Pubdate: Sat, 30 Jul 2016
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Page: A4
Copyright: 2016 The Globe and Mail Company
Authors: Grant Robertson and Greg McArthur


The Globe and Mail tested the potency of edible cannabis products, 
sold as medicine at Toronto dispensaries. Most did not live up to 
their claims, raising questions about efficacy and quality

The caramel bar, cake pop and freezie all came with a big promise. 
Although they looked like typical junk food, the products, from 
cannabis dispensaries in Toronto, were billed as medication. And all 
were claimed to contain a potent dose of THC, or 
tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that 
produces the intoxicating effects its users seek for pain relief or 
to get high.

But none of those products contained anywhere close to the amount claimed.

In an effort to examine the safety and efficacy of products sold at 
illegal marijuana dispensaries, which have multiplied across Canada 
in recent months, The Globe and Mail subjected several edible 
cannabis products to tests at a Health Canada-accredited laboratory 
to determine if they were properly labelled.

The results showed misleading claims were made for most of the 
products, raising questions about quality control in this burgeoning 
new industry. In a business filled with retailers and manufacturers 
out to make a fast buck, and no rules governing how they act, the 
edibles market is particularly problematic because numerous products 
appear to be misrepresented.

Even among licensed producers, edibles are not permitted in Canada 
because of concerns that their appearance - from lollipops and ice 
cream to gummy bears - could be enticing to children. But they are 
produced and sold in the dispensary grey market nonetheless, with no oversight.

Four out of the five products The Globe and Mail had tested were well 
below the THC amounts claimed: A cake pop purported to contain 80 
milligrams of THC had one-fifth that amount; a peanut-butter caramel 
bar labelled as having 260 mg contained about half that; and a 
freezie claimed to have 60 mg actually contained less than a third. 
Meanwhile, a small bottle of cannabis extract that claimed to have 
900 mg of THC had slightly less than one-half that amount, the tests showed.

Only a flavoured syrup intended to be added to drinks came close to 
the 500 mg listed on the bottle.

Mislabelled products can lead to toxicity problems if the THC is too 
high, and labelling products as more potent than they are could lead 
to medical consumers buying fraudulent merchandise.

Edibles emerged as a way for consumers to ingest cannabis without 
smoking it. People looking to treat health conditions or for pain 
relief with less intoxication sought products rich in cannabidiol 
(CBD), the therapeutic compound in marijuana. However, edibles have 
evolved into an industry in which THC potency is the primary seller.

None of the edible products The Globe tested turned up significant 
levels of CBD, and most were undetectable. Similar results were found 
in broader tests The Globe conducted on dried marijuana samples, 
which also did not register detectable amounts of the ingredient. The 
THC and CBD tests were part of a larger investigation into 
contaminants, such as bacteria, mould and pesticides in dispensary products.

The Globe results found one-third of the nine dried cannabis samples 
it had tested at a federally certified lab do not meet Health 
Canada's safety standards for licensed medical marijuana. Three 
samples turned up excessive levels of bacteria that some 
microbiologists believe could also lead to infections and other 
illnesses (others contend the health risks are minimal). One of those 
samples contained potentially dangerous levels of yeasts and moulds, 
which can lead to serious health issues, including lung problems.

The results raise concerns about the oversight and safety of 
dispensaries as the federal government prepares to legalize marijuana 
use next year. The Globe's tests are the first independent screening 
of dispensary products in Canada since such retail stores began to 
multiply in Toronto, Vancouver and elsewhere selling cannabis 
products openly despite reservations from Health Canada. Although 
consumers can obtain these products easily, the government considers 
them illegal.

While Ottawa says virtually all dispensary products are dangerous, 
and the dispensaries argue that they are universally safe, The 
Globe's results demonstrate neither claim is accurate. As well, The 
Globe discovered troubling gaps in our current testing regimen, which 
does not inspect for certain harmful pesticides that were common 
among growers in the United States before states revamped their 
guidelines to crack down.

