Colorado Study Exposes Discrepancies in THC Potency of Cannabis Products

A recent study led by a researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder sheds light on THC potency discrepancies in cannabis flower products sold at licensed retail dispensaries in Colorado. The findings reveal that a significant majority of products tested had lower THC levels than indicated on the label, raising concerns about accuracy and consumer trust.

Anna Schwabe, an associate lecture professor specializing in modern cannabis science, spearheaded the research. Schwabe collected 23 cannabis flower samples from 10 licensed dispensaries across the northern Colorado Front Range, encompassing areas such as Denver, Fort Collins, and Garden City. These samples represented various strains, including sativas, indicas, and hybrids, with reported THC potency levels varying from a range to single values.

To assess THC potency, the samples underwent analysis using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), a standard method in cannabis testing for quantifying chemical compounds and ensuring product safety and potency. Results revealed that around 70% of the samples had THC levels at least 15% lower than those reported on the labels.

Schwabe noted that while THC degradation over time could affect potency, further testing showed stable THC levels, ruling out degradation as a significant factor. The study also highlighted a substantial increase in cannabis potency over the past 15 years, coinciding with the legalization of recreational cannabis in Colorado in 2014.

Despite regulations mandating random sample testing, oversight to enforce these guidelines is lacking, leaving room for inaccuracies in potency labeling. Schwabe suggested various reasons for discrepancies, including selective submission of cannabis samples for testing by cultivators or dispensaries and potential fraud or manipulation by testing labs.

Accurate potency labeling is crucial for medical marijuana patients and recreational users alike to manage THC dosage effectively. Schwabe emphasized the importance of educating consumers beyond THC percentages, urging them to consider factors such as brand reputation, aroma, and flavor profiles when making informed choices.

As the cannabis industry evolves, Schwabe advocates for a shift towards consumer education and informed decision-making, akin to selecting wine or beer based on preferences beyond alcohol content. By empowering consumers with knowledge, the industry can foster transparency and trust while navigating the complexities of cannabis potency.


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