While some medical professionals associate cannabis use with causing negative mental health and behavioural outcomes, this study found that cannabis users have a greater understanding of the emotions of others and that parts of the brain associated with empathy are stronger among those who use cannabis.
These findings, say the researchers, help to highlight positive effects of cannabis on interpersonal relationships and its potential therapeutic applications.
The study involved a group of 85 regular cannabis users alongside a control group of 51 non-users. The groups excluded those with neurological disorders, use of psychopharmaceuticals, depression, and MRI contraindications.
Researchers “applied the Cognitive and Affective Empathy Test (TECA, in Spanish), developed by López-Pérez and Pinto, which analyzes the empathic ability of the subject, assessing both cognitive and affective empathy.” MRI scans were also used to assess brain activity in areas associated with empathy.
The psychometric tests showed that cannabis users scored higher in emotional comprehension than non-users. They caution, however, that it’s possible the cannabis users they observed in the research were more empathetic prior to consuming cannabis.
The study also noted that the quality of cannabis consumed in Mexico is often around 2%–10% THC on the illegal market, much lower than cannabis consumed in legal markets in the US or Canada. Researchers caution this could lead to different results when using higher-potency cannabis.
The differences in THC concentrations between US and Mexican cannabis could have a differential impact on functional brain outcomes between the present study and those reporting emotional dysfunctions in cannabis users.
The results of the MRI tests indicated that “regular cannabis users showed greater connectivity between the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the pre-posterior central gyrus (pr-pCG). In the within empathy network analysis, the users showed greater connectivity between the left anterior insula (lAi) and the ACC, and greater network strength when compared to controls (t = 2.27, p = .02).”
The authors note that “the ACC is a region that is prone to the effects of cannabis consumption and is also greatly involved in empathy, which is a multi-component process that can be influenced in different ways. In the present study, regular cannabis users scored higher on emotional comprehension when compared to non-users.”
“We believe that the differences shown by regular cannabis users in the emotional comprehension scores and their brain functional connectivity, could be related to the use of cannabis. However, we cannot discard that such differences were present before the users started their use of cannabis.”
They continue, saying that “this difference is consistent with those reported by Vigil et al., where cannabis users report a higher ability to detect others’ feelings compared to non-users. Additionally, previous research has shown that these types of psychometric results correspond with the subjective experience and behaviours of cannabis users related to a greater understanding of other emotions, less verbal hostility, enhanced prosociality and empathic predisposition to others’ situations.”
In closing, they hypothesize that they “believe that these results contribute to open a pathway to study further the clinical applications of the positive effect that cannabis or cannabis components could have in effect and social interactions.”
A study published recently in the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) journal Omega suggests that terpenes are only part of the picture when determining what compounds are responsible for the aroma of cannabis.
The study argues that different samples of cannabis that contain similar terpenes can smell wildly varied depending on the presence or absence of other nonterpenoid volatile compounds. The researchers also note that “cannabis labelling or certificates of analysis (COAs) that contain only terpene information thus may mislead consumers or producers into believing that these compounds are the sole source of a given product aroma.”
The researchers cite another recent study “that found that cannabis grown across the United States falls into three major classes [based on terpene constituents]: terpinolene/ß-myrcene, D-(+)-limonene/ß-caryophyllene, or ß-myrcene/pinene dominant varieties.” They proceed to note that, problematically, “this study showed varieties with very different aroma characteristics are often found in the same cluster, which is contrary to the paradigm that these dominant terpenes dictate their aromatic character.”
They go on to provide some examples of this. “For instance, Dogwalker OG, which possesses a skunky and woody aroma, was found in the same D-(+)-limonene/ß-caryophyllene cluster as Tropicana Cookies, which possesses an intense citrus and tropical aroma. Purple Punch, which possesses a sweet, grape-like scent, was also found in this cluster. This discrepancy suggests that while these classifications may be helpful for chemotaxonomic purposes, they lack the chemical information necessary to differentiate these varieties from an aroma perspective,” concluding simply that “the importance of terpenes appears to be overstated.”
For the purposes of this study, the research team analyzed “the volatile chemical profiles of 31 cannabis ice hash rosin extracts with a wide aromatic diversity using 2-dimensional gas chromatography coupled with time-of-flight mass spectrometry and flame ionization detection.” The results indicated “a myriad of nonterpenoid compounds that strongly influence the unique aromatic properties of cannabis.”
Interestingly, their findings show that while the majority of these nonterpenoid compounds occur in much smaller quantities than dominant terpenes, they punch way above their weight in terms of their effect on the plant’s aroma.
In particular, they identified “a new class of tropical volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) that are major contributors to certain varieties with a strong citrus or tropical fruit aroma, while skatole (3-methylindole), a highly pungent compound, was identified as a key aroma compound in savory/chemical varieties.”