The Globe had to go to unusual lengths to have the dried cannabis and 
edibles screened because the acquisition and testing of those 
products is technically illegal, in Health Canada's eyes. The lab 
that agreed to perform the tests for The Globe as a public service 
did so on condition that we did not name the facility.

The questionable THC levels in the edible products is evidence the 
industry in Canada is making up its own rules, potentially putting 
consumers at risk or ripping them off.

Tracking down the manufacturers of the edibles was difficult because 
the products often have no contact information on the packaging - and 
there are no regulations on how they are labelled. Most also do not 
list ingredients, product size or expiry dates.

"You can't access public records that will show you who owns it or 
who's behind it," said Hugo Alves, a Bay Street lawyer who 
specializes in medical marijuana laws. "With regulation, you have to 
tell people who you are and what you're doing. There's much more transparency."

Black Sheep Medibles, the maker of the cake pop, could not be reached 
for comment. Mota Green Meds Ltd., the manufacturer of the cannabis 
extract, also could not be reached. The president of Langley, 
B.C.-based Canna Co. Medibles, maker of the caramel bar and freezie, 
declined to answer questions when contacted.

The dispensaries that sell the products are also at a loss to explain 
how their suppliers work. WeeMedical in Toronto, which sold the 
freezie and the caramel bar, said it had no control over the company 
that makes the products.

"With edibles, there's no regulation. You can slap whatever sticker 
you want on. There's no law saying you can't," said James Sully, who 
identified himself as the manager of the dispensary.

Luke Roberts, the manager of Toronto Cannabis Dispensary, where the 
cake pop was bought, was surprised to hear it tested so low for THC. 
He said the dispensary had no problems with the supplier, but said it 
recently stopped carrying the product after police visited the 
location and instructed them to stop selling edibles like cake pops 
because they could appeal to children.

While contaminants such as bacteria, mould and pesticides are a 
particular concern in dried cannabis because of their potential to 
cause health problems, the potency of cannabis edibles has become a 
pressing issue in several U.S. states that have legalized the drug.

Lack of regulation, poor quality control and improper labelling have 
resulted in many products that are either far less potent than 
claimed or much more potent, putting consumers at risk, U.S. regulators say.

Colorado, which in 2014 became the first North American jurisdiction 
to legalize marijuana for recreational use, found consumers 
increasingly gravitating toward products of higher potency. Policy 
makers were soon caught off guard by an increase in patients at 
hospital emergency rooms with signs of cannabis toxicity, including 
psychotic episodes, such as panic attacks and hallucinations.

"We continue to see the short-term health consequences of edibles 
show up in our ER data, in our poison control data and in our 
hospitalization data," said Andrew Freedman, director of marijuana 
co-ordination for the State of Colorado.

"With legalization comes a rise in edible consumption. ... But it was 
a surprise to Colorado that we saw such a massive increase."

The products now make up half of the state's recreational cannabis 
consumption, he said.

Oregon, which legalized recreational use this year, has found edibles 
that are more snake oil than medicine, and do not contain anywhere 
near the amount of THC claimed.

Regulators in those states have struggled to clamp down. Some, such 
as Colorado, have tried to limit THC content as the market for edibles grows.

Although police periodically crack down on the sale of illegal 
edibles in Canada, The Globe found dozens of varieties readily 
available in Toronto dispensaries, which are doing a brisk business. 
Industry sources suggest some stores are pulling in upwards of 
$20,000 a day, operating in plain sight.

Part of the problem in determining the safety and efficacy of edible 
products is how difficult they are to test for toxicity.

Microbiologists say that if an effective method is developed to test 
a cannabis-infused cookie, for example, it might not necessarily 
apply to other products, such as candies, ice cream and pizza.

But inaccurate potency claims are not limited to edible cannabis 
products at dispensaries. Dried marijuana is also affected.

When The Globe visited Cannabis Culture in Toronto to acquire samples 
for testing, the dispensary clerk assured customers all strains were 
above 30 per cent THC. The test results for that particular strain, 
Durban Poison, showed it contained 19.6 per cent.

