False test results, lab shopping put cannabis consumers at risk

(Editor’s note: This story is part of a recurring series of commentaries from professionals connected to the cannabis industry. Roger Brown is the CEO of Tampa, Florida-based ACS Laboratory.)

Medical cannabis patients should never have to wonder if their medicine is safe to use.

In my home state, Florida’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use (OMMU) and the Florida Department of Agriculture (FDACS) require sellers of cannabis to test all products for potency levels and contaminants before the sale of marijuana and hemp.

Many states have imposed their own rules on cannabis. However, the reality is not all testing laboratories are created equal. Sometimes they get the results wrong, and patients suffer the consequences.

Most of the time, these mistakes are accidental.

But many times the accident is overlooked, ignored or passed by because it is to the advantage of the product seller. That doesn’t make the actions of these laboratories any less dangerous.

In a recent example, a medical marijuana company tested its whole flower with a laboratory and received a passing result.

The strain was then shipped to dispensaries and sold for weeks before it was discovered to be contaminated.

The strain has since been recalled and the grower was fined, but the end user still likely consumed tainted product.

This is not the first cannabis product recall, and it won’t be the last.

But mistakes of this magnitude are avoidable when cannabis testing laboratories are equipped with state-of-the-art machinery, extensive experience and expert personnel to conduct careful analysis.

Inexperienced laboratories

The problem as I see it is many laboratories are forming to capitalize on the booming demand for third-party cannabis testing.

But they don’t have the knowledge to properly use the tools on hand.

Instead, many are missing the mark at the expense of human health and public safety.

It’s unacceptable for cannabis to be tainted with harmful levels of contaminants.

It’s especially dangerous for smokable flower to contain mold, mildew, mycotoxins and heavy metals, because these toxins go directly into the lungs and bloodstream.

This is a risk to public health and damaging to an industry that requires a higher standard of quality.

Lab shopping

I believe most cannabis companies want to sell clean products.

However, some companies care more about their bottom line.

These companies want to ensure their products pass all compliance tests, and they’ll look for a lab that can help them do it.

We in the industry call this tactic “lab shopping,” and it refers to the practice of sourcing labs with a reputation for being easy to work with.

Unlike more strict, compliant laboratories, less experienced laboratories might accidentally – or purposely – provide false results.

Whenever I talk about this issue, people ask me what consumers and patients can do to protect themselves.

I always tell them the best method is to ask dispensaries which third-party laboratory they employed for safety and potency testing.

Once they know, patients must do their due diligence to find out how the laboratory operates and what their reputation is for quality and accuracy.

Unfortunately, that information is not always available and becomes the responsibility of the cannabis grower or seller to be responsible and provide safe product for sale to the public.

Building consumer confidence

Customers should also ask for a copy of the certificate of analysis when purchasing a cannabis product.

Look what certifications the lab has, how large the facility is, how long it has been in business and what type of reviews it has.

Every answer tells a story.

For example, if a lab doesn’t have a license from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, it shows the organization doesn’t have the procedures and protocols in place to meet the regulatory requirements.

Years in business and breadth of scientific prowess can also be tell-tale signs of a laboratory’s capabilities.

From my experience, newer labs rely heavily on manufacturer instruction manuals and methods to operate their testing equipment.

But if they use only the manufacturers’ methods, they’ll never get the most accurate results because cannabis has so many complex matrices, which require customization of methods to meet the testing requirements.

In other words, labs can’t test smokable cannabis, edibles, oils, beverages, nano-emulsions and topical lotions the same way.

Only an experienced, clinical laboratory will know how to adjust their methods to accurately test the product on hand.

Unfortunately, we are experiencing a nationwide epidemic of poor-quality laboratories putting out poor-quality results that consumers are relying on to know if a product is safe.

But it’s not all doom and gloom.

Cannabis is an important medicine, and most manufacturers, dispensaries and testing laboratories care about quality.

It’s up to every honest actor in this industry to keep raising the bar on standards so consumers and patients can feel safe.

Roger Brown co-founded Florida cannabis testing facility ACS Laboratory in 2008. ACS Laboratory is a DEA-licensed, AHCA-licensed, ISO17025-accredited and CLIA-accredited laboratory. He can be reached at [email protected].

The previous installment of this series is available here.

To be considered for publication as a guest columnist, please submit your request to [email protected] with the subject line “Guest Column.”

3 comments on “False test results, lab shopping put cannabis consumers at risk
  1. John Dough on

    We all know the truth, this is because of greedy labs doing anything to keep clients. Microbial methods are simple, validated and shared by consumables providers. If you can read and comprehend basic english, you can certainly do these tests.

    The fact is, 95% of labs in this field are in a race to the bottom. They will tell the grower whatever they want as long as they can get a longer term commitment out of them.

    The CEO’s of these labs dont know much about business either. Imbeciles actually!! They race to drop their prices for next to nothing margins.
    They are so dumb they don’t even upcharge for lieing.
    All while ruining their reps, hurting people that are sick, and creating a dangerous environment for all involved.

    This will all continue till it goes federal and an adult steps into the room.

    #TRUTH

    Reply
  2. VincitVeritas on

    The current state of the Cannabis industry is, unfortunately, extremely corrupt. I hope that it will change one day, but I have chosen another career path due to what I have witnessed as there is no changing the perpetual narcissists that rule over the industry.

    I used to manage a high profile lab that insisted on pumping out mycotoxin results that were a BLATANT LIE. These CoAs never got my signature, but the next guy that wanted to impress upper management was quick to jump in for brownie points.
    Even the manufacturers of the ELISA-based tests admitted this in an official statement, yet the labs kept charging people for bunk results.

    Not to mention labs that insisted on hiring high school grads rather than actual scientists and giving them titles such as “lead analyst” or “lab manager.” This has become a disturbing trend among the Cannabis industry that is killing its legitimacy and people’s ability to pay back student loans. Not only that, but there is also a trend of MANY labs and manufacturing facilities allowing staff to be heavily under the influence of Cannabis during operating hours. I’ve seen people eat high dosage edibles while on shift claiming that they “work better” when medicated. Some just constantly step out to smoke joints all through the day.

    When I left the lab, I began consulting and have gotten to see inside other labs in other states across the US. There have been bad actors (with PhDs no less) that have no idea how to operate their equipment yet they receive ISO17025 accreditation with fudged LOD LOQ reports and barely passable baselines. Even when running GC, they allow atmospheric leaks to go untended which have directly conflicting ions with analyte ions.

    In this day and age, I can honestly say that TRUE science is DEAD. Good luck making any advancements with Cannabis science when the industry is full of pathological liars, self-medicated staff, crooked opportunists, moneyed shysters, political activists, and “fake-it-till-you-make-it” high school educated people.

    If you come forth with integrity and honesty, you will fail in this industry. I am living proof of this. Things have got to change…

    Reply
  3. Disappointed in MI on

    Depressing and scary comments here. Currently evaluating getting into the lab space in MI. Myself I’m only a BS but have 14 years in Major Pharma, and managing Quality for analytical labs. My partner is a PhD chemist with deep experience in hops (lots of published research). Comments above are a bit discouraging to our efforts. We were hoping to come in with our breadth of experience and integrity and do some good.

    Reply
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