Over Half of Hemp THC Products are Mislabeled, Report Finds
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The contents of more than half of hemp-based delta-9 THC products vary substantially from the doses claimed on their advertising labels, new testing has found.
According to a new report by CBD Oracle, with third-party testing conducted by Infinite Chemical Analysis Labs, some of these hemp products contain even more THC per serving than the average cannabis product.
The labeling concerns also go beyond potency; around one-sixth of products in the study lacked a warning label and nearly three-fourths didn’t display the Cannabis Universal Symbol on their packaging.
The report highlights a central question over the legality and regulation of hemp THC products and calls for companies to do more to improve their labeling, testing, and age verification practices. It also includes recommendations for lawmakers, such as considering state THC limits for hemp products and introducing a legal requirement for testing and age verification checks.
Hemp products are often mislabeled, and sometimes more potent than cannabis
For this report, CBD Oracle used search volumes and recommendations to identify 53 of the most popular hemp-derived delta-9 THC products available on the US market. After purchasing, these still-sealed products were passed on to InfiniteCAL for potency testing and impurity checks.
The products came from 48 unique brands, were produced by manufacturers based in 18 different states, and were estimated to represent around 40 percent of the total hemp delta-9 market. All 53 products underwent potency analysis. Ten were also randomly selected for safety testing.
Potency testing revealed that 96 percent of products fell within the 0.3 percent THC (by dry weight) limit on hemp products imposed by the 2018 Farm Bill. However, only 49 percent of the products contained a THC amount within 15 percent of that which was stated on the product label.
Many of the hemp product potencies actually exceeded the potency of similar cannabis products. While the most common hemp product potency here was 10 milligrams (mg) – in line with the 10 mg/serving limit for edibles imposed on cannabis products in several states – the actual potency of the hemp products ranged from 0.5 to 40 mg per serving. Collectively, 34 percent of the hemp products tested would have violated this 10 mg/serving limit if it were imposed on hemp products, despite the vast majority being compliant with the Farm Bill’s hemp guidelines.
Visual inspections of the product packaging found that 74 percent of products did not display the universal cannabis symbol – a warning symbol that is compulsory for cannabis products in legal cannabis states – in order to indicate that the product may contain large amounts of THC. Nine of the 53 products also failed to include any specific warning labels, such as “keep away from children or pets” or “do not consume if pregnant or breastfeeding”.
The vast majority of the products (81 percent) did not use child-proof containers and just 15 percent of products had an online age verification process at checkout. Only one product actually required an adult signature upon delivery.
Products are free of contaminants, but testing could be improved
Although a certificate of analysis (COA) is not a legal requirement for hemp products, there is tangible pressure from industry associations and customers to make these certificates publicly available so that consumers can verify the contents of the product they are purchasing. In this sample, 85 percent of products had a COA easily available online for verification.
However, 75 percent of the 53 total products did not have any records indicating that they were tested for impurities, such as heavy metals or pesticides. While the independent testing from InfiniteCAL did not detect the presence of any contaminants in the ten samples selected for safety analysis, the expectation is that companies should still be regularly testing for impurities in their products.
Of the COAs that were available, it was found that around 20 percent were awarded by labs that were not ISO accredited. Around 49 percent of the COAs also came from labs that were not DEA certified.
Accreditation and high laboratory standards are a critical part of ensuring consumer safety.
“One thing that's great in Michigan is the labs,” Josh Swider, CEO and founder of InfiniteCAL, previously told Analytical Cannabis. “There's only 11 out there right now compared to 34 in California, but once a month we have a phone call with the various people high up that can make changes, and actually get the ball rolling.”
“For example, in Michigan last week I talked about how I think it'd be very important to have a training session quarterly that every lab jumps on, where they go over problems that they're seeing or to clarify some regulations and things like that, a simple thing,” Swider said. “Within one week they set up a meeting.”
Without independent auditing from accreditation bodies or a centralized regulatory agency to assess these labs, such differences in laboratory practice can give rise to “lab shopping”, a practice where producers send off samples to laboratories with higher detection limits or unusual testing methods in order to ensure their products are more likely to pass.
“I’ve heard some very far-out-there methods for how they’re homogenizing their product,” Swider recalled. “I’ve heard of people beating a bag of marijuana with a rubber mallet, and that’s a certified testing lab.”
The legal gray zone of hemp THC
One of the central questions this report considers is the legality of hemp delta-9 THC products. As per the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp is defined as any cannabis plant or derivative that contains less than 0.3 percent delta-9 THC on a dry weight basis. While many believe that this wording was intended to stop the sale of intoxicating products, by the letter of the law, the only metric that matters is the weight percent of THC content.
This means that a hemp delta-9 edible weighing 10 grams could legally contain up to 30 mg of delta-9 THC, despite the legal limit for cannabis edibles generally being around 10 mg/serving.
“While I don’t think it was the intent of the authors of the 2018 Farm Bill to create a pathway for unregulated intoxicating cannabinoid products, the “spirit” of the law is not relevant when the text of the law is crystal clear which is the case when looking at the 2018 Farm Bill,” Neil Willner, an associate at RCCB Law, told CBD Oracle.
As Willner explained to CBD Oracle, the US Food and Drug Administration could choose to enforce the existing ban on adding THC or CBD to food (as per the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act) if there were significant concerns about these hemp products, but this action has not been taken.
Explaining the counter argument, Shawn Hauser, a partner at Vincente Sederberg, said, “the inherent flaw with that [interpretation] is that [the 2018 Farm Bill] said, ‘a dry-weight basis.’ That, by nature, doesn’t account for moisture and the weight of the gummy material, or whatever is in the oil.”
And if there weren’t already enough questions about the legality of hemp delta-9 THC products, chemical signatures in the lab results obtained by InfiniteCAL appear to indicate that 64 percent of products used an isomerization process to turn hemp CBD into THC to beef up their potency. A further 19 percent directly used additional THC derived from cannabis. Only nine products across the whole sample were found to be using natural hemp-derived THC.
This use of synthetic THC derived from hemp CBD raises another host of complex legal questions, as synthetic THC is listed as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. However, since the 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp and its derivatives from the Controlled Substances Act, it is unclear whether this is permissible.
To address some of the issues highlighted in its report, CBD Oracle suggests several recommendations. For companies, more needs to be done to improve their testing and age verification practices, as well as their labeling accuracy. While some individual states have already begun to address issues related to hemp THC products, CBD Oracle recommends more discussion around setting THC limits for hemp products, mandating age verification and product testing, and considering legal issues related to other minor cannabinoids and hemp derivatives so that this situation is not repeated.