I’ve been writing about issues with THC percentage inflation in cannabis for months, and one of the first questions I’m always asked is “So What?” What a perfect question to use to explore what the impacts of THC inflation are!
What’s a Label For?
Before we examine the impacts of THC potency inflation on cannabis labels, it’s important to understand the purpose of product labeling. In 1967, the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act was enacted. It directed the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to issue regulations to ensure that all consumer commodities were labeled to disclose its contents and origin. The Office of Weights and Measures of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, (NIST) which is a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce, is tasked with promoting uniformity in State and Federal regulations of labeling.
Essentially, these labeling laws were established at the federal level to support consumers in understanding the products they were buying. They were meant to level the playing field between products so that consumers could make value comparisons in addition to preventing deceptive or unfair packaging or labeling.
Because cannabis is federally illegal, this means that the states are tasked with ensuring that the labels are accurate and that consumers are protected from unfair packaging or labeling.
1. Inconsistent Effects
One of the ways that THC percentage inflation impacts the cannabis industry is by reducing the reliability of the number, and making consumers of regulated cannabis unable to predict the effects of the products they purchase. While some denigrate the needs of cannabis consumers by saying ‘they just aren’t getting as high,’ the issue is a bit more serious. For those seeking relief from medical conditions, such as medical cannabis patients, this could mean prolonging their symptoms, or exacerbating their medical issues. For others, it makes the effects less consistent and predictable.
How would you feel if you found out that octane of gasoline was being overstated at the gas pump? What if the alcohol by volume percentage was incorrect on beer labels? What might happen if ibuprofen tablets stated 100 mg but only had 75 mg?
I’ve performed off the shelf testing in California and Oregon, and many others have examined other markets. Currently, there is a large variance in the consistency of THC percentage reporting wherever cannabis is being tested and sold.
When state regulators allow this sort of overstatement to consistently continue, they are effectively turning their backs on fraud. After all, the entire point of the label on a package is to indicate its contents to protect consumers from fraud.
3. Inflated THC Percentages Causes Harm to the Cannabis Market
Cannabis consumers aren’t the only ones that are being impacted by inflated THC percentages. The practice is wreaking havoc on all areas of the cannabis industry. The largest impacts of THC percentage inflation is felt by the labs and producers.
Several labs have attributed their closures to the rampant THC potency inflation. As more and more labs try to find ways to increase the THC percentage number for their clients, the other labs in the market are often forced to make similar concessions, or risk losing their business.
Farmers and processors are definitely feeling the pressure to produce high-THC flower and distillate, and many of them are pressured to the point of lab shopping for the highest THC values. For those that stand on their ethical ground, often their products won’t be purchased by dispensaries because of ‘economic viability,’ or they have to be sold at razor thin margins (or, worse, at cost).
To many in the industry, it seems as though retailers/dispensaries are largely at fault because of how close they are to the customer experience. Unfortunately, many dispensaries often feel the pressure to ensure that higher-THC products are purchased and centered for customers.
4. Erodes consumer faith in science
There’s already evidence that many consumers are aware of the issues with THC percentages and cannabis testing, and are already becoming skeptical of cannabis science. I don’t want to sound hyperbolic, but there have already been instances where faith in scientific institutions has eroded, and this would be yet another factor. It’s crucial that the science behind cannabis testing be consistent for its own sake.
5. Impact To The Plant
One of the things heard often from cannabis consumers is how all of the ‘old classic strains’ aren’t available anymore. Part of this just might be due to THC inflation. There have already been tales about genetics that aren’t being grown, and tales of how plant diversity is being sacrificed in favor of the highest THC strains possible. I have heard of some producers that are working to preserve some of the terpene profiles of older, low-THC strains by cross-breeding them with higher THC strains, but the impact of ‘shelf undesirability’ to the low-THC strains remains the same.
6. If They Lie About THC, They’ll Lie About Contaminants
Once a lab has proven willing to lie about THC in order to increase the profitability of their client’s crop, the ability for consumers to trust results from that laboratory diminishes. If they’re willing to put aside their scientific integrity to help squeeze an extra few dollars by ‘tweaking’ the THC number, they’d probably also be willing to ensure that contaminants would remain hidden. There have been instances where mistyped information caused a lab to indicate cannabis products had “passed” pesticide testing when they had “failed” – and if it can happen by accident, it can happen intentionally.
7. Failure to Meet the Promises of Safe Access
When cannabis patients were called to help legalize cannabis and put their livelihoods at risk by self-identifying as federal criminals, a promise was made that they would receive safe access to cannabis in return. That meant product that was fully tested and safe to consume, in addition to having the ability to safely access it (as opposed to having to deal with the black market). The issues with cannabis testing call into question whether or not that promise is being kept.
Why Is THC Potency Inflation So Bad?
While many who hear about THC potency inflation initially dismiss the concerns as consumers ‘not getting high enough,’ the ongoing, unchecked practice actually has deeper implications than just that. In order to fulfill the promise made for safe, accessible cannabis, it’s vital that states use all the tools at their disposal to ensure that cannabis testing regulations are able to guarantee that cannabis labels are accurate.