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Who Sets the High Standards for Medical Marijuana?

By Laura Kuhl
Jul 06, 2018

Medical marijuana sits in limbo while politicians in the U.S continue to debate its value. In the meantime, patients use medical marijuana to treat a wide array of symptoms in the thirty states (and Canada) where it is legal. Nearly half of patients use cannabis to treat neurological and chronic pain disorders, while others treat anxiety or soothe cancer symptoms. Because the range of marijuana’s medicinal properties is so broad, it is more important than ever to ensure that cannabis testing is legitimate.

Setting The Standard

The A2LA is one organization that sets the standards for testing laboratories across the United States. Cannabis testing labs undergo the same strict standardization as other medical and food-grade labs. Contaminant levels and quality management systems are measured, but potency testing is a criterion that is unique to cannabis. Standard potency tests measure cannabinoid properties, including CBD and THC, as well as terpene profiles.

The A2LA holds cannabis labs to the ISO/IEC 17025 standard. This international standard is set for all testing and calibration laboratories. It ensures that these labs are competent and release valid and reliable results. When it comes to cannabis, this standard protects patients and recreational users from contaminated or mislabeled product. With it, cannabis companies can guarantee the CBD:THC ratio of their product and confidently tell patients what to expect when using their strains of marijuana.

Steep Hill Steps Up

Last week, Steep Hill Labs Pennsylvania earned their ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation from A2LA. The now-accredited cannabis lab in Harrisburg runs full-service testing for pesticides, heavy metals, residual solvents, and potency testing which covers ten different cannabinoids and more than forty terpenes. According to a statement, this accreditation helps ensure that medical marijuana patients in Pennsylvania receive quality medication.

But protecting medical marijuana patients goes beyond testing for potency and contamination. The standards cannabis labs need to meet covers management and personnel systems as well as the quality of the cannabis itself.

Perry Johnson Laboratory Accreditation, Inc (PJLA) is another organization that tests cannabis labs to ensure they meet ISO/ISE 17025 standards. PJLA President, Tracy Szerszen, recently reported on some of the most common findings these accreditation assessments uncover. On top of using appropriate testing methods, equipment, and procedures, cannabis labs must have proper documentation and record-keeping for management, internal audits, and purchasing records. Employees must also be certified to operate equipment and perform tests. Failure to provide proof of these records or certificates will prohibit accreditation and nullify any lab results published without accreditation.

Aurora Cannabis Does GMP

There are many things cannabis companies and cannabis labs can do to guarantee that their cannabis products will be legitimate at testing. Aurora Cannabis (TSX:ACB) (OTCQB:ACBFF) is doing their part with their new 1.2 million square foot Aurora Sun facility in Alberta. Like the rest of their facilities, Aurora Sun will be held to the European Union’s Good Manufacturing Practices. Specialty nutrient delivery and irrigation systems are in place to protect plant health, and the new facility is utilizing automated plant movement and closed air systems to reduce contaminants. The company’s dedication to leading the standards of the industry will show when their products are sent for laboratory testing.

"Aurora Sun exemplifies our cultivation and production philosophy focused on purpose-built, high technology, highly automated facilities with industry-leading efficiency, resulting in ultra-low production costs to ensure robust margins in all our markets," Terry Booth, Aurora CEO, clarified in a statement last April.

Just as cannabis legalization in Canada is changing things for recreational marijuana users, laboratory standards are doing the same for medical marijuana. In a market worth over $12 billion, the standards for medical marijuana need to be high. And with more companies and testing facilities like Steep Hill Labs earning accreditation, the validation the cannabis industry needs may come sooner rather than later.

*Photo Credit: Manuel M. V.

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