Quality and Standards
The quality of medicinal cannabis can vary greatly. This poses risks and uncertainties to patients and their prescribers. So, why is quality so important?
Access to quality cannabis remains one of the premiere concerns within the industry — both for doctors, patients and those exploring the ever-evolving applications behind one of the world’s oldest whole-plant medicines.
While medical cannabis has undeniable health benefits, patients can’t tap into those benefits unless they’re utilizing the highest quality of marijuana. Beyond the desire for product safety and reliability, knowing how to judge the quality of cannabis allows for more empowered consumer decision-making. By recognizing the characteristics to look for when judging cannabis and understanding the difference between high-quality and subpar cannabis, you can be sure your body gets the best.
The safest and most reliable products are of pharmaceutical-quality. These products meet good manufacturing practice (GMP) standards. GMP is the highest standard of medicine manufacture. GMP is an assurance of consistently high-quality products and production processes. For medicinal cannabis, GMP practices should start from the very first step, cultivation, right through the entire production process to the finished product. It is not just about the packaging of cannabis flos, or the production of an oil extract. Under GMP, each part of the medicine production and testing process must be clearly documented. Personnel, premises and materials must meet the highest standards. These processes provide patients and prescribers with the safest and most reliable products.
Medicinal cannabis products are required to be independently tested by specialized laboratories. The tests laboratories undertake often include:
The identification of cannabis – Medicinal cannabis products typically must be derived only from the cannabis plant. An important first step is to test the plant material to confirm it is actually cannabis, and not an adulterant or substitute.
The identification of active ingredients – There are numerous components of the cannabis plant. This test typically requires identifying THC and CBD, and often the terpene content.
The absence/presence of microorganisms – During cultivation, the cannabis plant can host harmful microorganisms like fungi and bacteria which can end up in the finished product. This may require decontamination treatment by gamma irradiation to eliminate microorganisms such as Staphylococcus Aureus and Escherichia Coli. The process must not affect the quality of the finished product.
The absence/presence of pesticides – Many different types of pesticides can be used in cannabis cultivation, but none are approved for use in cannabis. This test ensures the finished product does not contain pesticides which are very harmful to patients’ health.
The absence/presence of heavy metals – The cannabis plant can quickly take up heavy metals from soil – termed heavy metal bio-accumulation. Every batch must be checked for the presence of harmful heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury.
The absence/presence of foreign matter – It is essential that the final plant material (and the finished product dose form) is free from impurities such as soil, dust, dirt and other contaminations.
The total water content – For cannabis flos which is intended to be inhaled by vaporization, the final water content is important. The right amount of moisture (water content) in dried cannabis flos assures an easy inhalation process during vaporization.
GMP certified - for reliability
Medicines must have a clearly defined composition. GMP-certified, fully standardized medicinal cannabis contains a constant composition active ingredients, batch-to-batch. This means the same dose can be taken each time. Doctors can better monitor dosage, condition progress, and reduce the risk of overdose and side effects. These products are also free of microbial contaminants (molds, fungi, and bacteria), pesticides, and heavy metals. These are qualities that are especially important for people with weakened immune systems, and which make the products safe for vaporization and inhalation into the lungs.
Finally, standardization allows the comparison of different clinical trials and studies across time. It is a critical factor for building the evidence base of medicinal cannabis. Batch-to-batch consistency is a challenge. The cannabis plant is chemically complex and can vary greatly from plant-to-plant. Growing standardized cannabis means consistently achieving a balance of all potential active components (specifically the cannabinoids and terpenes). This must be confirmed batch-to-batch by laboratories who issue Certificates of Analysis.