By Aaron G. Biros |September 2, 2021

Earlier this year, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) announced a plan to introduce new testing rules for the state’s growing hemp industry. Under the new regulations, hemp products must be tested for residual solvents, heavy metals and pesticides, in addition to making sure they contain less than 0.3% THC.

The CDPHE are planning on a gradual rollout to prevent any supply chain issues or a lab testing bottleneck, similar to what we’ve seen in other states launching new testing requirements in years past, such as Arizona or California. Well, the Colorado rollout appears to be hitting similar snags and because of supply chain issues related to instruments and consumables in laboratories, the implementation of those testing rules is somewhat delayed. What was originally supposed to be implemented over the summer was pushed back to an October 1 deadline, and that deadline has now been pushed back to 2022.

The pesticide testing list to be implemented January 1, 2022

As a result of supply chain shortages and the learning curve to test for such a wide range of pesticides, Colorado is opening hemp testing to out-of-state labs in an effort to stay on schedule with the rollout. Dillon Burns, lab manager at InfiniteCAL, a cannabis testing company with locations in California and Michigan, just completed an audit with the CDPHE in their work to get certified and start conducting hemp testing for businesses in Colorado.

Burns says they’re well-acquainted with the list of pesticides because of how similar the list is to California’s requirements. “For the pesticide testing rules that were supposed to go into effect on August 1st, it’s basically the same list as California just with slightly different action levels,” says Burns. “I would say these action limits are generally stricter – they have much lower LOQs [limits of quantification].”

The pesticide testing list (continued) to be implemented January 1, 2022

Come January 1, 2022, they are expecting an additional 40 pesticides to be required under the new rules. “But currently, it’s still unclear when these regulations will actually go into effect,” says Burns. The full pesticide testing list is currently slated to be implemented on April 1, 2022.

The supply chain issues referenced above have a lot to do with what the state is asking labs to test for. Previously, most of the pesticides tested for under Colorado’s adult use and medical cannabis programs could be analyzed with an LC/MS. A handful of pesticides on the new list do require GC/MS, says Burns. It’s entirely possible that a lot of labs in Colorado just don’t have a GC/MS or are in the process of training staff and developing methods for using the new instrument. “Cleanliness of these instruments is such a priority that it takes time to acquire the right skill set for it,” says Burns.

Dillon Burns, Lab Manager at InfiniteCAL

The new testing rollout isn’t just another compliance hurdle for the cannabis industry; these rules are about protecting public health. Dillon Burns said he’s seen hiccups in California with the amount of new hemp farmers getting into the space. “The hemp products we’ve tested in California often fail for pesticides,” says Burns. It’s a lot easier in most states to get a license for growing hemp than it would be for growing adult use cannabis. “You’ll see a lot more novice growers getting into hemp farming without a background in it. They’ll fail for things they just haven’t considered, like environmental drift. We see a lot of fails in CA. Hemp is bioaccumulating so it presents a lot of problems. If they’re not required to look for it, they weren’t monitoring it.”

When asked how the market might react to the new rules, Burns was confident that Colorado knows what they’re doing. “I don’t anticipate that [a testing bottleneck] happening here. The regulators are reasonable, supportive of the industry and opening it up to out-of-state labs should help in preventing that.”

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By HILAL BAHCETEPE  |July 19, 2021

Hemp-infused products will soon undergo pesticide testing similar to that of their marijuana counterparts.

A lack of federal guidance since hemp’s federal legalization in 2018 has left Colorado to regulate CBD and hemp-derived extracts on its own. Following a glut in the industry from an oversupply of hemp biomass, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment began rolling out hemp regulations in April.

The new rules are set to take effect in full on October 1, but testing has already begun for 106 different pesticides, as well as heavy metals and other residual solvents used in the hemp extraction process, according to Jeff Lawrence, CDPHE director of environmental health and sustainability. Ingredients derived from hemp and intended for consumption, including food, drinks, cosmetics and pet products, will be subject to the testing.

“Ultimately, this is a public-health issue. In 2018, when, statutorily, these products were allowed, we said it would be treated like every other food and dietary supplement requirement,” Lawrence explains.

list of areas where Colorado’s hemp rules needed reform was laid out by a state-approved panel earlier this year, including guidelines for new CBD and hemp-derived extract testing. On top of contaminant testing, the new regulations require an exact percentage of THC content to be included on hemp product labels.

The CBD craze might be calming down, but Lawrence says Colorado wants to help legitimize a still-growing hemp industry, by enforcing universal standards similar to safety regulations already enforced by the United States Food and Drug Administration.

The regulations don’t apply to industrial hemp products not intended for human consumption, such as textiles, fuel and other industrial materials. Hemp-derived smokable products are excluded, as well, including those with modified cannabinoids like Delta-8 THC.

“We don’t want to burden the industry,” Lawrence says. “But what we’ve learned is that there are things in hemp products that we obviously need to be considerate of. Since the inception of hemp, Colorado has been a leader in this industry. This will provide some better guidance.”

The first rollout of regulations began in April, with most testing requirements for heavy metals, microbial and residual solvents going into effect July 1; pesticide testing had a delayed implementation date, but is expected to begin rolling out by August 1.

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By Cannabis Law Report |June 4, 2021

We also asked David Marelius of  Infinite Chemical Analysis labs the same questions

David Marelius, PhD. CSO

Born and raised in San Diego, Dave attended San Diego State University in 2009 where he received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry. Dave then went on to earn his Phd from the joint doctoral program between SDSU and the University of California, San Diego, where, for his graduate work, he utilized organic and organometallic synthesis to make catalysts for water splitting, the conversion of water into oxygen and hydrogen for energy storage. As a graduate student, he received the IPMI Richard Rubin Memorial Scholarship in 2014 for his research in precious metals. He decided to apply his knowledge and experience to the cannabis industry, and has assisted in developing industry- leading methods of analyses for cannabis and hemp testing since co-founding the lab in 2016.

CO’s MED has just banned the sale of Delta 8 in rec retail. Do you think after the new rules in OR, WA & now  CO that we will see Delta 8 regulated in every state ?

It’s no surprise to InfiniteCAL that Delta 8-THC is becoming more regulated every day, and we believe that it should be regulated nationwide. The products available on the market have been produced by synthetically converting cannabidiol (CBD) with potentially harmful catalysts to Delta 8-THC.

This procedure is a complex process that will also create other byproducts like Delta 9-THC and other compounds that have yet to be identified. If Delta 8-THC products are available for purchase, they need to be tested by a cannabis lab to ensure the products are safe and inform consumers what they are putting in their bodies.

 

What are your views of the regulation of Delta 8 .. Should we just see it as something not to dissimilar from Delta 9 and leave it be or is the fact that is needs processing to manufacture mean that it should be regulated as another compound

Delta 8-THC is a psychoactive cannabinoid, just like Delta 9-THC, and legislators should regulate it as such. It seems completely backwards that an unregulated product that gets people “high” and is synthesized in a lab can be sold at gas stations and smoke shops but naturally derived Delta 9-THC must go through rigorous safety testing and can only be sold and handled by licensed companies.

InfiniteCAL has seen cannabis products fail for high lead levels, the presence of mold, and carcinogenic pesticides. Regulators in legalized states have established guidelines to weed out these harmful products, so why isn’t the same being done for CBD and Delta 8-THC?

 

Do you think these new regs will be challenged in the courts?

Based on the amount of claims companies make about Delta 8-THC being federally legal, it’s only a matter of time until someone tries to challenge the new regulations in court.

However, Delta 8-THC is explicitly listed on the DEA 7370 Controlled Substance list, so it’s hard to imagine the cases ending in any other way than saying Delta 8-THC should be regulated like cannabis. 

 

Are there states that you think they’ll let Delta 8 run and be sold alongside other rec products?

To InfiniteCAL, selling Delta 8-THC products in licensed dispensaries makes the most sense. Based on the way it’s produced, Delta 8-THC should be batch tested to ensure consumer safety. We already see products with Delta 8-THC submitted at the state compliance level in California.

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) regulations stipulate that any cannabinoids that make up 5 percent or more of a product must be labeled. The only cannabinoid that has a limit for how much is allowed is Delta 9-THC. Every cannabinoid has its potential benefits, so as long as it is tracked through the METRC seed-to-sale software and passes state-mandated testing, producers should be able to sell these unique products at the retail level.

 

As and when Federal regulation comes along, would you expect to see Delta 8 provisions written into a cannabisomnibus bill?

InfiniteCAL believes that cannabis will be federally legalized in the near future. When the time comes, these regulations must address naturally derived cannabinoids compared to synthetically derived cannabinoids. Delta 8-THC isn’t the only cannabinoid that one can create in a lab.

Regulations must be drafted in a way to prioritize public safety. More research is needed before these products become widely available at the retail level.

 

Delta 8 appears to be the new boogeyman of cannabis or should we say those who aren’t that keen on cannabis. What is your view of the compound, something to celebrate or not?

The alarming part about Delta 8-THC is that someone is creating it in a lab instead of it naturally occurring in the plant. One thing you hear from lobbyists and activists pushing for legalization is that cannabis is great because it’s this all-natural plant that can be used as an alternative for prescription drugs.

One of the many processes of making Delta 8-THC includes converting pure CBD isolate with a catalyst such as hydrochloric acid or sulphuric acid, to name a few, which, if not appropriately neutralized, can be very harmful to consumers. With no research or clinical trials conducted on the effects of consuming these compounds, there is an elevated amount of risk selling Delta 8-THC products. Safety needs to be the number one priority when evaluating whether or not these products should be available for purchase.

  

Delta 8, appears to us at Cannabis Law Report, the canary in the coal mine for new cannabis compounds. Is it important to think very carefully how 8 is regulated and managed as a template for the many other compounds yet to come?

Absolutely, with over 150 cannabinoids identified in the cannabis plant, there is no doubt that various cannabinoids will ride the Delta 8 popularity train. It’s vital to create regulation in anticipation of unique products instead of catching up after it’s available to the public. Regulators should use the current Delta 8 market as a learning opportunity to address synthetic versus naturally derived compounds, psychoactive versus non-psychoactive cannabinoids, and the necessity of ensuring consumer safety as the industry continues to develop new products.

 

Do you think there would be such a fuss about 8 if it didn’t get people “high”? 

Yes, Delta 8-THC would cause just as much of a fuss if it didn’t get people “high.” The issue is that it’s synthetically produced and not naturally occurring. Some chemicals potentially used to synthesize Delta 8 can be extremely harmful to consumers, especially when considering these compounds are being combusted and inhaled.

These chemicals include reagents like acids or catalysts, and consuming these compounds can cause serious illness. During the 2019-2020 vaping lung illness outbreak, there were 60 deaths reported due to Vitamin E acetate and other adulterants being added to vape cartridges. It should be the goal of everyone in the industry to take every step possible to prevent another vape crisis.

Research on whether or not new products are safe for consumption needs to be conducted prior to their availability on the market.

 

How do you think the sector should start educating legislators and law enforcement about the many different compounds that are yet to be manufactured from the plant and how do we try to stay away from a new “reefer madness” every time a new compound is discovered?

Based on the way cannabis has been treated in the United States, activists and researchers must take it upon themselves to educate legislators and law enforcement when new cannabinoids come to market.

InfiniteCAL is on the National Association of Cannabis Businesses (NACB) advisory board composed of other experts from across the industry. This advisory board recently announced that it adopted National Standards on Indoor Cultivation for cultivators across the country to learn about and implement the best practices for indoor cultivation. Legislators and law enforcement should work closely with the experts at NACB to understand the proposed standards and build them into future regulation.

We’d like to thank both Stuart & David for taking the time to answer our questions and look forward to approaching them again as new cannabis compounds  hit the market.

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By StreetInsider |May 6, 2021

Standards aim to help licensed cannabis producers leverage global export opportunities

New York, NY, May 06, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — The National Association of Cannabis Businesses (NACB) announced today that it has adopted National Standards on Indoor Cultivation. The standards identify best practices for cultivating cannabis in an indoor facility, the preferred method for producing cannabis for growers to have comprehensive control over the cultivation environment and product quality.

“Our aim with the Indoor Cultivation National Standards is to help licensed growers adopt best practices for efficient and sanitary indoor cultivation that will ensure a healthy and safe consumer experience,” said Gina Kranwinkel, President and CEO of NACB.

The Indoor Cultivation Standards outline best practices for indoor cannabis production from cultivation to business operations. Topics covered include licensing requirements, company standard operating procedures (SOPs), genetics, insect and disease control, inventory management, product storage and more. Read the entire NACB National Standards on Indoor Cultivation.

The Indoor Cultivation Standards are the latest in a series of national standards NACB is developing to ensure players in the legal cannabis market are operating safely, ethically, and responsibly. NACB uses a deliberative, inclusive process that solicits input from subject matter experts, government agencies and NACB members. Ryan Douglas of Ryan Douglas Cultivation was instrumental in drafting the Indoor Cultivation Standards. Ryan was Master Grower for one of Canada’s largest licensed producers of medical cannabis, and prior to that, spent 15 years as a commercial greenhouse grower of ornamental and edible crops in the U.S. He is the author of From Seed to Success, a guidebook for entrepreneurs interested in launching a successful cannabis cultivation business. Dr. Allison Justice provided expertise in defining the focus of the Indoor Cultivation Standards. Dr. Justice is founder and CEO of The Hemp Mine, an established grower and producer of premium hemp products located in South Carolina. She served on the California Industrial Hemp Advisory Board and advises on policy and regulation for the South Carolina Farm Bureau. Josh Swider, PhD, co-founder and CEO of Infinite Chemical Analysis Labs, provided expert review and commentary on the Indoor Cultivation Standards. InfiniteCAL provides the cannabis industry with high-quality, accurate and timely analytical services. Since 2016, its mission has been to ensure only safe, quality cannabis products reach dispensary shelves. Jacob Policzer, co-founder and Director of Science and Strategy at The Cannabis Conservancy™ and his team provided crucial input on inclusion of cannabis cultivation sustainability during their review of the Indoor Cultivation Standards. The Cannabis Conservancy provides sustainability certification to legal cannabis organizations that adhere to good agricultural practices, are free of harmful chemical inputs, utilize waste reduction methods, are energy efficient, and conserve water. Its mission is to empower and assure that the regulated cannabis industry achieves environmental, economic, and social sustainability.

Every NACB standard is reviewed by NACB members and adopted through member vote. Previously adopted standards provide guidance on advertising, packaging and labeling, lab testing, cybersecurity and more. View the complete list of NACB’s National Standards and details.

“NACB national standards promote state-of-the-art business practices and help consumers more easily identify companies that offer quality products, marketed in a truthful, and socially responsible manner, said Kranwinkel. “The future success of the cannabis industry is determined by how responsibly cannabis companies do business today.”

About the National Association of Cannabis Businesses (NACB): The National Association of Cannabis Businesses (NACB) is one of the first self-regulatory organizations in the cannabis industry. NACB’s mission is to advance the industry by building consensus around best practices, promoting business responsibility and demonstrating to regulators what transparent and responsible regulations should look like. Compliance with NACB national standards is required for ongoing membership in the NACB.

 

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By Laura Drotleff |May 4, 2021

Delta-8 THC has become a runaway market hit – and more states across the country are responding by cracking down on access to the product commonly derived from hemp extracts.

From Alabama to Oregon, states are reacting to the popular products by:

  • Rolling out total bans to limit market access.
  • Considering measures to ban the products.
  • Setting potency limits on products containing delta-8 THC.

According to Marielle Weintraub, president of the U.S. Hemp Authority, a third-party product certification body, states will continue to ban delta-8 THC and other products like it because the cannabinoid is an intoxicant deemed a controlled substance under federal law.

“Do not produce or sell delta-8 products without a permit to produce or sell THC as a controlled substance,” Weintraub said.

“The correct path for the legal production and sale of delta-8 products is through a state-licensed adult recreational or medical marijuana operator.

“Hemp companies not doing this are risking their brand and business future, sanctions from FDA, FTC, USDA and EPA and possible enforcement actions from DEA and state law enforcement and regulators,” Weintraub added, referencing such governmental agencies as the U.S Food and Drug Administration, Federal Trade Commission, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency and Drug Enforcement Administration.

She added that hemp operators manufacturing delta-8 THC will be barred from certifying products through the U.S. Hemp Authority.

Confusion reigns

The legal status of delta-8 THC – along with delta-10 THC, the newest minor cannabinoid creating excitement in the CBD market – has been confusing because of conflicting regulations.

Proponents of products such as delta-8 and delta-10 THC argue that the 2018 Farm Bill states all hemp-derived cannabinoids fall within the definition of hemp, which is a legal crop and no longer a controlled substance.

However, the DEA issued an interim final rule in late 2020 declaring: “All synthetically derived (THC) remain Schedule I controlled substances.”

Because delta-8 THC is manufactured from hemp-derived CBD, not extracted directly from the hemp plant, it is a controlled substance under law, according to the DEA.

“From a chemist’s perspective, it is clear that the isomerization of CBD to delta-8 THC with a catalyst is a chemical process,” said Erik Paulson, lab manager at Infinite Chemical Analysis Labs, a cannabis testing laboratory with locations in California and Michigan. “Any product of a chemical reaction like this one is, by definition, a synthetic chemical.”

