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As a medical cannabis patient, knowing what is in each product is key to getting the medical benefits you need. But products are inconsistent and it can be hard to know what you’re going to get from your medicine and therefore difficult to dose as well as understanding the efficacy of each product.
Much of this inconsistency stems back to the history of cannabis. Thanks to nearly a century’s existence on the black market, consistency in cannabis products has been largely unregulated. Growers could name strains whatever they wanted, didn’t need lab tests, and had no standards governing extraction processes.
As legalization slowly spreads from state to state, legal markets require cannabis brands to legitimize their processes and publish their lab testing results. However, this presents a problem because:
- There aren’t very many testing labs.
- No federal standards for lab testing.
- Breeding practices can cause discrepancies from product to product.
Keep reading to learn what makes cannabis products inconsistent and what you can do to find reliable, high-quality cannabis products.
Why Cannabis Strains Are Inconsistent
We’ll start with the cannabis flower. Remember, cannabis is a living plant, which means that differences in genetic material exist even within the same species. Different growing environments also play a significant role in how phenotypes are expressed and which cannabinoids and terpenes are present even in plants in the same garden.
Strain Names Are Unregulated.
The cannabis industry is still largely under-regulated, so there is no consistency even between cannabis products with the same strain name.
A recent study looked at 122 samples of 30 branded cannabis strains sourced from cities nationwide. While some of the samples were well-known cultivars, such as Jack Herer and Sour Diesel, samples showed major differences even between the same plants. Researchers called it “evidence of genetic variation,” which indicated “the potential for inconsistent products for medical patients and recreational users.”
There are few trademarks or legal requirements that compel cannabis companies to call their flower one thing versus another when it comes to names. As a result, the product inside the packaging was often different from the name and claims on its labels.
Inconsistencies In Breeding
Variations in breeding methods, growing environments, processing methods, and the genetic material of each plant all play a huge role in determining the chemovar, or chemical makeup, of a final cannabis product. These variances can lead to vast differences when it comes to dosage and overall effects on a user.
Over the last few decades of selective breeding within the cannabis industry, cultivars have sought to produce desired benefits of cannabis, creating top-notch hybrids that provide the best benefits of strains in previous generations. But while these hybrids have kept the strain names, a Sour Diesel bred in 2021 is different from one produced back in the 1990s.
While this doesn’t impact the experience of recreational users too much, medical cannabis patients need to understand how to read lab results and work with a medical cannabis doctor to understand what cannabinoids and terpenes, rather than what strains, will best aid with their wellness.
Why Edibles Are Inconsistent
Again, because cannabis is still federally illegal, there’s no national system for verifying the process of crafting cannabis products. Suppliers have no real way of verifying the potency or consistency of products as such, and this also applies to edibles.
In the early days of the legal cannabis market, edible-makers didn’t need to test the potency of the flower or extract they used to craft their products. Black market companies certainly didn’t often lab test their edibles, which largely contributed to the horror stories of too-strong brownies knocking consumers off their feet. Most states now require edible companies to know the extract’s potency or lab test their canna-butter before infusion, but that’s not always specified in legal language.
Additionally, the infusion method cannabis brands use to make their edibles can vary from brand to brand. There are typically three infusion methods companies use:
- Isolate, with just THC or CBD.
- Distillate, with THC and CBD but perhaps other minor cannabinoids.
- Full Spectrum, with cannabinoids and terpenes retained from the plant.
Each of these methods impacts what kind of experience you’ll get with a cannabis product: a full-spectrum infused gummy from a company will likely make you feel different than an isolate-infused gummy from another.
Consistency and quality can also vary between edible batches at a single company or even between different parts of a single product. A less reliable cannabis company, for example, may not have a fully developed infusion process and accidentally make one piece of an infused chocolate bar more potent than another piece on the same bar.
Again, it’s essential to look for brands with lab test results that verify the cannabinoids within a product, as this will tell you much more about dose and experience than taking cannabis edibles at face value.
How To Find Consistent Cannabis Products
Before choosing any cannabis product, the most important thing is to make sure it’s lab tested and review the results with a physician. You’ll likely find the most consistent cannabis products from a licensed dispensary and business where testing protocols are required. This is key for medical cannabis users because accurate dosing leads to the best medicinal results.
When reading the label, make sure to understand what the THC dose is and what other cannabinoids are included in the product. Every person’s endocannabinoid system is different, too, and cannabis products can be inconsistent depending on who is consuming them. It takes some experimentation to find a favorite, reliable brand with consistent cannabis products, but it’s worth it once you’ve found one.
The bottom line on why cannabis products are inconsistent
As long as cannabis is federally illegal and lacks national standardization, consumers must tread lightly to find reliable and consistent cannabis products. Yet, the industry is growing, and cannabis users now enjoy access to a broader library of lab-tested products than in recent history.
Medical marijuana patients should work with their physician to determine which dosage and product type will best fit their particular needs – if you’re ready to know what cannabis product will consistently help you achieve wellness, connect with a Leafwell physician today.