You can never have too much data. Knowing exactly what is in your marijuana is just as important as important as knowing what’s in your food. When marijuana goes to the lab, it’s not just being tested for THC, cannabinoids, and the other good stuff. It’s also being tested for molds, fungus, pesticides and a number of other potentially toxic ingredients that no one should be consuming. In the world of cultivation, there are many routes for contaminants to find their way into your stash. Lab testing has become one of the most important steps in the cannabis production cycle, yet most know very little about it.
When cultivators send samples of product out for testing, they are looking for a handful of specific things. They want to ensure that the product label accurately represents its makeup. Everybody wants to know exactly how much THC is in their weed, and many times make their purchasing decisions based on this information alone. Lab analysis of cannabis characteristics will include its cannabinoid and terpene profiles. The breakdown should give you a pretty good idea of what the buds should smell and taste like, the potency, and whether or not it would be a good medicinal strain. Cannabinoid and terpene profiles could be interpreted as the plant’s genetic fingerprint.
Even more important than the composition is the contaminant count. Contaminants come in many forms but are typically broken down into pesticides, molds and microbial contaminants, and heavy metals. In a perfect world you would have none of these things, but since it’s not perfect, some level of contaminants are permitted. It’s kinda like rodent hairs in peanut butter; not really much you can do about it and it hasn’t killed anyone yet. All kidding aside, the levels of contaminants that have been deemed as safe is only a fraction of a percent.
Pesticides used on cannabis are mostly organic, but even with organic pesticides, there are acceptable and unacceptable levels in retail. The level of scrutiny that municipalities have shown to pesticides in pot is admirable, as they have set some of the highest standards in cultivation. To sum up how strict cannabis pesticide regulation is, one only need look at our diet. Cannabis regulators will pull a product from shelves for having high levels of a harmless pesticide made from ground chrysanthemums. Meanwhile, the vegetables we eat are bathed in glyphosate, a cancer causing pesticide found in 100% of all non-organically grown food.
Testing for microbes is primarily looking for fungus and mold. Fungus and mold are always prevalent in places with high temperatures and lots of water. That sounds like just about every marijuana grow. Things like powdery mildew and bud rot are formed from fungal spores, usually due to imperfections in grow room conditions mixed with contamination. Inhaling mold or fungus can lead to respiratory infections and who knows what else. If a person’s immune system is compromised, inhaling microbes like fungus can land them a stay in the hospital.
Lab testing went from being a hassle for growers, as it could keep a batch from shelves for months or longer, to being a badge of honor. Lab testing is a consumer protection that serves both the producer and the purchaser. Standards for testing in many commercial markets was extremely strict in the beginning, which went on to set very high industry standards. In the end, lab testing pushed producers to make the best and cleanest product they could, and it made it very clear who was taking short cuts.
Cory Hughes is a former police officer turned cannabis cultivator and writer. After years of being on the wrong side of the law, Cory decided to hang up his badge and gun and move into an industry that truly has the potential of bringing people together. He has been an active part of the Colorado cannabis culture and has worked as a horticulturist in dozens of licensed grow operations. Cory now looks to share his knowledge of cultivation and horticulture with the world.