Similarly, when The Globe visited Toronto's Canna Clinic and 
requested a strain rich in CBD, the therapeutic ingredient in 
cannabis, the clerk recommended one called Shishkaberry. However, 
that compound was undetectable in the tests.

As well, one of the federal government's licensed medical producers 
recalled dried cannabis in 2015 after it was found to have inaccurate 
THC labelling. In this case, the product was labelled 9 per cent, but 
a Health Canada test determined it was 13 per cent.

When Colorado began to uncover problems in its legalized market 
relating to contaminants in dried cannabis and toxicity in edibles, 
the state introduced emergency legislation requiring new testing 
standards, random sampling of dried cannabis and more stringent 
screening of edibles.

The tight scrutiny came after several deaths linked to mislabelled or 
misused edibles, including an intoxicated man who fell from a bridge 
after eating several high-potency marijuana cookies, the state's 
coroner determined.

"It's different for different products," Mr. Freedman said of the 
tests. "In edibles, every batch has to be tested."

In Canada, the federal government has signalled that it is aware of 
the problems in the United States and acknowledges the unique 
public-health risks posed by the edibles market, according to a 
discussion paper on the future of legalization released in July. In 
the meantime, however, Health Canada's restrictive policy on testing 
means products that have become ubiquitous will continue to be sold 
with no consumer protections.

Rodger Voelker, director at OG Analytical, an Oregon lab that tests 
edibles, said the government needs to take responsibility. The vast 
majority of the products he sees have inaccurate labelling.

"Over all, things won't get better until there are standardized 
methods, which are being developed, and regulatory agencies take a 
firm hand," Mr. Voelker said.

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The Globe and Mail bought four edible cannabis products and one 
concentrated oil from Toronto dispensaries and had them analyzed for 
potency and contaminants at a lab licensed by Health Canada. The 
samples were subjected to the same standards that apply to federally 
licensed medical marijuana producers. The tests screened for THC - 
the intoxicating compound in marijuana - and cannabidiol (CBD) - the 
non-psychoactive, therapeutic compound, as well as bacteria, moulds 
and other toxins, such as pesticides. To avoid influencing the 
results, the dispensaries were not told the samples were being 
tested, and the lab did not know the sources of the samples.


Toronto Cannabis Dispensary 66 Nassau St. Toronto Black Sheep 
Medibles EDIBLE - CAKE POP 1/5 OF CLAIM Reason for flag: Low THC 
detected. The product was claimed to have 80 mg of THC. Testing 
indicated about one-fifth that amount. Note: Product passed all other 
tests for yeast and mould, bacteria, heavy metals and pesticides.


WeeMedical Dispensary 553 Queen St. W. Toronto Canna Co. Medibles 
EDIBLE - BAR 1/2 OF CLAIM Reason for flag: Low THC detected. The 
product was claimed to have 260 mg of THC. Testing indicated about 
one-half that amount. Note: Product passed all other tests for yeast 
and mould, bacteria, heavy metals and pesticides.


WeeMedical Dispensary 553 Queen St. W. Toronto Canna Co. Medibles 
EDIBLE - FREEZIE 1/3 OF CLAIM Reason for flag: Low THC detected. The 
product was claimed to have 60 mg of THC. Testing indicated less than 
one-third that amount. Note: Product passed all other tests for yeast 
and mould, bacteria, heavy metals and pesticides.


416 THC 1506 Dundas St. W. Toronto Canadrank EDIBLE - FLAVOURED SYRUP 
MEETS CLAIM Reason for okay: Accurate THC detected. The product was 
claimed to have at least 500 mg of THC. Testing indicated that amount 
was within the range of acceptability. Note: Product passed all other 
tests for yeast and mould, bacteria, heavy metals and pesticides.


Bellwoods Dispensary 872 Dundas St. W. Toronto Mota Indica OIL - 
TINCTURE 1/2 OF CLAIM Reason for flag: Low THC detected. The product 
was claimed to have 30 mg of THC per ml. Testing indicated slightly 
less than half that amount. Note: Product passed all other tests for 
yeast and mould, bacteria, heavy metals and pesticides.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom