How to Be an Informed Marijuana Consumer

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Being a consumer in the developing legal marijuana market can be an intimidating experience. Here's how to make that less of a confusing situation.

Dispensary shelves can contain dozens of varieties of cannabis flowers as well as hundreds, if not thousands, of assorted other products. Products appear to be produced daily and labels can be hard to pronounce, with often scary sounding chemicals and hard to decipher lab results. The industry is so new, that it is hard to determine who has a good reputation and what constitutes a quality product is still very much an open question.

So, how can you be a discerning cannabis consumer? What does that mean? And what should you be concerned about when spending your hard-earned money?

There's a Lot More to Cannabis Than THC (and CBD)

High THC results are one of the largest factors in any cannabis flowers or products selling quickly. But, THC - or even a combination of THC and CBD, do not tell the whole story. Many cannabis researchers are supportive of the Entourage Effect; that dozens of the plant's components (cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, etc.) create the effects we feel and benefit from in utilizing cannabis. Terpene testing is available in many legal markets and they play a big role in the final product. Ask to see the terpene profile in addition to those of cannabinoids.

Is the Product Organic?

Marijuana at this time cannot be certified as organic as that program is regulated by the federal government and many companies thus mislabel product accordingly. Ask about how product is fertillized. If a producer, whether outdoor or hydroponic, is using natural fertilization resources, such as kelp, earthworm castings, molasses, guano, etc. it is likely that their approach is closer to, "organic." If they also mention beneficial microbes, which play a huge role in natural plant health and contributing to plant health, this is a major consideration. The production and use of synthetic fertilizers is also not environmentally friendly and standards that organic operations must follow include conserving natural resources and protecting biodiversity, which are also principles that are important to some consumers. If buying organic is important to you in regard to food, then ask for cannabis grown in soil with natural fertilization and avoid product grown in hydroponic systems, which includes using synthetic fertilizers in inert media such as coconut coir and rockwood.

Indoor vs. Outdoor Debate

The general opinion in the industry is that indoor is superior to outdoor grown cannabis. This is definitely not the case many times and is partly based on outdated notions from prohibition. During those times, outdoor growers did not care for their plants which is definitely not the case now. The full spectrum of the sun also cannot be matched by any lighting technology that exists today and it promises different development of cannabinoids and terpenes that any artificial lamp can. Also, if environmental impact plays a role in your consumer decisions, then you will want to ask for greenhouse or outdoor-grown product, which have a drastically smaller carbon footprint compared to the energy-heavy consumption of indoor grown cannabis.

Beware Pesticides

Recalls in Denver and elsewhere have shown that many legal cannabis growers are using pesticides improperly. No research has been done to determine if using pesticides on cannabis is safe as that would most likely occur at the federal level. Ask about a grower's IPM practices. IPM means Integrated Pest Management and and good cultivator should be able to tal about their holistic pest management strategies. See if this includes cleanliness, prevention, environmental control, resistant varieties and the use of natural pesticides. Pest-free crops without pesticides which are not natural are definitely possible.

How Old Are The Tests and What Lab(s) Performed Them?

Many dispensaries will show you their test results. But, are they relevant? Test results can vary from harvest to harvest, as changes in environmental conditions, fertilization and the amount of time a plant was allowed to flower and other factors can all alter the cannabinoid and terpene profile of a plant. Ask to see the test results for a given harvest batch (what you are buying) if available. Look at historical tests, although such data may have limited usefulness.

While the newness of the industry can be overwhelming, being an informed, selective consumer and voting wth your dollars is one of the most effective ways to shape the industry and influence what types of products are for sale. If we want safe, high-quality, reliably-tested and responsibly produced cannabis - let's start asking for it!