Node Smith, ND
Importance of Ensuring Product Testing: Cannabis Quality and Contamination
A recent article on cannabis quality and contamination reminds us that medical cannabis is subject to the same contaminants as any other herbal product and ensuring product testing is important. Just as any other herbal or nutritional supplement, cannabis can become unintentionally contaminated, or intentionally contaminated.
It is especially important for cannabis products to be tested considering a large subset of the medical cannabis users may be immunocompromised, and very sensitive to contaminants.
Some of the contaminants that are of concern are residual solvents, heavy metals, pesticides, mycotoxins and microbial pathogens.
Heavy Metals + Contamination
Heavy metals may contaminate any herbal product that is grown in soil which is contaminated, or watered from a contaminated source. Examples of heavy metals of concern are arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury. These are referred to as the “big four,” and many states require testing for them – some don’t, like Alaska. Some states have included additional heavy metals in their testing. New York has added antimony, chromium, copper, zinc and nickel, and Maryland have added barium, chromium, selenium, and silver to the “Big Four” list for cannabis testing.
Pesticide contamination is a huge consideration as well. This category includes all herbicides, insecticides and fungicides. There are more than 1000 pesticides used in the world today. Some of these chemicals can become very dangerous when exposed to heat – such as when smoking cannabis. An example of this is the fungicide, myclobutanil, which when exposed to heat can produce hydrogen cyanide gas. It is estimated that as much as 15% of dried cannabis flowers may be contaminated with myclobutanil from intentional spraying or unintentional overspray from adjacent fields.
When cannabis is processed into concentrates, the concentration of pesticides and other contaminants also increases, which is particularly concerning.
Due to Current Federal Ruling, No Regulations Exist for Testing Quality or Purity of Cannabis Products
Since cannabis is still federally illegal, there are currently no federal regulations regarding testing quality or purity of cannabis products. It is up to the discretion of each state to decide which tests will be enforced, if any. For instance, in Oregon 59 common pesticides are tested for, in California, 66 are tested for, and in Nevada, only 24 are tested for. Some states have extensive lists of contaminants tested for, and others hardly any at all. It is important for individuals using or prescribing cannabis for medical purposes to be aware of these regulations to ensure utilization of uncontaminated products.
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Node Smith, ND, is a naturopathic physician in Portland, OR and associate editor for NDNR. He has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine among the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend camp-out where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Four years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision.