Towards a better quality of cannabis products

Towards a better quality of cannabis products

This is an article created by Fundacion CANNA, a Spanish non-profit organization that carries out studies and conducts research on Cannabis and its active compounds. Its main focus is on Cannabis plants and their active compounds, related studies and scientific research, especially regarding its effects on the human body and mind and regarding Cannabis use and its derivatives. Fundación CANNA has it’s own laboratory where different kind of tests are performed.
Over recent years, cannabis has been rapidly changing from a recreational drug to a medicine. In other words, an unregulated product used for fun or adventure is turning into a medicine for seriously ill patients in need of a reliable product. This transition has important consequences for the quality standards that we should expect from cannabis products.

By Lisette Wijnkoop / Arno Hazekamp

For example, patients usually do not want to become high. Instead, they want to function well enough to get out of the house, drive a car, or visit with family. For them, getting high is mostly an unwanted side effect. On the other hand, patients want to take enough cannabis to feel the desired therapeutic effect. That means the quantity of THC present in a cannabis product is important to know, in order to give the patient an idea about the right dosage. Additionally, patients may have a weakened immune system. They must be protected against harmful additives such as pesticides, harmful micro-organisms and fungal toxins produced by certain moulds.

To know what a product contains as active ingredients while also being sure it does not contain any harmful additives is important for all products being used as a medicine. Cannabis is no exception to this. This goal can be achieved by a combination of proper standardization and reliable quality control of cannabis products.

Product standardisation and quality control

In the Netherlands, as part of the official Medicinal Cannabis Program supervised by the Office of Medicinal Cannabis, there is a certified and legal cultivator for medicinal cannabis. To guarantee a safe quality and a constant level of active ingredients, a lot of measures are taken during the cultivation process. It starts with the way of multiplying the plants: by making cuttings, also known as cloning, every plant is genetically the same. When working with seeds, every plant can have another composition of ingredients thus leading to different effects. Differences between batches of identical genetic strains may also be caused by cultivation conditions, such as type and amount of light, temperature, nutrients or humidity. And finally, the way of processing, drying and storage of the plants can further influence the composition of the active ingredients in cannabis. This means all steps from cultivation to delivery to the patient need to be sufficiently controlled.

In The Netherlands, medicinal cannabis is tested by an independent lab for appearance (bud shape and size), cannabinoid content, terpene profile and water content. And the absence of hair, insects, bacteria, and moulds are tested, as well as heavy metals, pesticides and fungal toxins. All steps together guarantee that Dutch medicinal cannabis is standardised and quality-controlled.

These are the conditions that apply for the cannabis legally cultivated under GMP conditions and tested in an official lab. This cannabis is standardised plant material and can be sold as a pharmaceutical grade cannabis. But is this all necessary in case of making products, such as cannabis oils, or the preparation of CBD-products, that are often brought on the market as a dietary supplement?

It is important to realize that no matter what legal category a cannabis product is, it is always important that a product contains all the ingredients that are on the label and does not contain any harmful additives. So the question is: What exactly should be analysed and labelled? The most important is the amount of the most potent active ingredients, the cannabinoids. On the label must be clearly mentioned what the content is of the major cannabinoids, which should at least include THC, THCA, CBD, and CBDA, and preferably also CBN, CBG and delta-8-THC. All these compounds may have a significant but different pharmacological effects.

What is unwanted in a cannabis product?

The most important requirement for health products is that they are safe(1) to use by the consumer. This can be realised by following proper (hygienic) procedures and excluding the addition of toxic substances by using safe and non-toxic materials only. To ensure product safety, in-process controls can be applied during the manufacturing and the final product should be examined in a good, and preferably independent lab.

These are the most common unwanted substances in cannabis:

  • Pesticides
  • Bacteria and moulds
  • Heavy metals
  • Adulterants

Read more about these elements and methods to analyse cannabinoids

Rate this article: 
No votes yet