The inconsistency of cannabis testing labs is indicative of a much bigger problem, which is the lack of checks and balances in the cannabis industry.

One of the largest problems in the cannabis industry is the inconsistency of quality control.

Buying a cannabis product, from CBD oil to psychoactive cannabis, can be quite scary for a consumer. Due to the lack of standardized product testing, you don’t fully know if the producer’s claims are truthful, if the correct dosage is listed, or exactly what’s is in the product.

The government maintains strict controls over the quality of our food, and supplements and medicines we buy over-the-counter and get from pharmacists. Right now, the cannabis industry doesn’t have that. Instead consumers are forced to trust the word of companies which can obviously leads to issues.

There's growing demand on cannabis & hemp product testing labs, but also renewed attention on their inconsistencies too. Photo: A gloved scientist with a vial of CBD and a hemp leaf.

There’s growing demand on cannabis & hemp product testing labs, but also renewed attention on their inconsistencies too.

This problem isn’t simply due to the companies that produce the products, but also to the cannabis testing labs themselves. There’s no doubt that testing is important, but without better standards can we rely on those test results?

THE FLAWS IN LAB TESTING CANNABIS PRODUCTS

As revealed by Forbes, not all cannabis testing labs are created equal.

There’s no minimum requirements for things such as equipment, certifications, and merit for lab testers. As a result, cannabis testing labs can vary dramatically from each other.

The biggest problem though, is the lack of a standardized method for testing the various cannabis products. This can mean that the testing procedures for quality and potency of a hemp plant varies dramatically from hemp oil, distillates, to edibles and beyond. The problems multiply since different labs all have different testing methods, claiming that their methods are more effective than others and can give superior results.

The problem is that this creates inconsistencies in the results, since not all labs are using the same method for testing. This obviously can’t continue to happen. Without standardized testing methods for each cannabis product, the results will continue to be inconsistent which defeats the purpose for testing the product in the first place.

DISHONESTY IN LAB TESTING HEMP?

When a company markets a certain product, they want certification for their product, so their consumers can trust the quality of their product. To get these certifications, the companies have to send a batch of product to a testing facility to test for things such as potency, effectiveness, etc.

Problem arise when those results vary from lab to lab, leading to confusion about the quality of the product. This may even be due to the “friendliness” of certain labs over others, freely manipulating the results to meet the expectations of the producers. Manufacturers aren’t the only ones who test their products. Growers test their cannabis for quality too. With their reputations on the line, they want the best test results possible, so it proves the quality of their cannabis or hemp and hopefully leads to more companies wanting them as a supplier.

But again, with the lack of oversight, growers can substitute the product sent to the labs with a more expensive and higher-quality product, thus producing false results for their crops. Of course, this imply doesn’t that all cannabis testing labs and growers do this, but with the lack of standardized guidelines and someone to enforce those guidelines, it’s something that can happen without any real repercussions.

A FLAWED BUSINESS MODEL?

On top of all of this, the business model for the labs themselves are flawed. The costs for lab equipment, buildings, electricity, accreditation, and salaries for lab testers are all very expensive. On the contrary, the going rate for a test on a single batch is typically under $200. Meaning in order for these testing facilities to make a profit and succeed as a business, they have to operate in a high-volume capacity.

While cannabis companies grow at a stunning pace, demand for the labs which test these products grows too. These cannabis testing labs are much different from their government-ran cousins, which have access to more capital, a better talent pool, more experience, and the power of the federal government behind them.

From the expensive startup costs, ferocious competition, increasing pressure from growers & manufacturers and no one to keep them in check, why wouldn’t a laboratory fix their reports for better results? Again, we’re not claiming any or even most labs do this, but there’s little oversight on their results.

SUPPLY CHAIN: THE BIGGER PROBLEM IN HEMP & CANNABIS

This issue goes beyond the testing companies, as the lack of regulation affects the entire supply-chain of the cannabis and hemp industries.

In other words, if no one is keeping the cannabis testing labs in check, then there is certainly no one keeping the growers, transporters, dispensaries, or producers in check. All of this leads to a lower quality product, and one that consumers can’t trust. If this continues to be the case, a distrust can develop between company and consumer. The cannabis industry has grown both in popularity and revenue in the past decade, and a loose-knit system that depends on hand-shake deals and trust is quite simply just not enough for long-term growth.

Fortunately, industry leaders are trying to improve the cannabis supply-chain.

IMPROVING THE QUALITY OF HEMP & CANNABIS

So how do we solve this problem and all the other problems present in the cannabis and industries? How do we make sure that the companies we purchase from are actually telling the truth, and that there aren’t any unwanted substances in the product?

Increased federal oversight could help improve the quality of cannabis testing labs, and cannabis and hemp products in general. Photo: A scientist in gloves and a white lab coat examines a test tube of green liquid, with a microscope nearby.

Increased federal oversight could help improve the quality of cannabis testing labs, and cannabis and hemp products in general.

We do this by getting support from the federal government. The federal government is the only entity that can effectively enforce regulations upon the cannabis industry that will keep the different sectors in check. Not only do they have the power of enforcement, but they are the only ones to have the resources capable of quality-checking every part of the cannabis supply-chain.

To add to that, the federal government also has the power to enhance other parts of the industry. In addition to quality control, they can regulate things such as financing, shipping, and further research into cannabis. In fact, federal regulatory support is the single greatest challenge to the entire industry. The support for cannabis is already here, with a large portion of congressman and senators publicly backing the plant. Now we need those people in power to start implementing systems that help build up the industry.

There are signs that this is happening, especially thanks to the recent legalization of industrial hemp in the 2018 Farm Bill. But there’s still a long way to go.