Ice hash rosin was used in this study because it has less plant tissue by weight than cannabis flower and further concentrates the molecules in question.
The rosin was then given to a sensory panel for analysis, with participants asked to group the samples into three categories: exotic fruity, prototypical, or exotic savory. These data provided researchers “with the framework to relate the chemical composition of each variety to their aromatic properties.” These results were then compared with chemical analysis to determine which compounds correlated with which perceived aromas.
Researchers “discovered that there exists [a] unique class of VSCs that produce tropical nuances–sulfur containing compounds that produce more citrus, fruity, sulfuric aromas–that includes 3-mercaptohexanol (3MH), 3-mercaptohexyl acetate (3MHA), and 3-mercaptohexyl butyrate (3MHB). These compounds have extremely potent aromas, comparable in strength to prenylthiol and prenylthioacetate. All three are found in a multitude of tropical fruits such as passionfruit and grapefruit. 3MH and 3MHA are also found in certain grapes and hops, which can translate to their presence in both wine and beer.”
In conclusion, the authors write that their results “yield a more complete understanding of the unique aromas that cannabis produces and help establish these nonterpenoid compounds as an important part of the phytochemistry of cannabis.”
And what’s more, “the discovery that terpenes have less influence on the differentiating characteristics of the aroma of cannabis than traditionally thought may have important ramifications for the legal cannabis industry related to product labelling and marketing, laboratory testing, and quality indicators for end consumers and producers alike.”
* The study cited above was conducted by a group of researchers associated with Abstrax Tech, an American company that specializes in the manufacture and sale of aromatic compounds from cannabis and other plants.
Published in BMJ Open in June, the study was led by Dr. Katherine Babyn at U of A’s Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.
The study, which recruited people over the age of 35 who identify as women and reside in Alberta from various social media platforms, including Facebook and Instagram, notes that “a recent systematic review identified a lack of research on the effect of cannabis on menopausal symptoms. The increasing anecdotal use of cannabis for menopause symptoms demands more attention,” particularly in the Canadian context where cannabis has now been legal for several years.
The purpose of this particular study was not to investigate the efficacy of cannabis as a treatment for menopause symptoms, but rather to “characterise the use patterns and perceptions of cannabis specifically for menopause in a population of women aged 35 and over.” The study was conducted using a web-based survey over two months, from October to December 2020.
The survey was comprised of 50 questions informed by existing published literature and Canadian cannabis surveys. Data collected included “demographics, medical history, self-reported changes to menstrual cycle and menopause symptoms, cannabis use,” and “respondents were asked about their perspectives related to cannabis, including use for menopause.”
The term ‘cannabis’ was used as a catch-all that included various forms, such as edibles, extracts, etc., that could contain any combination of cannabinoids, and the questions ranged from frequency and form of consumption to reasons for use and methods of access.
Responses were analyzed from 1,485 women, 34 percent of whom reported currently using cannabis, while 66 percent reported ever having used it. The study notes that current cannabis users were more likely to report experiencing discomfort associated with menopause.
“Majority of respondents identified as white (92.9 percent), had postsecondary education or higher (88.0 percent), and had at least a moderate level of health literacy (95.4 percent). Overall, 35.2 percent of women were in postmenopause and 32.7 percent in perimenopause. Most frequently reported symptoms were difficulty with sleep (65.3 percent), concentration (49.2 percent) and anxiety (48.8 percent).”
Many respondents, 73.5 percent, who used cannabis reported that it was helpful for their menopause symptoms. The most common forms of cannabis used were edibles and oils, followed by smoking.
While women who reported current cannabis use were more likely to identify as medical users, women who only reported past use were more likely to identify as recreational users.
The study concludes that while many women are using cannabis to treat discomfort associated with menopause, “further research is required to investigate the efficacy and safety of cannabis on menopause symptoms and foster the development of clinical resources for women to use in making informed decisions around cannabis for medical purposes.”
The BC government is providing funding to support the creation of a tool to monitor THC and CBD in commercial cannabis.
To the tune of $77,411, the funding comes from the provincial government’s BC Knowledge Development Fund (BCKDF), part of $2.5 million allocated to support infrastructure for 16 research projects at five universities in BC.
Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops is the recipient of the grant related to cannabis research for Capillary Electrophoresis for Characterization of Pharmacologically Relevant Compounds in the Cannabinoid Industry, led by researcher Kingsley Donkor.
StratCann spoke with Donkor about the project, which he says is about providing another tool for the industry to test levels of cannabinoids and terpenes. While the industry generally uses High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC), Donkor says capillary electrophoresis offers some benefits, such as a high level of accuracy with smaller sample sizes than HPLC.
