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Why Cannabis Testing Matters — And How To Read Test Results
January 23, 2024

Licensed New York cannabis brands must test their products before dispensaries can sell them. These tests are designed to protect your safety and ensure transparency. Beyond those fundamentals, cannabis lab tests tell you a lot about what you can expect out of your experience with the product in question.

What is cannabis testing?

Cannabis testing is the process of analyzing samples of cannabis flower or manufactured products like edibles or tinctures to determine potency, cannabinoid content, terpene profile, and whether any contaminants are present.

Why does cannabis testing matter?

Ensures product safety

Testing ensures that the cannabis you’re bringing home is free and clear of contaminants. Without third-party testing, cannabis products may contain unsafe levels of contaminants like additives, heavy metals, mold, or residual solvents, and you’d never know.

Verify product quality

How do you know the flower you’re buying truly contains 28% THC? Cannabis testing confirms that the contents on the label match the product inside.

Certificates of analysis (CoAs), which are provided following a laboratory test, include a breakdown of cannabinoid content and terpene profile, so you know precisely what’s in the product you’ve chosen. Unlicensed cannabis sellers often won’t be able to furnish these documents, but licensed dispensaries like The Travel Agency only carry products with detailed test results that every customer can review.

How to access — and understand — cannabis test results

All cannabis products sold at a licensed dispensary must include either a link or a QR code that directs you to the complete testing results and the CoA issued by the third-party laboratory that conducted the tests. The results are spelled out plainly and are meant for anyone to easily understand them.

The first page of a CoA includes the company name and license number. It also includes the lot information and batch or sample ID so you can confirm the test results are for the product you purchased. It also includes the date the samples were collected, the date they were received, and the date test results were reported.

The top section of a CoA includes a summary of company information and all testing results.

 

The next thing you’ll see is cannabinoid and terpene profiles. You’ll find the percentage and volume by weight for each one. This information can help you confirm the accuracy of what’s on the product page. More importantly, it can help you anticipate how a product may affect you.

The cannabinoid profiling follows the initial summary, and terpenes are listed below in a similar fashion.

 

For solid cannabis products like flower and edibles, you’ll next be able to review the water activity and moisture content test results. That’s followed by the individual results for contaminant testing.

An example of test results for mycotoxin and heavy metals testing on a CoA.

 

More than just THC: Cannabis testing requirements in New York

Cannabis testing is more than just determining how much THC or CBD is in your product. It’s a vital tool for consumer health that checks to ensure products are safe to consume. Requirements vary from state to state; in New York, testing laboratories look for the following:

Phytocannabinoids: Cannabinoid profiling determines which phytocannabinoids, or cannabinoids from plants like cannabis, are present in the product and in what amounts. In New York, testing labs measure for 12 named cannabinoids, including delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), Cannabidiol (CBD), Cannabinol (CBN), and Cannabigerol (CBG). Labs must test for other cannabinoids that a company’s marketing materials claim is in the product.

Terpene profile: Testing laboratories look for 20 terpenes, including major players like myrcene, caryophyllene, limonene, pinene, and linalool. Terpenes influence a cannabis product’s flavor, smell, and effects, so it’s important to know the precise terpene profile of the product you choose. [You can learn more about terpenes when you visit our dispensary in Union Square by checking out The Travel Agency flower lounge.]

Homogeneity: New York labs must test five samples to ensure that they are representative of the entire product batch. Three of these samples must contain THC and CBD content within 25 percent of the mean concentration for each cannabinoid to be considered homogenous.

Microbiological contaminants: Testing labs look for Salmonella, Aspergillus, molds, and mildew. They do so through Total Aerobic Count (TAC) testing and Total Yeast and Mold Count (TYMC) testing, which estimates contamination levels and determines whether they are within a safe range.

Mycotoxins: Testing also checks whether any mycotoxins are present in the sample. Mycotoxins are toxic compounds produced by fungi and can be a serious health risk.

Heavy metals: Cannabis plants naturally absorb elements in the soil, and if that soil is contaminated with heavy metals then so too will the plant’s flower. Heavy metals testing screens for lead, nickel, cadmium, and other elements to ensure these harmful heavy metals don’t make it into your products.

Water activity and moisture content: Flower and solid cannabis products are tested for water activity (aW) and moisture content within certain acceptable ranges. This ensures that products will stay fresh and won’t develop mold.

Water activity must be below 0.65 aW for dried flower and below 0.85 aW for edibles. Moisture content must range between 5% and 15% for flower and no greater than 15% for edibles.

Foreign materials: Samples are examined for non-cannabis materials like small pebbles or dirt.

Residual solvents: Products like vapes and concentrates are checked for any solvents that may have been left behind in the manufacturing process. These include hydrocarbons like butane and propane, as well as alcohol like ethanol.

Pesticides: Cultivators must declare the use of any pesticides. Labs confirm that pesticides are only present in trace, safe amounts. Unsafe products may not be sold.

As you can see, cannabis testing requirements are quite detailed — and for good reason. When you review a product’s CoA, you’ll have access to all this information.

Always shop at a licensed cannabis dispensary

Licensed dispensaries like The Travel Agency carry the very best of New York cannabis. Don’t just take our word for it; every product we carry comes with complete testing results that you can examine for yourself. Unlicensed shops aren’t held to the same standards — there’s no way to tell what’s in the products they’re selling. If you need some help navigating a product’s test results, just ask one of our budtenders and they’ll be happy to help you.

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