New labs risk DEA raids to test medical marijuana for safety

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A pot dispensary in Denver, where state regulators are debating testing requirements for medical cannabis. Photo by Randall Benton/Getty Images

Pharmaceutical drugs are subject to stringent tests for potency, purity and quality, but what about medical marijuana? While cannabis is legal in 20 states and the District of Columbia for treating medical ailments, few laboratories are willing to accept the drug for quality control testing due to federal laws prohibiting possession. And states are just beginning to put regulations in place to control for quality and potency of the drug. Chemical & Engineering News reports that a handful of small labs have sprung up in recent years that specialize in testing cannabis for medical use. Labs such as Analytical 360 in Seatlle and ProVerde Laboratories in Massachusetts test raw cannabis, as well as the food products, drops and other medical compounds manufactured with the drug.

Cannabis that isn’t safely produced can contain mold and mildew, harmful bacteria, traces of pesticides or other chemicals or fail to meet promised levels for potency. Potency varies with strains of cannabis, and with products manufactured from the plant.

“Potency testing is very important with edibles,” says Genifer Murray, founder and chief executive officer of CannLabs, a marijuana analysis lab in Denver. Tales of people eating a marijuana-infused brownie and then calling 911 with a panic attack because they’ve taken too high a dose are all too common. Although the effects of smoking marijuana come on quickly, they also subside quickly, she says. “Edibles will stay with you for hours,” Murray notes.

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