A recent announcement from the BC government explains the project will provide an analytical tool that regulatory agencies and cannabis companies can use to monitor the content constituents “in commercial and advanced cannabis formulations” using specialized Capillary Electrophoresis methods.
Shannon Wagner, Vice President of Research at Thompson Rivers University, says the goal of the research is to help create a better-regulated cannabis industry.
“Thompson Rivers University is proud to lead the way in cannabis research thanks to the support of provincial government funding,” says Wagner. “Our groundbreaking Capillary Electrophoresis project promises safer and more responsible cannabis use in B.C. by providing regulatory agencies and companies with precise tools to monitor cannabinoid content. Together, we’re shaping a safer and more informed cannabis industry.”
Federal and provincial governments have been looking more into the issue of cannabis testing, especially with concerns about the accuracy of product labels in the legal and illegal markets.
Several provinces have released testing results of illicit products shared via law enforcement actions, and more recently, provincial governments have begun looking at the THC testing of legal, off-the-shelf products.
A restaurant in Edmonton is now serving cannabis-infused food and drink on an invitation-only basis through a partnership with a local licensed cannabis producer.
CBD CBN is the name of a new business offering infused products, utilizing a Health Canada research licence held by Token Naturals, a licensed cannabis producer located in Edmonton.
Co-owner of CBD CBN (Catering By Day, Catering By Night), Stacey Mison, says it’s a small restaurant space with room for about 20 guests to sit at a long family-style table or the bar. Their menu is created based on input from their guests, focusing on the different flavours of cannabis more than any intoxicating effect.
“We get to know who our guests are—their tolerance levels, if they’ve been consuming a while or if they’ve never consumed at all—and just figuring out how to usher them through an experience that they’re going to enjoy,” she explains to StratCann.
“A lot of what we’re doing is looking at it more from a flavour perspective of the different cannabis plants and terpene profiles they offer. So looking at it as a culinary ingredient, not just something that gets you stoned.”
“It allows for education,” Mison told City News recently. “It allows for conversations. It allows a place for people to gather and have the conversations that haven’t been happening so we can keep moving forward and show the rest of the world, as more of the world becomes legal, that this is what we can be doing and this is the way forward.”
Keenan Pascal, CEO of Token Naturals, says he and his team were first approached by Stacey and her partner James Mulholland earlier this year, an opportunity Pascal was eager to participate in.
“We were approached by Stacey and James in June of this year. We had attended some of their previous infused dinners and were connected through the general industry. When the opportunity arose to expand the cannabis landscape in our hometown with capable partners, we jumped on it.”
Pascal explains that Token first received their research licence for cannabis in late 2021. Then, at the end of August, their licence amendment was approved, expanding their research licence area into the restaurant space, which allows the company to possess cannabis for the purpose of research and to transport, send, or deliver cannabis between the facility and the restaurant.
“As a manufacturer of drinks and edibles and more, we’re specifically looking at research on palatability and taste, along with qualitative information on the experience of ingesting cannabis-infused beverages and food,” he tells StratCann.
“This is under the larger umbrella of human sensory analysis. The pairing of culinary and alcohol-free beverages aligns perfectly with Token’s lines of cannabis products and with the mocktails of our sister company, Token Bitters. We’re also looking at this as less formalized research around cannabis consumption venues and how they might add to the larger landscape of Edmonton.”
Several major media outlets also covered the What We Heard Report, including the Canadian Press, which ran a story on the five-year anniversary of legalization, with a focus on the winding down of the stock market bubble, with comments from Abi Roach, Vivien Azer, a managing director and senior research analyst at TD Cowen, and Canopy CEO David Klein.
CTV carried a similar story on the persistence of stigma with comments from Kate Grimmell from Greentown Cannabis in Ontario.
The Canadian Medical Association Journal also released a report on the five-year anniversary of cannabis legalization. The key takeaways are that cannabis use and its associated harms have remained steady or slightly increased (but more data is required), and there have been substantial reductions in criminal arrests and charges related to cannabis use.
A would-be Whitehorse cannabis shop has again lost its bid to get a retail licence—this time, in front of the courts. Community Cannabis Inc. applied for the licence last year after signing a lease and beginning renovations at a space on Second Avenue in downtown Whitehorse. The board held a public hearing on the application before denying it in February.
Some residents in Drummondville, Quebec, have launched a petition complaining about what they say is the smell of cannabis from nearby indoor and outdoor producer Canna-Culture.
Radio Canada ran a story on Quebec producer Sumo, whose first batch of products will be available in the SQDC in November.
Joi Botanicals and Freedom Cannabisannounced that Freedom will be taking on processing and distribution for Joi.
Greenway Greenhouse Cannabis Corporation announced it was engaging cannabis distributor Green Hedge to act as an outside sales force, providing coverage to licensed cannabis retailers and provincial wholesalers across Canada.
