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Everything You Need to Know About Cannabis Testing in Florida

By Brittiany Ralls November 1, 2022

As the legalization of cannabis continues to advance across the nation from state to state, researchers are constantly performing new experiments and studies to investigate the medicinal value of cannabis. Numerous scientific reports find evidence for cannabis’ therapeutic potential at treating the symptoms of a wide variety of conditions, including epilepsy, muscle spasms, cancer-induced nausea and vomiting, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and mental health concerns like depression and anxiety.

Medical cannabis has become a flourishing industry supporting a multibillion-dollar market. Innovations in genetics, cultivation techniques, and processing technology have allowed cannabis companies to develop a multitude of exciting products, from concentrates and hydrating lotion to infused beverages and soft chews.

Although this explosion of new products has made medical cannabis more accessible, it poses a unique set of challenges. When companies fail to test their products or misrepresent their results, they put patients at risk of consuming harmful contaminants, such as pesticides, fungi, and bacteria.

Whether you are looking to explore cannabis for the first time, or you have benefitted from this medicine for years, it is crucial that you understand how to identify trustworthy sources and objectively evaluate specific products. Learn more about cannabis testing and regulations in Florida, so you can visit your local dispensary with confidence and peace of mind.

Does Cannabis Have to be Tested?

Like any other agricultural product, cannabis plants can absorb pesticides, heavy metals, microorganisms, and other toxins from the soil that eventually make their way into a patient’s body. The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) uses rigorous testing and regulation for pharmaceuticals and other consumable products.

But, because cannabis is still not legal at the federal level, the FDA has not established the same standards for cannabis products. Each state with a medical cannabis program sets their own regulations, so these laws vary greatly in terms of the contaminants they test for and the tolerance levels they allow.

Ideally, every cannabis company would thoroughly test every batch of each product before stocking their shelves to ensure patients only receive the safest and highest quality products. However, regulations are lacking in many states and lab testing can be expensive. Less reputable companies may operate at the bare minimum required by law to boost their profits.

Some may even contract unscrupulous labs that use limited testing techniques, skew data to favor their products, or misrepresent the ingredients found in the products and their concentrations. It is also important to note that not all testing labs are created equal, and there is a great deal of variation among testing standards and policies across different states and even within different counties.

Fortunately, Florida has fairly strict regulations regarding cannabis testing, especially as it pertains to the presence of THC in the product. It has created a list of cannabis testing labs approved for state use, which test for the presence of heavy metals, pesticides, and mold and mildew to ensure safety of product. But it’s not just the bad they look for; the labs also test for THC, cannabinoid and terpene content.

As a high-quality medical cannabis dispensary in the state of Florida, MÜV’s cultivation and production facilities maintain the equipment necessary to test our products and strains in-house. We test beyond just the finished product, along entire life cycles, to learn more about individual strains and cannabis at large.  The comprehensive testing that occurs on-site means that we know the right questions to ask to hold the state-approved labs accountable. Do they have the necessary equipment to ensure safe, accurate testing? Are they doing what is best for the many cannabis patients that reside in the state?

If you have similar concerns regarding the content of your cannabis products, whether you’ve purchased them from MUV or another approved dispensary, the answers can be found on your products’ COA. This certificate of analysis describes the results obtained during the many quality control steps required by the state of Florida. Visit our resource to learn more about how to read and interpret a COA.

What Do Cannabis Labs Do?

What Do Cannabis Labs Do? 

Cannabis testing labs exist to perform quality assurance testing of cannabis products and verify their purity before they are dispensed to patients. To ensure they are safe for consumption and free of harmful contaminants, medical cannabis products sold at licensed medical marijuana treatment centers (MMTCs) must undergo a series of comprehensive tests by carefully trained and licensed technicians at a state-accredited lab. They implement several procedures to test samples:

Analytical Chromatography

This procedure measures the presence and concentration of compounds in a sample by dissolving a sample in a fluid, which creates different colors that signal the rate of absorption. The most widely used methods in the cannabis industry are gas chromatography (GC), liquid chromatography (LC), and high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC).

High performance liquid chromatography is the preferred instrument for testing extracts and edibles, because it can test samples at room temperature and measure a broad spectrum of cannabinoids.

Mass Spectrometry (MS)

This process is useful for identifying unknown compounds and quantifying concentrations of known compounds in a sample. This method measures the mass of molecules and chemical compounds within a sample by ionizing the compounds and hitting them with an electric or magnetic field.

As these ions accelerate through the mass spectrometer, they are deflected by this field and the rate of deflection creates a spectrum that can be analyzed. Compounds are sorted according to their unique mass-to-charge ratios and measured with an electrical detector.

Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (NMR)

This procedure measures the magnetic fields that surround atomic nuclei. Researchers place a sample in a magnetic field, expose it to radio waves that excite the nuclei, and detect this excitement with a radio receiver. The changes in frequency of the magnetic fields allows them to determine the structure of molecules and chemical compounds within the sample.

What Should I Look for in a Cannabis Product?

Every medical cannabis sold in a licensed MMCT must be lab-tested, certified by a certificate of analysis (COA), a document that confirms the product has been tested at an accredited lab and meets certain standards for quality control. These reports can vary due to the specific compounds for which the company wants to test, but they typically feature the following categories of test results:

Potency Testing

Although THC and CBD are the most researched cannabinoids, cannabis plants can produce up to 100 different types of cannabinoids that work together to produce the therapeutic and cognitive effects of a strain. A plant’s cannabinoid profile can be impacted not only by genetics, but also growing conditions, including time of year, terrain, environmental stress, and chemical exposure.

Potency testing measures the presence and concentration of multiple cannabinoids in a product and the strength of these compounds so patients can evaluate their therapeutic value. Labs often analyze plants early in their life cycle to determine cannabinoid content, and again after the plants have been harvested to manufacture products. Potency is expressed in several ways, including total cannabinoids present (e.g., 100 mg THC), cannabinoid per weight (e.g., 20% THC), and ratio of CBD to THC (e.g., 1:2).

Terpene Profiling

Terpenes are naturally occurring chemicals produced by plants that give cannabis its distinct aroma and flavor. These molecules bind to receptor sites in the brain and impact the production of dopamine and serotonin, and different terpenes are associated with different sensations and effects.

Researchers hypothesize that terpenes act synergistically with cannabinoids to create a strain’s overall therapeutic benefits (known as the entourage effect), and many patients find that consuming products with terpenes provides greater symptom relief than products with cannabinoids alone.

Terpene profiling allows researchers to measure the types and concentrations of individual terpenes within a strain, optimize the strain’s pharmacological benefits, and determine the best delivery method, which in turn helps patients identify the right strain to treat their symptoms.

Contaminant Testing

Contaminants can be introduced to a cannabis product at any stage of cultivation and processing. A product’s COA should show the accepted levels of different contaminants and the concentration of each contaminant found in that specific product. These concentrations should always be significantly lower than the accepted levels. Lab testing screens for the following major types of contaminants:

  • Pesticides, such as glyphosate and paraquat
  • Residual solvents used during the extraction process, including benzene, chloroform, methanol, toluene, n-butane, acetone, and isopropanol
  • Bacteria, such as Salmonella, Escherichia Coli, and Clostridium botulinum
  • Fungi, primarily yeast and mold
  • Mycotoxins produced by fungi, such as aflatoxins and ochratoxins
  • Filth and foreign matter, including dust, dirt, and rodent droppings
  • Heavy metals, primarily lead, arsenic, mercury, and cadmium

Who Regulates Cannabis?

In Florida, cannabis is regulated by the Florida Department of Health (DOH). Passed by voters in 2016, a constitutional amendment known as the Florida Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative (or Amendment 2) made medical cannabis legal in the state and established a medical cannabis program.

Because cannabis remains federally illegal, there are currently no federal laws for medical cannabis testing, so all testing regulations are determined at the state level. In 2017, Senate Bill 8A, the Medical Use of Marijuana Act, was passed to issue rules and regulations needed to make medical cannabis available to qualified patients.

The DOH created the Office of Medical Marijuana Use (OMMU) to implement legalization of medical cannabis. The OMMU is responsible for:

  • Writing and enforcing the DOH’s rules on medical cannabis
  • Overseeing the state’s Medical Marijuana Use Registry
  • Licensing businesses to cultivate, process, and dispense cannabis
  • Certifying cannabis testing laboratories

In Florida, MMTCs are vertically integrated, meaning they handle every aspect of medical cannabis production and sale. Section 381.986 of the Florida Statute governs the use of cannabis and lists numerous regulations that MMTCs must follow to protect patient health and safety. An MMTC must receive authorization for cultivation, authorization for processing, and authorization for dispensing.

Florida Cannabis Testing Regulations

Cannabis Testing

The following regulations within Section 381.986 apply specifically to cannabis testing.

Growing

When growing medical cannabis, an MMTC may only use pesticides that are registered with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services or the United States Environmental Protection Agency. These pesticides must be safe to use on plants intended for human consumption and be considered “minimum risk.”

An MMTC may not use any restricted-use pesticides, defined as pesticides that can cause unreasonable adverse effects on the environment or injury to the user or other individuals when used as intended and according to the directions. Testing must include residual pesticides.

Processing

When processing medical cannabis, an MMTC must comply with Department rules for using hydrocarbon solvents, other solvents, or gas that may be potentially toxic to humans.

