THC Inflation: Lab Shopping – Concerns for Cannabis Testing Labs


The cannabis industry has achieved significant milestones in 2022 that have ultimately moved the global legalization agenda forward. With the curtain closing on the prohibition era comes the birth of a regulated industry whose value is expected to reach $82.3 billion by 2027. However, the preliminary success of the industry has not been without setbacks; one that has stood out in 2022 has been THC inflation which has orchestrated rampant lab shopping in pursuit of the highest THC numbers. 

Prevalence of Cases of THC Inflation 

There have been quite a number of cases of THC inflation which have been reported this year, which is a good thing. Previously, cases of THC inflation have gone unreported and consequently unpunished, leaving consumers to bear the brunt of paying more for less potent cannabis. 

Earlier in the year, the medical cannabis patients in Arkansas filed a class action lawsuit against one cannabis testing lab for allegedly inflating THC results for three different producers in the state.

A study that was conducted by Dr. Zoorob and published in 2021 highlighted suspected THC inflation in the states of Washington and Nevada. The researcher noted a preponderance of samples which had THC amounts exceeding 20%; a pattern which contradicts the expected natural variation in THC concentration. The samples with THC levels exceeding 20% seemed to come from specific labs. 

What is THC Inflation?

THC inflation refers to bumping up of THC numbers to show that a sample has a higher concentration of THC than it actually has. Low THC strains contain less than 10% THC while any strain that tops 20% THC is considered a high THC strain. Higher THC strains usually fetch a premium price because they are believed to have stronger intoxicating and healing properties. While traditionally it was rare to come across strains that exceed 28% THC, it has now become common to walk into a dispensary and find several shelves littered with products exceeding 30%-40% THC. Once you notice such, you should be alerted that something is terribly amiss.

What is Lab Shopping?

Lab shopping is an aftermath of THC inflation. Once word goes around that a certain lab is pumping up THC numbers, unscrupulous producers begin flocking the lab so they can also get their THC numbers inflated. Unfortunately, this practice has become so rampant that some labs blatantly advertise their services based on the high THC numbers in the Certificates of Analysis (CoAs) that they produce.

Are Higher THC Numbers Even Better?

And here is the big question, is 40% THC any better than 20% THC? While this might be a controversial question, there are all indications that this might not even matter in the long run. Beyond a certain level of potency, say 20%, it is the extra cannabinoids and terpenes that are responsible for stronger effects. A study by the University of Colorado confirmed that THC concentration on its own is not a true indicator of the potency of a cannabis strain.

Why is there a rush for higher THC numbers?

This largely stems from misinformation about the potency of cannabis strains. Because consumers believe that the higher the THC content in a product, the stronger or better it is, they are willing to pay a premium price for higher THC products. This means that producers make more money by selling higher THC products and this provides them with the incentive to inflate THC numbers.  

Dangers of THC Inflation for Cannabis Testing Labs

THC inflation hurts the whole cannabis industry in the long run. Consumers are duped into paying more for less potent cannabis strains. Medical cannabis patients needing higher THC products suffer the consequences of inflated THC figures. The nascent industry which is trying to gain credibility is on the losing end as more cases of gross mislabeling of products continue to be reported. Even cannabis research is paralyzed when researchers find that they can not trust the THC level indicated on a product label. 

Labs that inflate THC results are bound to get more customers and may even charge higher rates for the “extra service”. However, this will not be long-lived. Once it is discovered that a lab is inflating THC, the lab stands to lose credibility, face hefty fines, and may even lose its license. 

Labs that do not inflate THC will be short-term losers as they will not have customers flocking for their services. The only clients that will stick with them are those that believe in transparency and ethical business practices. In the long run, they will be able to build a solid reputation and a credible clientele that will survive the test of time. 

Why is Third-Party Testing Necessary To Prevent THC Inflation?

The only surefire way to curb the rampant THC inflation and lab shopping is by insisting on credible and verifiable third-party testing of THC products. Cannabis consumers should insist on viewing CoAs and counter-checking the credibility of the testing lab. Labs that have been previously involved in THC inflation should be shunned at all costs. In addition, it is necessary for stakeholders in the industry to conduct impromptu checks on cannabis products to ascertain whether what is claimed on the product labels is verifiable. 

Sometimes labs may unintentionally report inaccurate THC results. This can be a result of sample mix-ups or transcription errors. Whatever the reason, such a mistake can be costly and may jeopardize the reputation of the lab. A laboratory information management system for cannabis supports the maintenance of the highest level of accuracy and productivity in cannabis testing.

Why Laboratory Information Management System for Cannabis Testing?

A laboratory information management system for cannabis enables labs to automate their processes by integration with analytical instruments and follow quality standards seamlessly, eliminating the scope of manual manipulation of test results. Furthermore, it enables labs to automatically generate reports with a scannable QR code and share them with customers in real time. The QR code can be configured to encode a link to the original CoA generated by a laboratory, enabling consumers to match the composition reported on the product label with the actual test results on the CoA, boosting consumers’ confidence in the products they consume. 

THC Inflation & Lab Shopping Do More Harm Than Good: Labs Beware

THC inflation may seem like a lucrative idea for cannabis testing labs. After all, labs that bump THC numbers can charge higher prices and attract more clients. However, once consumers or other industry stakeholders get wind of what’s happening, your lab will bear the consequences. This may mean paying hefty fines, losing reputable clients, or even losing your business license in the worst-case scenario. Think long-term and avoid THC inflation at all costs.

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