Patients and medical practitioners need to understand what exactly is in their product. As this industry moves forward, a critical change will be the role of testing. Federally mandated testing is a large part of food, drugs, and herbal products. Canada's MMPR regulation requires testing, but what exactly is being tested and how are the tests performed?
If you have received medical marijuana through a licensed produced under Health Canada's MMPR program you may have noticed that the packaging, as well as the website you ordered from, has percentages for THC (delta 9 – tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) listed. Health Canada requires that licensed producers test each batch or lot of marijuana product for potency, and report the potency (THC and CBD) to their patients. Marijuana is a complex organism.
Like many other natural products it contains thousands of compounds, many of which have yet to be discovered or understood. Separating out the THC and CBD from the diverse soup of compounds contained in your marijuana is essentially like looking for a few needles in a big haystack. Chromatography is the chemist's way of sorting out that haystack. In the cannabis world, potency is tested by liquid chromatography or gas chromatography.
Although there are some promising techniques for testing potency such as Sage Analytics Luminary Profiler device which uses spectroscopy instead of chromatography, chromatography is currently the industry standard method used in Cannabis testing labs.
Cannabis products are tested for metals, microbiological purity, and mycotoxins. Rigorous testing means products should be free of E. coli and salmonella. Other microorganisms like S. aureus, yeast, and mold should be kept well below food-safe levels as well. There is a maximum limit for metals such as cadmium, mercury, arsenic, and lead. These standards comply with pharmacopeia limits for natural health products and other, similar products made in Canada. Testing for cannabinoid concentration, including CBD and THC, ensure patients receive only the highest quality products. Testing is so very important to ensure quality and safety specifications are met. In a perfect situation, products should be traceable from the starting plant material up to the client package, and they are assigned lot numbers to be used in the unlikely event of a recall.
Bacteria and mold can affect almost any plant crop, marijuana is no exception. Exposure to bacteria and mold may lead to infections, which is a particular risk for medical users with immune-related conditions. This is one of the reasons most products are treated with gamma irradiation. Taking measures to control mold and bacteria, but irradiation fully eliminates their presence. Irradiation is a recognized and reputable control process that does not alter the chemical properties of dried marijuana. Many of the food products Canadians consume every day, including meats and spices, are treated with gamma irradiation. Integrated pest management practice means we don't need to use chemical pesticides. Most importantly - cannabis products need to be produced in a controlled environment to ensure the consistency of each lot.
Inputs, including irrigation water and growing medium need to be tested. Plant health and eventual material quality are a direct result of consistent, safe inputs.