At least five states have considered or are currently updating their laws to specifically govern delta-8 THC, joining at least 11 that already have laws on the books addressing the minor cannabinoid, which can produce psychoactive effects in some people, although they are considered to be less potent than the delta 9-THC common in marijuana.

The states that currently ban delta-8 THC entirely include Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, Rhode Island and Utah.

However, because delta-8 and delta-10 THC remain listed on the DEA’s Controlled Substances List as Schedule 1 controlled substances, along with delta-9 THC, they remain illegal in all 50 states, Paulson said.

“Some have interpreted the 2018 Farm Bill as the legalization of these other cannabinoids because delta-9 is the only cannabinoid explicitly listed,” Paulson said.

Here is a breakdown of state delta-8 measures:

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By Josh Swider |May 5, 2021

Cannabis, we have a problem. Legalizing adult use cannabis in California caused the demand for high-potency cannabis to increase dramatically over the last several years. Today, many dispensary buyers enforce THC minimums for the products that they sell. If smokeable flower products don’t have COAs proving the THC levels are above 20% or more, there is a good chance many dispensaries won’t carry them on their shelves. Unfortunately, these kinds of demands only put undue pressure on the industry and mislead the consumer.

Lab Shopping: Where the Problems Lie

Lab shopping for potency analysis isn’t new, but it has become more prevalent with the increasing demand for high-potency flower over the last couple of years. Sadly, many producers submit valid, certified COAs to the California Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC), which show two to three times the actual potency value.

At InfiniteCAL, we’ve purchased products from dispensary shelves and found significant discrepancies between the analysis we perform and the report submitted to the BCC by the producer. So, how can this happen? Several factors are creating the perfect storm in cannabis testing.

Problems with Potency

Many consumers still don’t understand that THC potency is not the only factor in determining quality cannabis, and they are unwittingly contributing to the demand for testing and analysis fraud. It is alarming for cultivation pioneers and ethical labs to see producers and profit-hungry testing facilities falsifying data to make it more appealing to the unaware consumer.

Basically, what’s happening is growers are contacting labs and asking, “I get 30% THC at this lab; what can you do?” When they see our COA reporting their flower tested lower than anticipated, they will go to another lab to get higher test results. Unfortunately, there are all too many labs that are willing to comply.

I recently saw a compliant COA that claimed that this particular flower was testing at 54% THC. Understanding cannabis genetics, we know this isn’t possible. Another product I reviewed claimed that after diluting an 88% THC distillate with 10-15% terpenes, the final potency test was 92% THC. You cannot cut a product and expect the potency to increase. Finally, a third product we reviewed claimed 98% total cannabinoids (while only looking at seven cannabinoids) with 10% terpenes for a total of 108% of the product.

These labs only make themselves look foolish to professionals, mislead laymen consumers and skirt under the radar of the BCC with basic mathematical errors.

The Pesticide Predicament

Frighteningly, inflating potency numbers isn’t the most nefarious testing fraud happening in the cannabis industry. If a manufacturer has 1000 liters of cannabis oil fail pesticide testing, they could lose millions of dollars – or have it retested by a less scrupulous lab.

Photo: Michelle Tribe, Flickr

As the industry continues to expand and new labs pop up left and right, cultivators and manufacturers have learned which labs are “easy graders” and which ones aren’t. Certain labs can miss up to ten times the action level of a pesticide and still report it as non-detectable. So, if the producer fails for a pesticide at one lab, they know four others won’t see it.

In fact, I’ve had labs send my clients promotional materials guaranteeing compliant lab results without ever receiving a sample for testing. So now, these companies aren’t just tricking the consumer; they are potentially harming them.

An Easy Fix

Cannabis testing is missing just one critical factor that could quickly fix these problems – checks and balances. The BCC only needs to do one of two things:

Verifying Lab Accuracy

InfiniteCAL also operates in Michigan, where the Marijuana Regulatory Agency (MRA) has already implemented a system to ensure labs are maintaining the highest testing standards. The MRA will automatically flag all COAs which test above a certain percentage and require the product to be retested by multiple labs.

labsphotoLabs are required to keep a back stock of material. So, when test results come back abnormally high from Lab A, then Labs B, C and D are commissioned to retest the material to compare data. If Lab A reports 40% THC, but the other labs all report 18%, then it’s easy to see Lab A has made an error.

