and qualities – an inconsistency that could be putting the health of consumers at risk, according to a new report from the ASA.

To bring harmony to this discord, the ASA says it is “essential” the cannabis testing sector establish a consistent set of standards that can be applied to all markets.

Americans For Safe Analysis

In its new report, the ASA compared the testing requirements of 42 US states and territories (Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands) with legal cannabis access.

It found that 97.6% require cannabinoid testing. This was the most common test type across all 42 regions – yet the ASA still had some critiques. It said that most states “are failing patients and consumers” by not requiring the testing of additional cannabinoids beyond the five prime chemicals (THC, THCA, CBD, CBDA, CBN) and not consistently requiring homogeneity testing for edible products.

Three fewer regions (90.5%) require microbial testing. Even fewer regions (68.3%) test for the aflatoxins that Aspergillus species can produce, the ones that can prove toxic to immunocompromised patients. The ASA also reserved some criticisms for the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP), which has an oft-referenced monograph detailing the microbiological testing requirements for cannabis flowers and extracts but not for edibles, topicals, and transdermal products.

Thirty-five regions (83.3%) require residual solvent testing. Some states look to the AHP for residual solvent limits, others reference the monograph from the United States Pharmacopeia (USP). The ASA says both sets of action limits are the same, however. The non-profit criticized the USP’s monograph, though, for failing to recognize that hydrocarbons (which can leave behind residual solvents) are used in cannabis extraction processes.

Thirty-four regions (81%) require pesticide testing. The ASA said there is still a lack of research into the effects of pesticide vaporization and inhalation, which need to be addressed.

Four fewer regions (71.4%) mandate heavy metals testing. The ASA said that, at minimum, all four major heavy metals (mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic) should be tested for in each region with legal cannabis access.

Five fewer states and territories (59.5%) require moisture content testing. Just 38.1% mandate foreign matter testing. And only nine regions (21.4%) require terpene testing.

After summarizing its findings in its report, the ASA made three recommendations for future action.

First, it called on the US Congress to create a National Office of Medical Cannabis and Cannabinoid Control. Such a federal body, the non-profit says, could work with state governments to develop and implement standardized testing programs.

Second, it advocated for a thorough inspection process throughout the cannabis supply chain.

“These inspections would focus on ensuring adherence to quality control standards, proper handling of cannabis products, and the implementation of good agricultural and manufacturing practices,” the ASA wrote in its report.

Third, it called for each state to adopt a comprehensive testing program that would include lab accreditation and consumer education.

Further calls for action

The ASA report certainly isn’t the first call for higher, more comprehensive testing standards in the US cannabis industry.

A study published in Environmental Health Perspectives last year concluded that national-level testing guidelines should be strongly considered.

The study searched through the testing requirements of the 36 states (and the District of Columbia) that had legalized some form of cannabis as of May 2022. In total, the researchers found a total of 679 contaminants listed in these regulations. And, just like the ASA, the researchers observed that these contaminant tests weren’t equally distributed across the states.

“The current discrepancy in state-level regulations suggests that some cannabis users may have a higher level of contaminant exposure in some states than in other states,” lead study author Maxwell Leung, an assistant professor at Arizona State University, told Analytical Cannabis at the time.  

“Such a discrepancy may also confuse the manufacturers and discourage compliance.”

“A national-level policy based on conventional human health risk assessment methodologies – similar to what has been applied to other agricultural and food commodities and drugs sold in the US – would provide better protection to recreational users as well as medical patients.”


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