Canadian cannabis oil labels are rife with ‘discrepancies,’ study shows

Canada’s legal cannabis industry has been struggling with mislabeled products since adult-use sales were legalized in 2018, but a new study confirms “discrepancies” in the information displayed on goods containing marijuana oil.

In what is believed to be the first Canadian study about the labeling of regulated products containing cannabis oil, authors James MacKillop, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at McMaster University, and Amanda Doggett, a postdoctoral fellow at the school in Hamilton, Ontario, found “discrepancies at multiple levels,” according to online outlet Medscape Medical News.

A third of the cannabis oil products secured by MacKillop and Doggett for the study “differed from their online tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) descriptions, and 16.7% had conflicting information on the label,” Medscape reported, noting the study was first published in JAMA Network Open, a medical journal published by the American Medical Association.

“A key benefit of legalization is the regulatory framework that governs product composition, but if the label accuracy requirements aren’t being adhered to, then this goal of the Cannabis Act is not being realized,” the authors told Medscape.

“In fact, one reason we selected cannabis oils was because the uniform formulation (unlike plant matter or foods) was expected to set a high benchmark for accuracy.”

Canadian flower also had inaccuracies

Last year, concerns about the accuracy of cannabis flower labeling in Canada came to light.

Canadian laboratory Supra Research and Development in British Columbia independently tested the potency of flower purchased at legal stores and found THC levels significantly lower than the labeled value.

Health Canada is aware of the labeling issues because the regulator has been recalling mislabeled cannabis products, including in the medical market, for quite some time.

And, since late 2018, 69% (29 of 42) of Canadian adult-use product recalls stemmed from labeling problems, MJBizDaily reported in May 2023.

MacKillop and Doggett told Medscape that research from state-regulated American marijuana markets “has found issues with label inaccuracy of THC and CBD content on legal cannabis products, but despite nearly five years of legalization, no study had similarly looked at products in the Canadian market.”

In the United States, inflated THC potency is becoming an increasingly significant problem in both large and small state-regulated markets.

‘Inaccurate dosing’ an offshoot

According to Medscape, under Canada’s cannabis regulations, the “allowable variability between labeled and actual amounts of THC and CBD in a commercial product is (plus/minus) 15%.”

But many of the products examined by Doggett and MacKillop failed to meet that percentage.

They said they examined all oral oil products for sale on the Ontario Cannabis Store website between November 2021 and January 2022, selecting at random “30 that were available at least twice during the study period,” Medscape reported.

“No products contained more THC than labeled at an amount that would be expected to have substantively different psychoactive effects,” according to MacKillop and Doggett’s report.

“However, given that many medical consumers obtain products from the nonmedical market, one implication is inaccurate dosing.”

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