The Importance and Variations of Cannabis Lab Testing

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Marijuana means different things to different people—for some it is merely another narcotic, something to be shunned or feared; for an ever-increasing population of Americans, it is an important medicine that offers relief for patients with various conditions—but it is important not to lose sight of the fact that, whatever else it may be, marijuana is a consumer product. It’s something that is bought and sold, and in many states it is something that is regulated by the government. As such, it should come as no surprise that, like most other consumer products, medical marijuana is subject to product testing.

Cannabis testing is done in a laboratory, and serves a critical function in protecting medical marijuana patients. There are two basic roles of cannabis lab testing. One is to test for potency, to offer some idea of just how effective the medicine will be. The other role is to test the cannabis for common contaminants.

Testing for Potency

The need for potency testing is fairly self-evident. Different patients have different medical needs, and the various strains of medical marijuana affect the body and mind in different ways and to varying degrees. In other words, one type of cannabis may prove too potent for one patient, but not sufficiently potent for the rest—and lab testing helps assess and appraise the strength of a given strain, thereby allowing patients to make more informed decisions.

When cannabis is tested in a lab, what exactly is it being tested for? We have blogged in the past about the different cannabinoids that are found in different strains of cannabis, which include THC, CBD, CBN, THCA, and others. Studies have found that the different levels of these compounds, found in a particular strain of medical marijuana, determine how well it addresses different physical needs—so assessing the levels of these cannabinoids aids patients in making their purchasing decisions.

While there are many different cannabinoids, there are really eight that are known to have a discernable impact on the human body and mind, and those are the ones that tend to be tested for. If you’re interested in further information, here’s just one lab that does testing, and offers some helpful insights.

Testing for Contaminants

Just as important: Cannabis is tested for potential contaminants, which might include not just mold and fungus but also pesticides that may have been used near where the cannabis was grown. Because many MMJ patients have suppressed immune systems, it is wildly important for them to ensure that they are not ingesting any contaminated cannabis product—making lab testing a crucial service for all MMJ patients.

Contaminant testing is sadly necessary, too: Because of the legal status of cannabis growers, there is often very little information available about growing and curing conditions. That’s starting to change, but it is nevertheless vital for products to be tested for potentially harmful pollutants before they are sold to patients.

What About Untested Cannabis?

It’s worth noting that some dispensaries have started to market products that are explicitly untested, but come recommended by doctors for treatment of various conditions. Don’t let that doctor’s recommendation fool you: While these untested products may be advantageous for many patients, there are always going to be wildly varying reactions to untested products. No matter how highly recommended a strain may come, it’s best not to invest in anything that you don’t know to be tested in a laboratory setting.

Some practical steps you can take to steer clear of untested products:

  • At your local dispensary, ask which independent laboratory tested the product in question, if that information isn’t printed and displayed. Most dispensaries will be perfectly willing to furnish the name of the testing lab.
  • You might specifically ask whether the cannabis was tested for pesticides, such as abamectin—a dangerous substance that is not approved for use in edible products but is nevertheless commonly used for protecting crops from mite devastation. Again, this information is likely to be readily provided.
  • For products explicitly marked as untested: Again, we would generally recommend steering clear.


To close, we might note that none of this information is intended to make you afraid of or insecure in using the medicine available to you at the dispensary. We just want to emphasize the importance of knowing what it is you’re using—and ensuring that it’s been through the right testing channels, as the majority of MMJ products are.