Secret Shopping

By simply buying products off the shelves and having them blind-tested by other labs, it would be simple for the BCC to determine if the existing COA is correct. They already have all the data in Metrc, so this would be a quick and easy fix that could potentially solve the problem overnight.

For example, at InfiniteCAL, we once purchased 30 samples of Blue Dream flower from different cultivators ranging in certified COA potencies from 16% to 38%. Genetically, we know the Blue Dream cultivar doesn’t produce high levels of THC. When we tested the samples we purchased, nearly every sample came back in the mid-teens to low 20% range.

Labs Aren’t Supposed to Be Profit Centers

At InfiniteCAL, we’ve contacted labs in California where we’ve uncovered discrepancies to help find and flush out the errors in testing. All too often, we hear the excuses:

  • “If I fix my problem, I’ll lose my clients.”
  • “I’m just a businessman who owns a lab; I don’t know chemistry.”
  • “My chemist messed up; it’s their fault!”

If you own a lab, you are responsible for quality control. We are not here to get rich; we are here to act as public safety agents who ensure these products are safe for the consumer and provide detailed information about what they choose to put in their bodies. Be professional, and remember you’re testing for the consumer, not the producer.

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By David Downs | July 19, 2021

On June 23, Canada’s cannabis regulatory agency, Health Canada, released a private document requested under the Access to Information Act (AIA), that country’s version of the US government’s Freedom of Information Act.

The document in question was a 2020 safety study of the vape cartridge additive phytol. The study was conducted by Canopy Growth, one of Canada’s largest cannabis companies.

The data contained in that report has rocked the cannabis vaping world.

Phytol is a terpene that’s sometimes used to add flavor to vape cartridges, usually by adding it to a mix of cannabis oil and the common thinning agent propylene glycol.

The AIA request had been requested by David Heldreth, the former chief science officer of True Terpenes, a major phytol reseller. Heldreth’s friend Andrew Freedman, a Canadian citizen and vape expert, actually obtained the report.

CEO/founder of both Panacea Plant Sciences and Ziese Farms, Heldreth first grew concerned about phytol in August 2020 when Tokyo Smoke, the chain of Canadian cannabis stores owned by Canopy Growth, suddenly pulled all vape cartridges that contained phytol from its shelves.

Five months later, Heldreth became increasingly alarmed when the medical journal Inhalation Toxicology reported findings that indicated phytol was not as benign as propylene glycol. “Phytol, not propylene glycol, causes severe pulmonary injury…,” the study reported.

“I wouldn’t use a product that contains it.”
– David Heldreth, terpene scientist, regarding phytol

The Inhalation Toxicology article was based on research done by Canopy Growth scientists. The study sparked an alarming headline in the trade publication MJ Biz Daily: “Phytol cited as potentially dangerous cannabis vape ingredient.”

After filing an AIA request with Health Canada (which regulates cannabis nationwide), Heldreth finally received the full study in June of this year. Its contents floored him. The data was far worse than he imagined.

Phytol, according to the data in the study, appeared unsafe to inhale. When he spoke recently to Leafly, Heldreth made his opinion very clear: “I wouldn’t use a product that contains it.”

Jump to a section

Why is phytol a concern?

Since the 2010s, humanity has engaged in a massive, uncontrolled field trial of electronic drug-delivery systems known as vaporizers.

“This is something we should be sounding the alarm on.”
– Kyle Boyar, KB Consultations

People young and old are experimenting with liquid chemical mixtures never found in nature, aerosolized by cheap electronic hardware and misted directly into the body’s sensitive lung tissue.

“The science is just so far behind,” Robert Strongin, professor of chemistry at Portland State University, recently told Leafly. “We’re all guinea pigs now.”

In 2019, simmering quality control issues with illicit THC vape pens boiled over into a public health crisis. Vape consumers across America fell sick with what became known as VAPI, or EVALI, a lung distress that injured 2,807 people and killed 68 of them over a period of about six months. Leafly’s investigative reporting helped expose the culprit: vitamin E acetate, which had been added to illicit vape cartridges to boost profits.

