Cannabis legalization in states like Colorado, Washington, and Oregon has enabled manufacturers and retail shops to offer a range of products far in excess of raw flowers, or bud. Many dispensaries and shops sell edibles, tinctures, oils, and concentrates to attract customers and offer THC in as many forms as possible.
Concentrates Gaining Popularity
Concentrates are gaining popularity among both recreational and medical users due to their potency. Based on a solvent-based extraction process, concentrates offer a higher percentage of active chemicals than raw flowers.
When it comes to cannabinoids like THC, CBD, and CBG, patients want as much potency as they can get. THC levels as high as 80 percent in concentrates, compared to only 10-25 percent in regular bud, give an idea of how active chemicals in the plant can ultimately triple or quadruple in their percentages.
This is true of good molecules, like THC, but also bad molecules, like pesticides. In a recent round of investigative reporting, Portland’s The Oregonian purchased 10 samples of concentrates from retail Oregon dispensaries. Eight of the 10 samples tested positive for pesticides. Three of those eight failed to meet Oregon’s limits for residual pesticide levels.
One of the concentrates contained a common ingredient in ant and roach sprays that was present at 21 times more than allowed by the state. Another of the samples was labeled organic, but turned out to contain a chemical found in flea and tick remedies. Another sample, the most contaminated, tested positive for seven chemical compounds. Thus, chemicals that the federal government prohibits on food are being smoked by at least some of the more than 70,000 medical cannabis users in Oregon.
More Than Half Tainted
Further evidence is provided by OG Analytical, a lab in Oregon. Rodger Voelker, a molecular biologist and the lab’s scientific director, has long suspected that many concentrates contained high levels of pesticides. Voelker tested 154 concentrate samples, including oils, from October 15 to December 31, 2014. He discovered that more than half were tainted.
However, Voelker failed only about a quarter of the samples he tested as being in violation of Oregon’s medical marijuana testing rules. Why? Because Oregon law prohibits a limited list of pesticides and toxins. In addition to pesticides, Voelker said he found a chemical typically used by landscapers to improve golf course turf that is prohibited for use on food.
Unfortunately, these findings illustrate the fact that concentrates are about 10 times more likely to contain pesticides than regular whole-plant cannabis flowers. The newfound legitimacy of retail cannabis in legal states introduces several regulatory assurances for consumers, such as laboratory testing for contaminants. Unfortunately, as illustrated by Oregon, this testing isn’t always accurate or thorough. In fact, there are several pesticides and chemicals for which Oregon law doesn’t even require testing. For those chemicals, any amount is permitted.
Because of the very nature of concentrates, raw flowers that test within limits for prohibited pesticides may not result in concentrates that do the same. Because Oregon doesn’t currently require testing of concentrates, there’s no ready solution to this problem.
Based on the results obtained by The Oregonian, Oregon might want to update its medical marijuana testing guidelines to include products like concentrates. In addition, critics claim that the state should also test for additional pesticides and toxic chemicals to ensure that the products being distributed through Oregon’s roughly 300 dispensaries remain clean and protect patients.