The cannabis plant cannabis sativa has been used medicinally for centuries by many different cultures worldwide. It’s interesting to note that even back then, cannabis testing was already something that was done. For example, cannabis products such as tea would be tested to determine their potency and purity, and cannabis extracts such as cannabis oil would also undergo cannabis testing to ensure quality.
Cannabinoid testing is becoming more commonplace these days. Many dispensaries require lab-tested products, and many CBD companies are touting their high-quality products with third-party lab results right on the label. But what does it all mean? Is there such a thing as “full-spectrum” CBD oil? Do THC numbers tell you anything about the effects of your product? And what’s that whole terpene profile business all about anyway? Let us guide you through this brave new world of cannabis chemistry.
What is Cannabinoid Testing?
Cannabinoid testing identifies cannabinoid levels using High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC), which tells you how much of each is in a given product, including the following: THC. This cannabinoid gets you high and is of interest to many medical patients. THCA – The acidic precursor that turns into THC during the extraction process. CBD – Not a buzz inducer, but of interest for its medical properties regardless. CBDA – The acidic predecessor to CBD. CBC – Another non-buzz producing cannabinoid with anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects, among others.
What is Terpene Profiling?
Terpenes are naturally occurring compounds in cannabis that give off distinct aromas and flavors, and medicinal properties. While most labs can’t detect terpenes directly (yet), they often provide information on what “chemical family” something belongs to, which gives you some insight into what that terpene profile might be. For example, limonenes are monoterpenes with a citrus flavor and possess anti-cancer and antidepressant effects. Linalool is another class of terpenes with sedative properties and a lavender scent.
What Can You Learn from Cannabinoid & Terpene Profiles?
A cannabinoid profile may show you the total cannabinoid content in the product, which, when compared against similar products, can help you determine value by price per milligram of cannabinoids. However, it’s also essential to know how much active ingredient (aka bioavailability) there is in each milligram of product – some companies will include THC/CBD numbers for comparison but omit information on bioavailability. Bioavailability refers to how much of any given cannabinoid you absorb compared to what you consume. For example, if a product has 20mg of THC but only 5% bioavailability, that means for every 100mg of the tincture you ingest, only 5mg is affecting your body. Terpene testing can tell you quite a lot about the effects and flavors of potential products before trying them. Still, results are often limited to three or four chemical families, even in high-end terpene tests. However, if there’s one thing that testing can’t offer us at this point, it’s FDA approval – even if cannabinoids and terpenes were fully understood, there isn’t enough information out there yet to explain their full physiological effects.
What’s the Deal with Full-Spectrum?
The term “full-spectrum” is ambiguous and can mean quite a few different things: For CBD companies, full-spectrum usually refers to hemp oil that contains all cannabinoids naturally found in hemp, including CBDA and CBG, but minus THC (which is illegal in some states). If you’re looking for the medicinal benefits of cannabis without the high, this may be your jam. Just make sure it doesn’t contain any THC. For marijuana flower and concentrates (buds or hash) companies, full-spectrum usually means products made from trimming leaves off mature plants instead of starting with dried flower buds. These new recipes for pre-dried flowers are just beginning to hit the market, and we can’t wait to try them.
Terpene Profiles Are They Accurate?
Terpenes are unique to specific strains of cannabis but have not yet been developed sufficiently in lab testing to be 100% accurate across different products or samples of the same product. What is known about terpenes is that they hold some medicinal properties, including antibacterial effects against gram-positive bacteria (e.g., staphylococcus), anti-fungal properties, analgesic effects, anti-inflammatory effects, anti-proliferative effects against tumor cells, and more. However, it’s also important to know that these medical claims are based on a laboratory where isolated cannabinoids are applied directly to a petri dish. When these isolated chemicals are combined with other compounds in the plant or consumed as whole flower or concentrate, their physiological effects can differ from what is shown by lab-testing. In some cases, the same chemical compound may work synergistically to reduce adverse effects and potentiate therapeutic benefits, as stated here. Yes – it isn’t effortless!
Does Lab Testing Matter?
At this point, testing matters more for patients looking for specific relief treatments rather than recreational users who want to know how high they might get from a particular strain. There are still too many unknowns about how various combinations of cannabinoids and terpenes interact within our bodies to give an accurate cannabinoid profile using standard lab equipment.