Testing - The key to providing clean, safe medicine
By Saif Khan
Testing of cannabis and hemp derived medicines is a relatively new stipulation for the wellness industry. As protocols continue to develop, it is fundamental for potential patients and consumers to understand why testing is essential to guaranteeing the purity, potency, and composition of their medicine.
Why We Test Our Products?
The main reason testing is so important is to confirm that a product is free of any toxic material that could be harmful, especially to someone with a compromised immune system. These toxic materials include - heavy metals, pesticides, mold, bacteria or other microbes & microorganisms. The presence of these compounds can result in infection and even exacerbate the negative symptoms of a patient’s condition in extreme cases.
As hemp and cannabis plants are excellent accumulators of the various compounds found in their growing soil, they must be carefully cultivated in optimal conditions to avoid any chance of contamination that could taint the final medicinal product.
At Lock & Key, we are proud to have all of our products meticulously tested by a third-party laboratory - ProVerde - to ensure that we are providing safe, high-quality medicine to our clients.
In this piece, we will explain what each part of our test is checking for, and what that means for consumers.
Perhaps the most well-documented component of testing - verifying the number of cannabinoids present and the concentration of each cannabinoid. Many tests only provide data for THC and CBD, but there are over 100 other cannabinoids that can also be found in the cannabis and hemp plants. In our lab tests, we show the percentage - the overall total amount of each cannabinoid by weight - and the concentration of the tincture. - how much of each cannabinoid is contained in milligrams per milliliter.
What this means is that patients and clients can easily and quickly check the ratios that are most suited to treating their ailment or condition and know how highly concentrated the formulation is. This allows patients to accurately titrate their dosage to suit their needs, which is often one of the most difficult parts of using cannabis medicine effectively.
Terpenes are the fragrant oils found abundantly in plants, spices and roots; and comprise the second group of beneficial compounds in our tinctures. Just as the cannabinoid profile refers to the number, distribution, and concentration of cannabinoids, the terpene profile represents the same data for this set of compounds. Due to the synergistic nature of terpenes and cannabinoids, they are often able to act as enhancers, thereby increasing the medical potential of cannabinoids. Scientists have referred to this as the ‘entourage effect’ or the ‘ensemble effect’ to demonstrate the complementary nature of these two types of compounds.
Our terpene profile is represented as color-coded bars to indicate how many parts per million are in the solution. In this case, the terpenes are the solute (individual component within a mixture) in the overall solution, so a terpene test showing a value of 6 ppm means that there are 6 milligrams of said terpene in one liter of liquid solution. While terpene tests are gradually becoming more commonplace, we pride ourselves on being one of the first wellness brands to provide a detailed breakdown of the 35 most prevalent terpenes found in hemp and cannabis.
This comprises the first section of our lab report that details the undesirable compounds that can remain in cannabis and hemp derived medicine, primarily a group of elements known as ‘heavy metals’.
Presence of these metals can sometimes come from circumstances outside the cultivator’s control, such as environmental pollution, but for indoor cultivation, it is usually a result of the fertilizers and pesticides used. As hemp is very efficient at absorbing everything through its root system, this can mean that plants processed into concentrated extracts - such as tinctures, oils, and ointments - can end up with unsafe levels of heavy metals in them. The most dangerous of these have limits measured in micrograms - 1 billionth of a kilogram - and are well-known toxins, such as Arsenic, Lead, Mercury, and Cadmium.
Due to a lack of an industry-wide set of practices when it comes to these metals, it can be difficult to determine what constitutes a ‘safe’ amount to ingest or inhale. Our tests are done in compliance with Massachusetts regulations, which we felt to be the most diligent and stringent when testing beyond cannabinoids and terpenes.
A component of testing that becomes ever more important as consumers educate themselves on what goes into the production of their medicines, pesticides became a serious concern after reports of California patients receiving contaminated cannabis emerged earlier this year. A number of the pesticides that were commonly used in indoor cultivation have since been banned or more strictly controlled. While pesticides are used to protect crops from insect and mite infestations, the chemicals contained within can be harmful if consumed. Once again, what is deemed ‘acceptable’ levels of pesticide residue in finished product varies from state to state, making it difficult for consumers to know if the medicine they have access to is safe. Our testing lab in Massachusetts checks for 19 separate chemicals regularly found in pesticides, and we are proud to say that our product tests well below the stated limits. The limits for pesticide chemicals is listed in parts per billion, which indicates that even a nominal amount of chemical residue can turn a potentially beneficial product into a dangerous one.
Volatile Organic Compounds & Solvents
This final part of the test is to check for solvent residue, where the extracts have been created using a chemical carrier. The listed compounds are regularly used in creating oils and extracts for the purpose of inhaling, where producers must be especially careful to ensure that residue is non-existent or extremely low.
Due to our tinctures being made with an ethanol base, there is a minimal amount of ethanol found in the final product, but as the tincture is for ingesting orally, these levels are comfortably within a safe range. We chose Ethanol as it provides one of the most complete ways of extracting the majority of the cannabinoids and terpenes in hemp and cannabis oils. Due to its relative safety index for human consumption, we felt it to be a better choice than hydrocarbons such as Butane or Propane.
In conclusion, the amount and intricacy of analysis we put our products through is to provide the greatest level of transparency we can, to give our clientele confidence that the products they purchase from us can be safely consumed and do not contain any unknown noxious chemicals. As more and more brands emerge with the same principles, together we will help elevate the hemp & cannabis industry to a higher standard of due diligence. We hope other states adopt similar regulations and parameters as Massachusetts as it will validate the legitimacy of our collective efforts to provide clean, safe medicine.
A comprehensive list of current testing protocols can be seen here.
This will ultimately further the validation of cannabis as a medicine, as patients, physicians and dispensaries will have more granular information to ensure safe consumption of medical cannabis & hemp products.