America has a marijuana problem, but it’s not what you think.
As medical, or even recreational, use of cannabis has been sanctioned or decriminalized* by dozens of states (and Washington, DC), there is a growing need for laboratory testing to:
- Measure the potency of cannabis products
- Identify potentially toxic contaminants, such as molds, pesticides, heavy metals and potentially toxic solvents used during the manufacturing of cannabis extracts and concentrates
- Assure products sold as cannabis are not adulterated with other drugs, such as synthetic cannabinoids
At least one individual—who was immunocompromised and taking cannabis for medical reasons—died after using a product laced with mold.
Yet, while laboratory testing is an urgent need, marijuana remains illegal at the federal level—meaning there is no cannabis testing guidance available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the US Food and Drug Administration or the Environmental Protection Agency.
As a member-driven organization, APHL built a community of practice for cannabis testing to meet the needs of state and local laboratories that have been mandated to develop cannabis testing programs by their governing authorities. Early on, APHL convened conference calls among interested parties and set up a website where members can share best practices and challenges and link to other useful websites.
More recently, the association has begun developing its own cannabis testing guidance document, now in draft form. This rigorous work has been carried out with oversight from a task force of subject matter experts and in partnership with other interested entities, such as commercial laboratories, laboratory accrediting bodies, state public health agencies and Johns Hopkins University.
Among the topics covered in the guidance are pros and cons of various forms of cannabis, product sampling, microbial and heavy metal testing, toxicity scoring, risk assessment and criteria for determining acceptable risk.
Because of APHL’s leadership on the issue, even the media has turned to the association for insight into this burgeoning area of public health. (See, for example,
Ultimately, APHL’s testing guidance fills a critical void, establishing the country’s first evidence-based quality standards for the testing and characterization of cannabis.
* Sanctioned refers to legalization and decriminalized refers to the abolition or reduction of penalties for certain acts of marijuana possession or use.