Eurofins CDMO Alphora Inc. announced that it had received its Health Canada Cannabis Drug License for its Oakville, Ontario operations in September 2023. This complements the Institutional Research License obtained through Health Canada in June 2021 for its Mississauga development site, and a Standard Processing License obtained for the Oakville manufacturing operation in May 2022.
The Laval Police Department in Quebec carried out three searches and three arrests on October 3 in connection with the production, processing, distribution and sale of cannabis, seizing 1,453 plants as well as dried cannabis.
Researchers in Canada and the US are trying to teach your smartphone to know when you’re high.
A new study recently shared online sought to see if artificial intelligence could be used to monitor cannabis intoxication in a more immediate way than other impairment-testing methods.
Researchers collected data from 33 people’s personal smartphone sensors and a Fitbit to monitor their heart rate, step counts, and sleep quality for up to thirty days, collecting information on their cannabis use (if at all), as well as other aspects of their mood, location, and activities.
About one quarter (24 percent) of participants reported using cannabis daily, 9 percent reported use 5-6 times per week, and one third (66.7 percent) reported use 2-4 times per week.
By having the participants self-report their cannabis use, they hoped to correlate feedback from the Fitbit and smartphone with cannabis use. Sensors on the participants’ phones also provided information on their “micromovements,” such as how they held their phones, in order to measure their stability and coordination.
Since smoking cannabis has been shown to cause an increase in resting heart rate, researchers hope to better distinguish between someone being intoxicated vs simply having THC in their system, and potentially being able to warn someone they are too impaired to drive, for example.
The app collected data from the participants’ smartphones, which ran continuously in the background collecting information about their actions and behaviour, including conversations and background audio and lighting. Such features were only extracted from time intervals based on reported consumption to gain insight into the social setting of consumption.
The Fitbit was used to collect information on heart rate, sleep, and steps.
The app also allowed participants to enter reports of their cannabis use 15 minutes prior to smoking or vaping, and then later rate how high they feel on a scale of 1-10. They were also asked about how much they consumed and using what method, and to report when they then no longer felt high.
One of the goals of the study was simply to understand if such data collection is a viable way to measure cannabis use and intoxication. Although researchers acknowledge numerous challenges ensuring the user-reported data on cannabis use like the degree and length of high, they conclude the approach can be beneficial in “real world” settings.
Moving forward, they hope to refine their approach by improving the smartphone and Fitbit algorithms and collecting more complete data from larger sample sizes.
The number of Canadians who reported ever smoking or vaping cannabis did not increase from 2021 to 2022, according to new figures from the federal government.
The figures are part of new survey results released by Health Canada’s Canadian Tobacco and Nicotine Survey (CTNS) 2022. The survey measures the prevalence of cigarette smoking, vaping, cannabis, and alcohol use among Canadians aged 15 years and older and is conducted by Statistics Canada on behalf of Health Canada. The data this year also includes figures on cannabis edibles.
The results are based on responses to an electronic questionnaire or a telephone follow-up interview from 12,133 respondents across all 10 provinces, which represents a weighted total of 32 million Canadian residents aged 15 years and older.
While about 40 percent of Canadians aged 15 and older reported ever smoking cannabis in 2022, only around 10 percent reported doing so in the past 30 days. Just over 12 percent reported ever vaping cannabis, while those who reported vaping cannabis in the past 30 days were about five percent. All of these figures are similar to those reported in 2021.
About six percent of Canadians aged 15 and older reported consuming cannabis edibles in the past thirty days.
Just over three percent of Canadians aged 15 and up reported daily smoking of cannabis in 2022, down from four percent in 2021. One percent of Canadians over the age of 14 reported vaping cannabis on a daily basis, unchanged from the previous year. Fewer than 1 percent of this same group reported consuming cannabis edibles on a daily basis.
Those Canadians with less than a high school education were less likely to report using cannabis in the past 30 days (including those still in school), while those with secondary education but no post-secondary education were the most likely to consume in any of the three reported forms.
Those who identified as visible minorities reported lower levels of smoking, vaping, or eating cannabis in the past 30 days, but the reported use of vaping and smoking cannabis was higher among those Canadians who identify as Indigenous than those who did not. Consumption of edibles was not higher amongst those identifying as Indigenous.
Those Canadians aged 15 and up who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or another sexual orientation that is not heterosexual (LGB+) were more likely to report smoking, vaping, and consumption of cannabis edibles in the past 30 days.
In general, Canadians over the age of 14 years who reported using cannabis were more likely to be those who reported their “general health” and “mental health” as “fair” or “poor” compared to those who rated it as excellent, very good, or good.
Those Canadians with a disability were also more likely to report cannabis use than those that did not report a disability.
