By Lauren Williams and Lesley Nickus
A report released by Alaska’s Department of Environmental Conservation in conjunction with the Alcohol and Marijuana Office (AMCO), revealed widely varied readings by two cannabis lab testing facilities on the same plant.
The report, released June 4, 2018, performed data validation on samples AMCO submitted to CannTest and Steep Hill of Anchorage. Researchers cut a single cannabis-infused muffin in half and sent one piece to CannTest and one piece to Steep Hill on Dec. 1, 2017. They also sent a half-sample of cookie crumbs, capsule, and flower.
The results came back very different.
When it came to the cookie crumbs, the potency variance was 6 mg per serving. The recommended edible dosage for beginners is 5 mg or less.
When it came to microbials, CannTest detected the fungus Asperfillus niger in one of the eight submitted samples, while Steep Hill detected the fungus in four of the eight submitted samples.
Rigorous lab testing of cannabis products is needed in emerging and established markets, as recreational cannabis is legalized in states across the U.S., said one lab expert.
“There must be standards,” said Shuli Suman, a longtime laboratory professional who plans to open True Science Labs in the Los Angeles area. “Most reports are saying less than 10 percent of the product out there is fully tested.”
Suman, in part, pointed to a 2017 case in which a person with a compromised immune system died after ingesting a cannabis product that contained microbial contaminants.
“Someone who is immunocompromised is more sensitive to pathogenic fungi and mold. Toxic spores in cannabis have killed at least one person,” Suman said. “We’re moving out of the realm of this being something that is just important. It is mission critical that labs be held to the highest level.
“Smoking of any cannabis that’s laced with mold or bacteria can be toxic to your health.”
Concerns regarding safety of cannabis products are more pronounced with regard to concentrated products such as oils, in which a small contaminate that is otherwise safe becomes magnified as the product is concentrated. Both the desirable aspects of the plant are concentrated as are other potentially harmful compounds, including molds, funguses and pesticides.
“Once you concentrate something you’re concentrate everything in it,” Suman said.
Each state has its own set of regulations when it comes to certifying laboratories to test cannabis. Suman said more robust testing is need to keep recreational and medical consumers healthy and safe.
“The best way to think about it is like any other agricultural product,” Suman said. “There’s science along the way. From seed to sale, we’re looking at every point. That’s critical for this industry especially.”
As for Alaska, recommendations that came out of the report include determining the appropriate parameters for lab testing facilities to operate within — including incubation temperatures and times, equipment calibration and others — identifying standard testing procedures, ensuring adherence to standard procedures and establishing an appropriate framework for proper lab oversight.