Dispensing

An MMTC must contract a licensed independent medical cannabis testing lab to test processed cannabis before it can be dispensed to patients who have a valid Florida medical marijuana card. These test results must be verified by two employees of the MMTC.

Profiling

Medical cannabis must be tested to determine its cannabinoid profile before it can be sold to patients. This profile must include concentrations of THCA, THCV, d9-THC, d8-THC, CBG, CBGA, CBN, CBC, CBD, CBDA, CBDV. The concentrations of THC and CBD must be accurate and meet legal potency requirements.

Safety

Medical cannabis must be safe for human consumption and free from contaminants that are unsafe for human consumption. Medical cannabis cannot contain any level of residual solvents, microbes, heavy metals, mycotoxins, or foreign materials in an amount exceeding the allowable limit set by the Department of Agriculture.

Inspection

The Department will conduct an inspection of the MMTC at least twice a year to evaluate their standard operating procedures, processes, quality assurance practices, sanitation practices, security measures, equipment, records, and personnel.The Department may conduct additional announced or unannounced inspections of an MMTC to ensure it is compliant with the regulations set forth in the statute.

The Department will also inspect an MMTC if they receive a complaint or notice that it has dispensed cannabis containing bacteria, mold, or other contaminants that have caused or may cause an adverse effect to the environment or to human health.

Records And Recalls

An MMTC must keep records of all testing for nine months, as well as two processed samples from every homogeneous batch for these audits. If a sample falls below legal standards, the MMTC must issue a recall of all products from the same batch of cannabis.

Licensure

The Department may suspend, revoke, or refuse to new an MMTC’s license if it violates the regulations of this statute and impose fines up to $10,000. Examples of violations related to cannabis testing include:

  • Failing to maintain qualifications for approval
  • Failing to keep proper records
  • Intentionally making or filing false reports
  • Engaging in fraud, deceit, negligence, incompetence, or misconduct
  • Making fraudulent, deceptive, or misleading representations
  • Endangering the health, safety, or security of a qualified patient

Medical Cannabis in Florida

Medical Cannabis in Florida

As medical cannabis use continues to grow, patients are demanding detailed information about products before purchasing and expect cannabis companies to be transparent about the products they sell. Licensed MMTCs, like MÜV Medical Cannabis Dispensaries, are the only businesses that can legally sell medical cannabis in Florida, and only cannabis purchased by qualified patients from a licensed MMTC is considered medical cannabis. Purchasing and consuming products from other sources is highly illegal and incredibly dangerous to your health and safety.


References:

1. Goldman, S., Bramante, J., Vrdoljak, G., Guo, W., Wang, Y., Marjanovic, O., Orlowicz, S., Di Lorenzo, R., & Noestheden, M. (2021). The analytical landscape of cannabis compliance testing. Journal of Liquid Chromatography & Related Technologies, 44(9-10), 403–420. https://doi.org/10.1080/10826076.2021.1996390

2. Rosenthal, M. S., & Pipitone, R. N. (2020). Demographics, perceptions, and use of medical marijuana among patients in Florida. Medical Cannabis and Cannabinoids, 4(1), 13–20. https://doi.org/10.1159/000512342

3. The 2021 Florida Statutes. Online Sunshine. (2022, May 18). Retrieved May 18, 2022, from http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&URL=0300-0399%2F0381%2FSections%2F0381.986.html

4. Goldman, S., Bramante, J., Vrdoljak, G., Guo, W., Wang, Y., Marjanovic, O., Orlowicz, S., Di Lorenzo, R., & Noestheden, M. (2021). The analytical landscape of cannabis compliance testing. Journal of Liquid Chromatography & Related Technologies, 44(9-10), 403–420. https://doi.org/10.1080/10826076.2021.1996390

5. Pinkhasova, D. V., Jameson, L. E., Conrow, K. D., Simeone, M. P., Davis, A. P., Wiegers, T. C., Mattingly, C. J., & Leung, M. C. K. (2021). Regulatory status of pesticide residues in cannabis: Implications to medical use in neurological diseases. Current Research in Toxicology, 2, 140–148. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.crtox.2021.02.007 

Content Writer for MÜV and Zen Leaf. Britt began exploring cannabis as a recreational user attempting to treat her migraines and depression. Finding success, she began to realize the many benefits of cannabis for a multitude of ailments. Her new-found knowledge prompted a move to Colorado, where she was able to medically treat her son with ADHD and aid her family in becoming healthier and happier. Realizing her passion for cannabis, she turned it into a career. Joining the industry as Medtender and moving into management gave Britt the knowledge needed to become a writer for a local cannabis culture magazine in Oklahoma and a leading voice in cannabis compliance.

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