The BC government should take lessons from one of the province’s only indoor cannabis consumption spaces, says a new research paper.
An indoor consumption lounge inside one of Canada’s oldest compassion clubs offered members a chance to consume cannabis in a safe space, with the club itself serving as an example of a community-based model of cultivation, distribution, and consumption, says the study.
The study was recently posted in the peer-reviewed journal, Contemporary Drug Problems, which publishes research on alcohol and other psychoactive drugs, licit and illicit. The authors present a case study of the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club (VCBC) and its consumption space, affectionately called “The Box”.
The Box was a small room inside the VCBC’s former location that was used as a cannabis consumption space by many of the club’s members. The Box closed in February 2023 when the VCBC was forced to move locations due to enforcement from the province, but the research paper argues it can serve as an example for the province as it continues to look at cannabis consumption spaces.
With research beginning in 2021, The Box was at the time closed due to pandemic-related restrictions, but information was collected through a survey sent out to members. The survey was open between January and March 2022 and was completed by 104 respondents. Although the club says they have 8,000 members, the number of current, active members is not provided.
Survey results showed members used The Box for an array of reasons, from socializing to learning more about cannabis. Respondents reported using The Box as often as several times a day to one or two times a month. Many reported using the space because of a lack of space to consume at home, with smoking being the most common mode of consumption.
The BC government can learn from this model, concludes the research paper, especially given that the government is currently looking at rules for consumption spaces. Although those potential rules will specifically exclude indoor smoking and vaping, the usefulness of these spaces for those using cannabis for therapeutic purposes needs to be taken into account, it says.
A cannabis nursery in New Brunswick and another in Ontario are teaming up to bring “seedless” cannabis cultivars to the Maritime provinces.
Hidden Harvest Inc., the only licensed cannabis nursery in New Brunswick, is bringing the seedless “triploid” cannabis cultivars to markets in Eastern Canada that were developed at the University of Guelph by researchers at Remix Genetics in Dundas, Ontario.
While most cannabis cultivars, or “strains,” have two sets of matching chromosomes, known as “diploid” or 2n, Remix Genetics says they have developed special polyploid cultivars with more than two sets of matching chromosomes. These cannabis strains are referred to as 3n, 4n, etc., depending on the number of matching chromosomes.
Both companies say the first commercial offerings of this new product will be introduced to the market for purchase in early 2024.
“Innovation plays a crucial role in how Hidden Harvest delivers value to professional and at-home cannabis cultivators,” says Rod Wilson, CEO. “Our collaboration with Remix is an example and result of our continuous search for innovations that aid cannabis cultivators in achieving their harvest objectives.”
The greenhouse in Niagara-on-the-Lake that Tweed once occupied appears to have been sold, reports Thorold Today. Canopy closed the location in 2021, and it had previously been listed online for $32 million.
An online website that lists property transfers shows the greenhouse sold for $21,800,000 in May to a company that grows mushrooms, but neither the realtor nor Canopy Growth responded to calls or emails from local media to confirm.
MJBiz shared a report that says cannabis exports from Canada increased in the 2022-23 fiscal year, with $160 million shipped overseas—a 50 percent increase compared to 2021-22’s $107 million.
On that note, Decibel Cannabis announced that it had entered into a supply agreement to provide dried medical cannabis flower to 4C LABS, a healthcare, technology, and pharmaceutical company in the United Kingdom and Channel Islands. The three-year agreement is expected to see its first shipment by year’s end, with minimum purchase commitments and exclusivity over certain genetics and the QWEST brand in the UK.
Entourage Health announced its financial results for the three and six months ended June 30, 2023. The Company reported second quarter total revenue of $13.37 million, and net revenue of $10.17 million and a loss of $9.6 million. Entourage offers six cannabis brands on its medical platform: Color Cannabis, Saturday, Starseed, Syndicate, Royal City, and Mary’s Medicinals.
MTL Cannabis Corp. also posted a net revenue of $12,763,787 and gross profit of $3,274,781 for their Q1 2024 results.
MTL is the parent company of Montréal Medical Cannabis Inc., an LP in Quebec, Abba Medix Corp., an LP in Ontario, IsoCanMed Inc., an LP in Québec, and Canada House Clinics Inc., with clinics across Canada that work directly with primary care teams to provide specialized cannabinoid therapy services to patients.
Research and other International Cannabis News
MediPharm Labs’ subsidiary Harvest Medicine published a study in the American Journal of Endocannabinoid Medicine on medical cannabis’ impacts on anxiety and depression outcomes in fibromyalgia patients, in which 75 percent of patients saw a significant decrease in their self-reported illness severity. The study also reported reductions in depression and anxiety scores. Details on the study can be viewed on the American Journal of Endocannabinoids Website.
