Both consumers and producers often struggle when it comes to testing, verifying, and owning hemp-derived products with trace levels of THC. While industry testing is common, it isn’t required, which presents difficulties for some consumers.
This article was originally published in Issue 5 of HEMP. Subscribe HERE or find in a local grocery store. Since this article was published October 2018, the federal government has legalized hemp. However, the FDA has yet to release testing regulations for hemp-derived CBD products and the Dept. of Agriculture hasn’t released field testing requirements, and so the predicament described in this article remains more relevant than ever.
When Anita Maddux packed up her car to move from New Mexico, she didn’t think twice about the 10-milliliter sample bottle of Functional Remedies CBD oil she put in her bag.
Maddux, 50, had more pressing things on her mind — namely her mother’s stage IV colon cancer and the trip to Montana to be with her. But, as she was driving through Wyoming, she was pulled over by a deputy sheriff in Teton County for having expired license plate tags. When the deputy determined that Maddux’s driver’s license and insurance had lapsed and Maddux told him she was unable to appear in court or pay an $850 fine, she was arrested.
As Maddux was being booked, jail personnel found her bottle of CBD oil. When a field test showed the presence of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, in the oil, Maddux was charged with a felony. Despite being well under the federal limit of 0.3 percent THC (independent tests of the Functional Remedies product later revealed a THC content of 0.06 percent), Maddux still found herself in trouble because, under Wyoming law, possession of more than 0.3 grams of CBD with any amount of THC is a felony.
Maddux’s experience illustrates the confusion over the arbitrary THC limits that delineate the difference between industrial hemp and cannabis. In most of Europe, THC levels must not exceed 0.2 percent, while Austria’s limit mirrors the U.S. at 0.3 percent. In Italy, 0.6 percent is allowed, and THC levels up to 1.0 percent are permissible in Switzerland.
This inconsistency in the hemp potency rules, even between different states in America, can lead to trouble like what Maddux experienced and underscores the importance lab testing has in the hemp industry.
An Industry of Percentages
To comply with THC limits, many hemp farmers and CBD oil companies employ the services of cannabis analytic testing laboratories. These labs specialize in the analysis of cannabis and hemp flower, as well as products derived from the crops. Besides quantifying the levels of THC and other cannabinoids, testing labs can determine if samples include dangerous substances such as pesticides, bacteria, molds, and other contaminants. Although required testing of hemp products is being considered in Colorado, most states do not have regulations mandating lab testing of CBD products.
Dr. Anthony Smith is the chief scientific officer of the cannabis lab testing chain Evio Labs, which has 11 locations in five states. Smith estimates that about 25 percent of the company’s business is related to industrial hemp, including testing growing plants in the field for farmers and state agricultural departments. Evio’s hemp customers are looking for a variety analytical services, from a basic cannabinoid profile and pesticide screening all the way to full test panels that comply with FDA regulations for nutritional supplements.
“Testing isn’t just out there because it’s the rules. It adds value to a business.”Dr. Anthony Smith
Smith says that the importance of lab testing depends on the customer’s location in the supply chain. For growers, monitoring THC levels to ensure they do not spike above 0.3 percent is critical, as crops that exceed the limit must be destroyed.
Lab Testing Adds Value
For producers of hemp CBD oils and products made from them, lab testing not only verifies a product’s safety and potency, but also allows manufacturers to maintain consistent quality.
“Testing isn’t just out there because it’s the rules,” says Smith. “It adds value to a business.”
Hemp farmer Bryan Sawyer of Envision Farms in Monte Vista, Colorado says regular testing is key to maintaining THC levels within government limits. He tests his fields weekly after flowering begins and tracks the progression of CBD and THC levels to help him predict optimal harvest time. But Sawyer notes that hemp farmers are still learning all the variables that can impact cannabinoid production.
“This is new to all of us, so we don’t know if there’s environmental impact if, say, a big cold front comes through or if the barometric pressure affects anything,” says Sawyer. “If you give them too much phosphates, potash, or microbes, what does it do to them? All that stuff people are still figuring out.”
Brian Smalley, the CEO of the Freedom Hemp Company — which operates five farms throughout Oregon — says that the expense of lab testing for CBD oil producers is so enormous that it dramatically drives up the price of finished products.
After spending an estimated $35,000 to $40,000 each of the last two years on analysis fees, Freedom Hemp is in the process of installing its own testing and extraction facility, slated to be up and running in October 2018.
Smalley adds that the cost of lab testing can be so expensive that some farmers forego it altogether. As an agricultural product, industrial hemp products have no requirements for laboratory analysis in Oregon unless they enter the regulated cannabis market. Freedom Hemp has all its products tested for cannabinoid potency and contaminants, a practice Smalley believes should be a requirement.
“The cost of lab testing can be so expensive that some farmers forego it altogether.”
“We will test thoroughly because there is only one way to make good medicine and that’s not to cut corners,” Smalley says.
Tyler Strause is the CEO of Randy’s Club, a producer and retailer of hemp CBD topicals and tinctures under the brand Randy’s Remedies. He founded the company with his mother after his father was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2008 and succumbed to the disease in 2010. Strause’s family used medical cannabis to help manage his father’s symptoms and side effects with success. But a lack of testing standards and results made it difficult to consistently find effective products.
“When we decided to start our business, we set out to create the kinds of products we wished we had when he was still alive,” Strause remembers.
Randy’s Club uses hemp oil, grown and produced in Kentucky, in its products that it sells across state lines. Before the oil can leave the state, it must be lab tested for potency and purity. Once the tests have been made and the CBD oil is issued a certificate of analysis, it can be shipped to the company’s co-packer in California.
While the lab testing of hemp and CBD goods provides valuable information for companies at all levels of the supply chain and can help consumers determine what is in the products they are using, it does not and cannot eliminate the confusion about the delineation between hemp and cannabis in different jurisdictions. Without clear and consistent regulations for the cannabinoid content of industrial hemp products, cases similar to that of Anita Maddux are likely to continue.
Focus on Consumers: Lab Testing for CBD Products
Unless a CBD oil product has been produced to be sold in a regulated cannabis market, there are no requirements for lab testing results on CBD package labels in the United States.
However, nearly all hemp-derived CBD oil products will state how many milligrams of CBD per serving the product contains, though many won’t necessarily include verified lab testing results. For those interested in beginning a CBD supplement regimen, 25-50 milligrams of CBD per day is often recommended as a starting dose and it’s always best if the product has verifications from an independent lab.
Also, information about other results for other compounds found in hemp-derived CBD oil are not commonly found on product packaging, although it can sometimes be found on a manufacturer’s website. If this data is available (usually on a pass or fail basis), hemp CBD products should be free of the following contaminants:
Pesticides: Although hemp can be grown successfully without the use of pesticides, some farmers still use agricultural chemicals on their crops and overspray from nearby fields is possible. Hemp products should not contain residues of insecticides, weed killers, fungicides, or other chemicals.
Biological Contaminants: CBD products should not be contaminated with bacteria, molds, or fungi.
Heavy Metals: Some soils have higher levels of heavy metals than others, either naturally or through contamination. Hemp plants can accumulate dangerous metals including arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, copper, lead, and mercury.
Residual Solvents: Hemp oils produced with hydrocarbon solvents can sometimes have residual contamination.
Many cannabis testing labs will test samples brought in by consumers for potency and contamination, but the cost can be prohibitive. A full panel of tests for potency and the above contaminants can cost $500 or more. Potency tests can be completed in as little as one day, though biological contamination panels can take five days or more.