The legalization of cannabis is driving the need for increased quality control and standardized methods throughout the production and testing processes. Just like other medicine or consumable products, cannabis must also go through extensive testing in order to ensure the potency and safety of the products, and it needs to be labelled with the right specifications to provide the desired effects to consumers.
The experience of using cannabis will be unique to each user and everyone’s endocannabinoid system will react differently to the products. This creates a challenge for companies as they cannot guarantee how each product will make each individual person feel. What companies do have control over is the major EU-GMP elements such as potency, purity, safety, efficacy, and integrity of the products, and this is what the practices of quality control are striving to achieve. Consumers want to be confident that the products they purchase are free of pesticides, residual solvents, toxins, foreign material, heavy metals, chemical and microbial contaminants and other impurities. Consumers also have specific needs and want certain specifications, so it is important for them to know the levels of cannabinoids like THC and CBD, as well as the terpene profiles, that are present in their products.
This type of information is only achieved when the products are tested using verified methods. Testing results satisfy both producers and consumers, but unfortunately, testing laboratories are not always reliable. Right now, the cannabis industry is heavily reliant on third party laboratories for testing. Even though, we have GLP, GDP, GMP and related regulatory requirements in place, this is problematic because there is no universal standards and practices for how these laboratories must operate. You could send the same product to five different laboratories and receive five results with some sort of variations in the test results as per their certificate of analysis.
To help overcome this, it is imperative that companies demand quality control data come together with the certificate of analysis (COA). Giving access to all of the quality control data and not just a COA that states that tests were performed will help assure that the analytical results are precise. In other words, through appropriate level of vendor audits, the cannabis licensed producers must have access to the third party testing laboratories’ original test data, testing systems, system qualification reports such as IQ, OQ and PQ, validated testing procedures, calibration and maintenance reports, analysts and supportive documents for laboratory personnel qualifications, testing standards, chemicals, reagents, storage and etc.
One of the main problems with cannabis quality is the use of pesticides and the levels of contamination that are often present. As per the global mail research performed, “Of the nine samples The Globe tested, one third of them would not pass the safety standards set out by Health Canada for the regulated cannabis industry. Three samples tested positive for bacteria in numbers that exceed federal standards, and one of those three tested positive for potentially harmful mold.” In 2016, the Ministry of Environment and Health in the Netherlands reported that over 90 percent of cannabis plants tested had pesticides on them. t is clear that there is a demand to develop and implement proper quality control and analytical methods for testing cannabis products.
A proper quality control system will ensure that product quality is up to standard and is continuously being improved. Quality control procedures intend to ensure that products adhere to specific quality criteria and requirements which will ultimately lead to increased product consistency and satisfied customers. In an industry like cannabis where products are used by many people for various reasons, it is essential that these products are produced and tested with control measures in place that ensure a high level of efficacy and safety every time. In terms of quality control, cannabis falls in the same category as pharmaceuticals, thus cannabis should be tested to comply with strict rules and regulations regarding quality and safety.
The problem is that in many countries, there are no regulatory bodies to oversee these issues. Countries like Canada that have legalized the controlled sale of cannabis, are recognizing the importance of implementing nationally agreed-upon quality control systems and are making efforts to do so. As legalization continues around the world, countries will be looking closely at Canada’s strategy for successful legalization, as well as any mistakes that were made in the process. In the cannabis industry, a strong quality control program is the foundation for success of any business and must be taken very seriously. Companies must push for more universal transparency in the cannabis testing industry, this is vital in order to provide a consistent, tested product to consumers in a very competitive and exponentially growing marketplace.