“We are delighted to announce that our partnership with Miracle Valley has cleared UK customs and marks the launch of our first own-branded strains of Canadian THC-dominant cannabis to the UK market,” said Mamedica CEO and founder Jon Robson in a press release.
Researchers at the University of Auckland in New Zealand say they have found a sustainable solution to help tackle the medicinal cannabis industry’s waste problem. In collaboration with medical cannabis producerGreenlab and support from the New Zealand government, the researchers are developing processes that will help protect the environment by transforming cannabis waste into valuable resources such as biofertilizer.
Greenlab sells white label cannabis products by Canada’s Valens Company and Mile High Labs UK, and also sells products in Australia and lists Valens and Canadian-based MediPharm Labs as “Extraction Affiliates” on their website. The company also signed an R&D agreement in 2021 with a Canadian cannabis company Purple Farm Genetics to develop unique cultivars through breeding.
Illicit cannabis in Canada is far more likely to contain high levels of pesticides compared to its legal counterparts, found a newly released study.
Researchers at Health Canada’s pesticide lab with the Regulatory Operations and Enforcement Branch conducted a study that took samples of dried cannabis flower from the legal and illegal markets, analyzing them for pesticide residue.
The results found only a six percent positivity rate for very low levels of two unauthorized pesticides, myclobutanil and dichlobenil (a fungicide and herbicide, respectively) out of 36 samples, compared to a 18 percent positivity rate prior to 2019.
Over 18 percent of licensed cannabis products contained unregistered pesticides prior to the 2019 mandatory cannabis, with a sample positivity rate of 18 percent, testing of 96 pesticide active ingredients, with myclobutanil, bifenazate, boscalid, and fludioxonil pesticides most commonly present.
Researchers also tested 24 samples of illicit cannabis which had a 92 percent positivity rate for pesticides with 23 unique pesticide active ingredients found at a high sample frequency rate 8 to 17 times.
The illicit cannabis contained, on average 3.7 different pesticides per sample, and 87 percent of positive samples contained more than one pesticide. One sample of illicit cannabis contained nine different pesticide-active ingredients.
The pesticide concentrations quantified varied greatly, with chlorpyrifos, imidacloprid, and myclobutanil measured at 30, 60, and 70 μg/g, over three orders of magnitude higher than the method’s lowest calibrated level (LCL) of 0.01 μg/g. The two pesticides found on legal cannabis were only found at the lowest possible detection limit of 0.01 μg/g.
While the results show high levels of pesticides on illicit cannabis products, the goal of the study was to better understand the presence of unauthorized pesticides on legal cannabis products, and to streamline and expand the existing cannabis inflorescence method. This was following Health Canada’s implementation of mandatory cannabis testing for pesticides in 2019. This was implemented after some licensed producers were found to be using products like myclobutanil and pyrethrins beginning in 2016.
While these pesticides were not authorized for use on cannabis in Canada, Health Canada did not require testing for these products until 2019.
Health Canada also maintains a list of authorized pesticides for use on cannabis. There are currently 57 authorized pest control products for use on cannabis in Canada. All products designed to manage, destroy, attract or repel pests that are used, sold or imported into Canada are regulated by the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA), the branch of Health Canada responsible for administering the PCPA on behalf of the Minister of Health.
To better understand how widespread pesticide use currently is in cannabis production, researchers at Health Canada validated a single method using a combination of gas chromatography—triple quadrupole mass spectrometry (GC–MS/MS) and liquid chromatography—triple quadrupole mass spectrometry (LC–MS/MS) for the simultaneous quantification of 327 pesticide active ingredients in cannabis inflorescence.
This approach, says the research paper, goes beyond the 96 pesticide active ingredients mandatory testing.
The 36 samples of licensed cannabis products were purchased in 2021 from the Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS) from licence holders located in all five Canadian regions (British Columbia, Prairies, Ontario, Quebec, and Atlantic).
The 24 samples of illicit cannabis were acquired from seizures by law enforcement officers across the country and submitted to Health Canada for laboratory testing in 2021.
BC, Ontario, and New Brunswick have also released reports in the last few years showing contaminant testing on dried cannabis and cannabis vapes seized from illicit retailers.
The University of British Columbia Vancouver campus is launching a new Biology of Cannabis course this year, starting in January 2024.
The three-credit course will serve as an entry point for students to better understand the “biological aspects of cannabis, including structure and function, photosynthesis, plant growth, specialized metabolites, neuroscience and the human endocannabinoid system, and applications for human use in medicine, consumer products and textiles.”
Taught by science education specialist Dr. Christine Goedhart, the course currently has a waitlist with 30 students already registered.
“Adult use of cannabis became legal in Canada in 2018,” notes Goedhart. “Since then, cannabis has become more socially acceptable and increasingly integrated into mainstream cultural, social, health and economic institutions. As such, students will likely be coming into contact with cannabis at some point and will need to make informed decisions about how they choose to engage with it.”
