Study: How Accurate Are Edible Potency Labels?

Mellows – Handcrafted Marshmellows

As one of the most controversial products of the medical cannabis industry, marijuana edibles have received some of the harshest criticism in the mainstream media. A recent research letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has caused another stir by targeting a well-known problem in the business—the title of the letter was “Cannabinoid Dose and Label Accuracy in Edible Medical Cannabis Products.” Hear what High Times has to say about it, as we compare lab results of edible entries at past Cannabis Cups, along with judge’s commentary from Elise McDonough, author of The Official High Times Cannabis Cookbook.

Researchers used an “internet directory of dispensaries” (Weedmaps?) to chose three at random from San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle. Participants with a medical recommendation to use cannabis then went to each dispensary and picked out edible products that had THC content specifically labeled. The 75 products from 47 different brands they ended up with got lab tested for THC and CBD content.

Essentially running an edibles-only Cannabis Cup without any party, the study found that only 17 percent of the products had accurate labels. Twenty-three percent had more THC than they were supposed to have, and 60 percent had too little. Interestingly, edibles from Los Angeles were more likely to have less THC than their label said, while more products from Seattle had more THC than their label indicated. They considered a label to be accurate if the measured THC content came to within 10 percent of the label value.

What does High Times Cannabis Cup data have say on this topic? Looking at edible entries from the Seattle 2014, the Los Angeles 2015 and the Denver 2015 Cannabis Cups we see a similar trend, but the results aren’t quite as damning as those published in the JAMA.

By comparing McDonough’s carefully taken notes about potency labels of all the edible entries from each Cannabis Cup with the product’s corresponding lab tests, we were able to easily recreate the study published in the JAMA. Although the usable sample pool was significantly smaller at 58 as opposed to 75, we achieved similar but differing results.

We considered the same 10 percent margin that they did, and found that only seven percent of the sample pool had more THC than it was supposed to have, while 71 percent had too little. More importantly, 22 percent of samples in the pool had an accurate potency label, meaning the label came within 10 percent of the lab results.

While 22 percent is better than 17 percent, it still leaves the consumer with too much variability in potency labeling. Furthermore, our analysis only considered edibles that had labels in milligrams of THC per serving. Many edibles packaging list the potency in grams of cannabis or milligrams of BHO, neither of which help out much when trying to figure out a proper dose—not everyone knows the average THC content of cannabis or cannabis oil or is in the mood to do the math to figure it out.

When seeking edibles, consumers should look for products with a good reputation, preferably those recommended to you by trusted friends. Edibles maven McDonough said, “Certain edibles products are easier to homogenize, so it’s more likely that a chocolate bar or hard candy will be accurately dosed when compared to a baked good.”

Pockets of cannabutter spread unevenly throughout the batter, meaning some brownies, cookies and cakes will be more potent than others in the same batch. On the other hand, tried-and-true methods of herbal medicine delivery like tinctures and capsules are more likely to be correctly dosed.

Cannabis Cup winners have mastered accurate dosing, but if you can’t ascertain a product’s reputation, at least look for edibles that have lab results printed on the label with clear, concise dosage advice such as “Eat one 10 milligram section of chocolate and wait two hours.”

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