When it comes to making cannabis-infused products, the white lab coat scientists who set the standards are nowhere to be found. What’s up with that? Having worked with food scientists and personally formulated and compounded an important drug into a food product, I have a few observations that might help improve the situation.1
The bottom line is this: most of the people making edibles don’t have the food science or lab science experience needed to get the work done. So they don’t know they have to solve the 3 basic problems faced by every food scientist making a product to uniformly deliver nutrients or medication.2 And those scientists working in other food industries have not yet turned their attention to cannabis edibles because it’s been illegal; no sensible scientist wants to ruin their career.
- Mixing very small amounts of anything into batches of food is a very exacting science. The average edible is 1 part THC to 5,000 parts for all the rest of the recipe.3 It’s very hard to get that 1 part mixed evenly throughout a batch, without overmixing and ruining the food blend. And doing it batch after batch requires following good food manufacturing practices — which many edible producers don’t have a clue about.
- Lab measurement equipment is very precise and accurate, but extracting the THC from any food takes very experienced scientists; it’s more art than science. And very few test labs have ever performed the reproducibility studies necessary to know what percentage of the cannabis components they are extracting from edibles. It’s critical to follow good laboratory practices, and most labs rarely go beyond the basic certification levels.
- Then there is the basic human science of drug absorption. Most estimates show 8% to 12% of THC is absorbed into the body from edibles, so almost 90% never gets absorbed. But people are not uniform lab rats, our metabolism varies dramatically depending on time of day, other foods eaten, even our individual cannabis metabolism rate.
So what’s a person to do, especially when smoking or vaping cannabis just isn’t right for you? Who is standing up for cannabis consumers? Where is our Ralph Nader for pot products?
Until that person appears, the best we can do is insist that uniform standards are instituted, and contact the producers or insist that dispensaries push the product producers into these practices. We need to make them prove they meet strict standards like nutritional supplements and other medicated foods and that their labs meet FDA standards and have experienced scientists. And in the meantime, do your best to buy reputable brands because they have a lot to lose if they make a bad batch of edibles.
1. oral methadone in psyllium, gelatin base
2. batch mixture uniformity and validation, lab method extraction consistency and validation, process consistency and validated sampling methods
3. e.g. 20 mg THC in a 10 gram cookie