The University of British Columbia (UBC) has a rich history of working with cannabis.
“For more than 40 years, everything that we thought about cannabis cells was inaccurate because it was based on dated electron microscopy,” says Livingston’s co-author, Dr. Lacey Samuels, a plant cell biologist at UBC. “This work defines how cannabis cells make their product. It’s a paradigm shift after many years, producing a new view of cannabinoid production. This work has been challenging, partly the result of legal prohibition, and also due to the fact that no protocol for the genetic transformation (engineering) of cannabis has been published.”
Another study published in 2022, led by Davi de Ferreyro Monticelli, a doctoral student in UBC’s Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, looked at the specifics behind the aromas associated with cannabis that arise from terpenes and volatile organic compounds. In a 2019 study published in The Plant Journal, UBC researchers took a closer look at glandular trichomes and their cannabinoid and terpene production.
US States that have legalized medical cannabis see a significant decrease in health insurance premiums compared to states that keep it illegal. Legalizing cannabis nationwide could save Americans more than $16 billion in health insurance costs.
A new research paper in the US that looked at health insurance premiums in various states found that individual market health insurance premiums decreased after the implementation of medical cannabis laws.
Following the legalization of cannabis for medical purposes, these states saw a small reduction in premiums in the first five years, followed by a reduction in year six of about $500. The biggest effects were not immediate.
Researchers found “statistically significant” decreases in health insurance premiums starting seven years after medical cannabis became legal in a particular state, with the downward trend continuing in the following years.
In the seventh, eighth, and ninth year following the implementation of a legal medical cannabis market, researchers found a reduction of health premiums of about US$1,500-$1,700 per year.
The paper’s authors speculate that the savings increase over time as more people begin using cannabis for medical purposes, and any shifts from more conventional medications to cannabis may happen over time with a healthcare provider.
Due to how medical insurance in the US operates, by collecting premiums from all enrollees and paying expenses for the subset of enrollees who need medical treatment, researchers also note that these lower premiums are enjoyed not just by medical cannabis users but by all in states with legal medical cannabis access. In other words, if the costs of using the medical system go down, everyone pays less.
States with access to medical cannabis saw rates of use of the medical system decline. This is also because these health insurance premiums do not cover cannabis used for medical purposes. As individuals who may have otherwise used medication that would have been at least partially covered by health insurance are instead using cannabis, the cost to the system itself goes down, benefitting all who pay in.
However, these effects take time. Researchers found decreases in health insurance premiums starting seven years after medical cannabis became legal in a particular state, but the downward trend continued in the following years.
“We find a statistically significant decrease in health insurance premiums starting in year seven post-MCLs, and this downward trend is persistent for following years,” the paper notes.
“Our results are important as health care expenses, including health insurance premiums, have been growing faster than inflation and comprise an increasing share of a household’s budget.”
Researchers used figures from Arizona, Connecticut, and New Jersey as these are the only states with seven or more years of post-implementation data. The study also excluded states like California, Washington, Oregon, and Colorado that legalized medical cannabis before 2010.
To better understand how these savings could benefit the health insurance sector moving forward, researchers looked at 18 US states that had legalized medical cannabis between 2010-2021 that were not included in the survey results because the systems there are not yet seven years old.
If these states have a similar experience to those observed in this study (Arizona, Connecticut, and New Jersey), researchers estimate a similar savings of about $1,600 per person annually, an annual health insurance premium savings of approximately $9.6 billion.
The paper also estimates that if medical cannabis laws (MCLs) were enacted nationally, the US could have a savings of at least $16.8 billion.
A new study from Statistics Canada has found that 1 in 20 Canadians who had consumed cannabis in the past year were at risk for cannabis use disorder.
Researchers asked Canadians about their cannabis usage in 2019 and 2020, with an estimated 6.5 million saying they had consumed cannabis in the previous 12 months.
Of those respondents, more than one-third (38 percent) said they used cannabis less than once a month, while one-quarter reported using cannabis weekly or one to three times a month. Another 26 percent said they used cannabis daily or almost daily.
While more than three-quarters (77.3 percent) of those who reported using cannabis at least once in the past year said they would not have a problem quitting, just under five percent were found to be at risk of cannabis use disorder—the equivalent of 299,543 Canadians in total. Most of these respondents were single men aged 25-44 who started using cannabis at 15 or younger.
About one in five of those Canadians said that their cannabis use led to health, social, legal, or financial problems, and they were more likely to fail to accomplish expected tasks due to their cannabis use.
