Tamar Wise: Widespread Testing of Medical Cannabis Key to MMJ Industry’s Long-Term Success

By Tamar Wise

The world of medical cannabis testing has changed dramatically since its emergence a few years ago.

When this new field first cropped up, it had a very similar feel to the Wild, Wild West…or even the Dark Ages. With no real oversight over cannabis testing, facilities sprouted up everywhere, making unsubstantiated claims about their capabilities and charging exorbitant prices for their services. In one well-known case, California NORML and Project CBD sent several identical samples of both flower material and edibles to multiple testing labs for THC/CBD profiles in an attempt to assess the accuracy of analytical laboratories. The findings were disconcerting: There was a huge gap in the methodologies and standards these labs used, leading to vastly different results.

This worrisome inconsistency – coupled with high costs and other hurdles – created a hefty amount of skepticism, and many medical cannabis centers and infused-products companies decided to forgo testing their products as a result.

Fast-forward to 2012, and the landscape looks a bit different.

The medical cannabis testing realm still faces the same issues it did a few years ago, and oversight is still lacking. However, we are seeing gradual and promising change. Testing has become more accurate and scientific with the arrival of testing companies using third-party standards that are verifiable. Labs are validating their methods and procedures with a focus on calibrating and running their machinery properly. And prices have dropped as the industry has grown and the technology has matured, making it more affordable to medical cannabis centers and infused-product companies.

Testing is important to the industry as a whole so we can continue to establish the legitimacy of cannabis as medicine and protect the interests of the patients we serve. Today, potency testing is of the utmost importance to edibles companies, as they are the ones making milligram dosing claims for THC or CBD. A mislabeled dose can mean a patient does not get the medicine they pay for and need. Proper testing can ensure that patients know exactly what dose they are getting and what is actually in the medicine they’re taking.

The other important testing service for edibles companies is the microbial screening of contaminants by both dispensaries and infusion companies. It is easier and more accurate to test for the presence of pesticides in raw flowers than to test for the same contaminants in the finished extract. Even though these microbiological and chemical contaminants are concentrated along with the cannabinoids (making them much more dangerous in edibles), they can also be degraded and more difficult to detect in the finished oil. Screening the beginning trim can ensure only clean plant material makes it into edibles.

The real question, then, isn’t whether or not to test – it’s how much testing is necessary for each cannabis business to conform to a good manufacturing practice and overall quality control. This will vary depending on the business. Companies must first determine what type of testing is right for them – gas chromatography (GC) or liquid chromatography (LC) – and then thoroughly examine the credentials of each potential testing facility.

At Dixie Elixirs and Edibles, we prefer high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) testing to ensure our sample is not altered during testing and that we get the most accurate results. We test each product batch three times, covering the raw plant material, the resulting extract and then the final product. This testing is used to ensure that every step of our procedure as well as our dose is accurate. We use testing to develop all new formulations and validate existing ones. Any research done is double-checked with testing as well. We hope these methods will become best practices in an industry that sorely needs them.

So what does the future hold for testing? Medical cannabis testing has been loosely regulated to date, but more regulation and oversight will be needed if we are to continue. Colorado is hoping to take a lead in this area. The state’s MMED Lab Rules and Regulation Board is working on drafting legislature to alleviate some of the issues faced by the medical cannabis testing community. This includes requiring proper labeling and potency claims on any medicine, whether it be a flower or an infused product.

The forward momentum of this industry will eventually lead to the utilization of more accurate and relevant testing. It is the only way to create a more legitimate and safe industry. In fact, no other medicine is sold without dosing guidelines. Even alcohol has its own potency claims and is regulated. With general marijuana legalization on the ballot in several states this fall, it is apparent that medical cannabis is becoming more acceptable as an option for medicine and recreation. Given these trends, we collectively as an industry need to be prepared for what these new developments will bring.

Tamar Wise is the science director at Dixie Elixirs and Edibles and a member of the MMED Lab Rules and Regulations Committee.

4 comments on “Tamar Wise: Widespread Testing of Medical Cannabis Key to MMJ Industry’s Long-Term Success
  1. Eric on

    Patient in Colorado says her doctor told her it looked like she live in chemical dump the product she was using was Dixie Elixirs brand .They don’t know what was used on plants they get or do they care .The Tripp Keeber lies run deep in this company ,obviously! I see big lawsuits in there future. You can’t say your product helps people if makes them sick!

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  2. Doug Banfelder on

    Tamara makes some excellent and perfectly on-target points.

    Cannabis will never be taken seriously as medicine if providers don’t make available the cannabinoid profiles of their product; also, patients must have assurance that what they are ingesting is mold, pathogen and pesticide-free.

    These are bare-miniumum consumer protections that go a long way towards helping to make naive users (those who haven’t/don’t use(d) recreationally) more comfortable trying cannabis for medicinal use.

    Once we accept this fact, the industry can then begin to realize the political benefits. lawmakers need to be able to assure our opposition (and theirs) that they are looking out for patient’s safety. Hard for them to agree that cannabis is medicine when it lacks any kind of quality control.

    It also gives advocates working their state and local governments a much stronger hand rhetorically. Imagine if proposed MMJ programs included a testing mandate. “Senator, the testing provision of our bill goes directly to patient safety; this assures patients that it is safe, and also helps them to select the best strains for managing the symptoms of their condition – surely you can support this…”

    Mass acceptance of cannabis as medicine depends upon our it offering with demonstrated safety, convenient packaging and effective marketing. Either the dispensary industry will accommodate these needs or the pharmaceutical giants will. Perhaps they will anyway, but we can possibly slow or blunt this development by taking the lead now while we have the field to ourselves.

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  3. D talks 303 on

    I would tend to agree with most everyone here to some capacity. As a representative of the top Gas Chromatography company in MMJ, I obviously believe in testing. I also help to establish and run a major packaging company in mmj called Cannaline. Meds get tested, all ingredients go on the packaging, meds go into the packaging, and it gets sealed up. Not a hard concept right? This is how liquor stores, pharmacies, and every food product on the market is managed and displayed to the public for our safety. MMJ should not be any different.

    Unfortunately, most owners are fighting to keep their head above water still. I’ve met more people in this industry with absolutely no business sense or code of ethics to speak of. Many owners DO NOT CARE. Colorado doesn’t have compassion centers, we have for profit dispensaries. While the bud tender care’s about the patients, the bud tender is not growing the medicine or making any decisions on how it’s grown. The owner or grower is not necessarily ever in the store, and therefore really doesn’t need to face the patients they may be effecting negatively by using heavy chemicals and pesticides to increase bottom lines.

    There is nothing wrong with using nutrients, if they are the proper nutrients and are used properly. This means at LEAST 6-10 days of flushing(minimum) the plants before harvest. Also, it’s not that difficult to put together organic nutrients, it can be done, even with hydro and cocoa.

    Unfortunately it’s as impossible to tell what kind of chemicals or pesticides were used in the growing of our herb as it is with our fruit and vegetable crops. You can taste it sometimes, if you really know what you’re looking for, or what you’re not looking for. We truly are made to rely on the integrity of the dispensary owners and the growers, and that is a scary thought. Even stores that claim to be 100% organic are not. Maybe the product they produce, but not the product they vend from other stores when their shelves start to run low. They don’t have to list the chemicals used in your pack of cigarette’s, should mmj be different? I believe so.

    I’m not convinced that many of these dispensaries in Colorado should even be in business. Many of them are growing very poor product now, after the price point wars of the last year, nobody has any medicine in Colorado. They can’t afford to pay good growers, and it’s sad. I’ve seen stuff put on the shelves of stores with less than a 3 day cure on it, practically wet. If it comes down to selling wet, premature medicine or not having any medicine, what do you think they do, what would you do?
    Very few people see what is going on, because very few people are in 5-15 stores each day. Most owners, operators, and employees are very insular. Meaning they work at their store but don’t know much about who is around them. The majority of people in our industry have not been in more than 2 or 3 shops, but are more than happy to tell you what works and how dispensaries should be run. I would love to say that we work in an industry that is open minded and progressive, and to some degree maybe, but many of the people in our industry are know-it-alls, amateurs, and downright misinformed. Please, call us, we can come do an on site demo for you, and see it for yourself.
    Let us help educate your patients, as well as your bud tenders. growers, and other staff. If not, it’s okay, the guy down the street probably is.

    We encourage people to put our services to the test. That’s why Herbal Synergy’s method was the only analytical results used at this year’s High Times Cannabis Cup in Denver. We have been using third party standards for the past 3 1/2 years, and have run over 5,000 tests in Cannabis with equipment proven to be accurate in analytical testing all over the world. We’re proud to say that we have never increased a customers results in hopes of appeasing them, and that we have always maintained a level of professionalism while helping the industry to move forward and legitimize itself. I believe that we are the only company with trained technicians and equipment on both coasts and in Colorado.

    I personally am very passionate about the cannabis plant being able to bring healing to the nations and possibly this planet if we would let it. I don’t know how our country will survive without it, and it hasn’t been.

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