Counterfeit THC vape and JUUL pods for sale in downtown LA. (David Downs/Leafly)
Counterfeit THC vape and JUUL pods for sale in downtown LA. (David Downs/Leafly)
Sickened lungs show up as cloudy on the left x-ray, and clear after treatment of one suspected VAPI patient in Utah. (Courtesy University of Utah)
Certain vape additives are associated with lung injury, which shows up as cloudy on the left x-ray, and clear after treatment of one suspected VAPI patient in Utah. (Courtesy University of Utah)

The vape lung crisis largely ended by February 2020, because consumers heeded media warnings, threw out their tainted vapes, and illicit pen factories stopped using heavy cuts of vitamin E acetate.

State regulators have not heeded the CDC’s advice. Few states have instituted any rules around the ingredients in cannabis or tobacco vape cartridges, aside from attempting to ban flavored carts—a move aimed at preventing minors from vaping, and not done out of concern for the health of adult vapers.

“It’s very risky, some of these ingredients,” said Strongin. “It’s just a shame we don’t know more about them.”

Given that cautionary experience with vape cartridge additives, Leafly asked experts to take a look at the raw phytol data from the Canopy study, and answer an urgent question: Is phytol safe to vape?

What is phytol?

Phytol is a diterpene alcohol that appears naturally in trace amounts in raw cannabis plants. It’s an aromatic plant oil, though it’s not a pleasant-smelling one. It can smell grassy in its natural state. Synthetic phytol, which is more commonly used in commercial applications, is odorless.

Outside the cannabis industry, phytol is used as a chemical in products like shampoos, household cleaners, and detergents.

In the cannabis industry (both legal and illicit), vape cartridge manufacturers can use phytol to dilute pure cannabis oil. It’s part of a class of cheap diluents that are most often used by vape cart makers in the illicit market, because illicit carts contain no lab-verified potency data on their labels.

Using phytol to cut cannabis oil in a state-licensed vape cart makes less economic sense, because licensed manufacturers are required to print their lab-verified THC levels on the cartridge package. Thus, a consumer can easily see that a cartridge thinned with phytol contains less THC than a competing product.

The chemical structure of phytol makes it a potential problem in the lung.
The chemical structure of phytol makes it a potential problem in the lung.

Phytol is not difficult to obtain. It’s a colorless or pale yellow liquid sold as a wholesale product to almost anyone who wants it on the internet. In fact, phytol is just a Google search away for anyone with a credit card and a delivery address. It sells for about $100 per liquid ounce, comparable to cannabis oil, but far more available. Phytol allows dealers to stretch their supply of THC oil further, experts said.

Dominic Black, lead account manager at Infinite Chemical Analysis Labs in San Diego, CA, explained, “For example, if someone has 50 liters of [cannabis] distillate and mixes it with 50 liters of phytol, they now have 100 liters of product to sell.”

In illicit markets, where lab-verified THC potency isn’t required, consumers don’t know they’re getting a diluted product—and one that may harm their lungs.

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The #1 Marijuana Cannabis Podcast! 

Josh Swider, Co-Founder/CEO, Infinite Chemical Analysis Labs

Josh began his career in chemistry at Eastern Washington University, where he earned his Bachelor of Science and Chemistry degrees in physics and biology in 2012. His quest for a deeper understanding of the science led him to be accepted into the joint doctoral program at the University of California, San Diego and San Diego State University, where he earned his master’s degree in analytical chemistry in 2015 and his PhD in 2017. Throughout his college career, Josh became interested in the medicinal benefits of cannabis and the lack of analytical research and public understanding associated with it. He wanted to change this, and with his knowledge and passion for the industry, Josh founded the lab with fellow chemist Dave Marelius in 2016. Together they’ve made it InfiniteCAL’s mission to ensure only safe, quality products are allowed to hit dispensary shelves.

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By Gabriella Boudreault | June 29, 2021

Infinite Chemical Analysis Labs with Co-founder and CEO Josh Swider today on Hempire only on Cannabis Radio. While pursuing their PhDs in analytical and organic chemistry, Josh Swider and Dave Marelius became aware of the medicinal benefits cannabis offered patients that went beyond the realm of traditional medications. However, the cannabis community lacked analytical chemists dedicated to proving its potential. Knowing their experience could help set the standards within the industry, Josh and Dave founded Infinite Chemical Analysis Labs in 2016 with one goal in mind- providing the new, emerging cannabis and hemp industries and their consumers with high-quality, accurate testing services they could trust. Since then, the team of two has grown to over 30 talented scientists with bachelor’s degrees or higher, ensuring their passion for science is reflected in their work. As regulations changed, our services have grown to cover all required testing set forth by the state of California, with validations in place for the most reliable analyses.

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