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15 Jun 2022

Study Finds Inconsistencies in Commercial Cannabis Labeling

Despite the rise of cannabis legalization and a regulated industry in recent years, new research shows there is still much to be done with transparency in cannabis labeling and consumer education.

In a study published May 2022 in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE, researchers found that cannabis labels “do not consistently align with the observed chemical diversity” in samples tested. The study authors also determined that certain labels “show a biased association with specific chemotypes.”

PSI Labs is proud to have served as a key contributor to the study that examined approximately 90,000 samples across six states and, according to the authors, “represents the largest quantitative chemical mapping of commercial dispensary-grade cannabis flower samples to date.”

The scientists noted that as a result of their findings, it is obvious that the current cannabis industry-standard labeling system of Sativa, Indica and Hybrid product categories is “deceptive” to consumers, and the industry should move to something more akin to the standardized nutrition facts labels used on food packaging. The study authors went on to say they hoped their model “can serve as a basic guide for cannabis product segmentation and classification rooted in product chemistry.”

The importance of this study and its scope cannot be overstated. It joins an ever-growing body of cannabis research that informs the work we do at PSI Labs as a cannabis testing lab operating in Michigan and California. And it also confirms that the industry as a whole has much to do to more accurately identify what is in the lab-tested cannabis purchased legally in states across the country.

As the study authors note, the basic labeling system that simply documents the tested amounts of dominant cannabinoids such as the psychoactive delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (∆9-THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) does not give the consumer a comprehensive understanding of the chemical makeup of the cannabis, nor does it indicate any predictable effects.

Cannabis Labeling Beyond THC and CBD

Other compounds—such as terpenes and flavonoids—are shown to be influential in distinguishing different cannabis strains’ tastes, smells and perceived effects. Labeling cannabis with information about the presence of these distinct compounds would allow the consumer to make more educated decisions when purchasing for medicinal and / or recreational adult use.

Here’s a key takeaway from the study that we are particularly passionate about at PSI Labs: The level of THC is not the end-all-be-all for how a strain will affect the body. The convergence of the vast amount of cannabinoids (there are over 100), terpenes and flavonoids is more revealing about a strain’s effects than the simple percentage of THC.

Research indicates that dominant terpenes work in concert with cannabinoids and flavonoids to produce the effects associated with certain strains. Understanding the synergy between the diverse chemical compounds within cannabis is far more informative than the mere percentages of THC or CBD commonly included on cannabis packaging. For example, a more robust cannabis testing analysis might provide a consumer insight into why two different strains containing similar tested levels of THC yield vastly different perceived effects, and the same information could propel the R&D process for a new line of edibles.

The cannabis industry will benefit immensely if it advances to a labeling system that categorizes strains based on a comprehensive assessment of their chemical makeup and details primary chemical compounds beyond THC and CBD. Giving consumers access to more comprehensive cannabis compliance testing data helps them make informed choices and find products that will work best for their individual needs.

Keep on top of all matters related to cannabis testing with PSI Labs.


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