As Marijuana Use Increases, Quality Control Becomes an Issue

Posted on March 31st, 2014

As Marijuana Use Increases, Quality Control Becomes an IssueWith nearly half the states in the U.S. legalizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes and two states legalizing it for recreational use, there is growing interest in monitoring and regulating quality and purity. New certification programs and businesses devoted to screening marijuana are cropping up to meet demand.

Dispensaries Turn to Private Labs

Medical marijuana dispensaries are not new. There is evidence that marijuana can be useful in the treatment of several medical conditions, including multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, glaucoma, Alzheimer’s disease, fibromyalgia, osteoporosis and even bacterial infections. Marijuana is also good at reducing the pain and discomfort associated with chemotherapy.

Unlike many other drugs, however, marijuana is not created in a lab with quality standards in place. It is a plant that is grown and that contains thousands of compounds, some of which are thought to be medically important. It can contain contaminants, such as pesticides, mold, fungus, or bacteria, all of which can negatively impact an already sick or compromised patient.

To avoid these contaminants, many dispensaries start with organic plants. They then turn to private labs to ensure that their product is pure and free of harmful substances or microorganisms. These labs can also test plants for levels of the compounds known as cannabinoids that are found in marijuana and that are important for successful treatment. Currently, only Massachusetts and Illinois require dispensaries to test their plants, but that may change in other states, opening up the door for a new industry.

Independent Certification of Marijuana

Because not all states require that their medical marijuana be tested for quality and purity, advocacy groups are stepping in to ensure safety for patients. The Americans for Safe Access Group has recently started a new nationwide program to certify medical marijuana. Called Patient Focused Certification (PFC), this is the only independent certification program to date.

PFC will base its certification on quality standards set by the American Herbal Pharmacopeia and the American Herbal Products Assn. The standards and the PFC encompass everything from packaging to labeling to the operation of individual dispensaries. Those spearheading the new certification program hope that it will help to protect patients and that it will make the medical marijuana industry more credible.

What About Recreational Marijuana?

Medical marijuana users are not the only ones concerned with the quality of cannabis plants. Now that recreational use of the drug is legal in Washington and Colorado, more people are becoming aware of the dangers of using a product contaminated by pesticides, mold, or bacteria. Dispensaries selling the drug for recreation are free to use the services of laboratories to guarantee the quality of their product, but there are as yet no requirements to do so.

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