Unsurprisingly, the study found that cannabis users who were at the highest risk of addiction were those who used cannabis frequently. Single or never-married people, men aged 18 to 24 years and from lower-income households, people diagnosed with an anxiety or mood disorder, or who started consuming cannabis at age 15 or younger, monthly or more, were also at higher risk.
The results of a new study out of California call into question the accuracy of field sobriety tests from law enforcement officers in detecting THC impairment.
The study, published in Jama Psychiatry in August 2023, was conducted from February 2017 to June 2019 at the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research, University of California, San Diego. Results were analyzed from August 2021 to April 2023.
Researchers gave 121 participants a cannabis joint to smoke, with another 62 receiving a placebo, and then had law enforcement officers trained in field sobriety testing determine which participants were impaired.
While these experts had a relatively high accuracy rate in determining which of the 121 who smoked a THC joint had done so, it also found they thought that about half of those who smoked the hemp joint were also impaired.
The placebo joint smoked by 62 people contained only .02 percent THC, with others receiving joints rolled with cannabis that contained either 5.9 percent THC or 13.4 percent THC. Participants could smoke as much of the joint as they chose.
The participants aged 21 to 55 had used cannabis in the past month.
Officers classified 98 participants, or 81 percent of the THC group, as being impaired, while they found half (31) of the non-THC group also to be impaired. Officers used a simulated driving test and standard field sobriety testing such as a one-leg stand.
Of the 128 participants law enforcement officers said were impaired, they suspected 127 as having consumed THC.
The study concludes that, due to the high rate at which the officers determined people from the non-THC group as being impaired, field sobriety testing on its own may not be enough to accurately determine THC impairment.
A 2021 report from Quebec based on coroners’ and medical examiners’ report data from toxicological analyses found that when cannabis was present, 20 percent had a THC blood concentration between 0.5 and 1.9 ng/mL, 44% between 2.0 and 4.9 ng/mL, and 36 percent over 5 ng/mL. Canada’s prohibited blood drug concentration (BDC) level is between 2 ng and 5 ng THC per ml of blood.
A THC rate below 2 ng/ml does not necessarily indicate recent use, while a rate over 5 ng/ml is associated with impaired driving and recent use. In addition, a rate over 5 ng/ml increases the likelihood of an impairment-responsible crash. Polydrug use was found in 79% of cases.
A researcher at the UBC Biodiversity Research Centre is teaming up with a geneticist at Aurora Cannabis to adapt cannabis for outdoor production.
The work is one of eight new projects that have received a combined $1.84 million in funding from the Genomic Innovation for Regenerative Agriculture, Food and Fisheries (GIRAFF) program—a collaboration between Genome BC and the Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC (IAF) with support from the BC Ministry of Agriculture and Food.
Dr. Marco Todesco from the University of British Columbia and Jose Celedon, director of genetics at Aurora Cannabis, are working to develop cannabis cultivars better suited to Canadian climates and environment to address the carbon footprint of indoor cannabis production. By some estimates, about four percent of the total greenhouse gasses from Canadian agriculture come from cannabis production, primarily indoor production.
The team is working on developing more suitable commercial cultivars for use in outdoor settings by cross-breeding so-called autoflower characteristics into “elite” cannabis genetics.
Dr. Todesco, assistant professor at the Biodiversity Research Centre, University of British Columbia, says the goal is to develop cultivars better suited to not just BC but all of Canada.
“The cannabis industry plays an important role in the BC economy, but unfortunately, cannabis cultivation in indoor facilities also has an enormous carbon footprint,” says Todesco. “Our project uses leading-edge genomics technologies to help develop more sustainable cannabis varieties that can be grown outdoor at Canadian latitudes, reducing greenhouse gas emission from cannabis cultivation in BC and beyond.”
The program has a budget of $250,000 for its research and began the work in 2022.
Dr. Caledon, the director of breeding and genetics at Aurora Cannabis, applauds the work of UBC in collaboration with the cannabis producer.
“As a global cannabis company enabled by science, we are proud to invest in the continued advancement of cannabis cultivation that will positively impact the longevity of the industry in Canada. Our long-standing relationship with UBC has allowed for valuable, collaborative work in genomics. Our shared findings from the GIRAFF project will be applied to Aurora’s leading growing practices today and in the future, supporting a more sustainable industry.”
This is not the first cannabis breeding program involving UBC and Aurora, which operates its cannabis breeding facility on Vancouver Island, Aurora Coast, which hosts the Occo research centre. In 2020, more than $4.2 million in federal, provincial, and industry funding was announced to aid with UBC research into enhanced cannabis cultivars, focusing on disease resistance.
“There is a misconception amongst growers and LPs, both domestically and internationally, that you cannot protect or own the genetics around a particular cultivar, ” Aurora CEO Miguel Martin said earlier this year. “That’s completely untrue. We are licensing unique genetic markers of these cultivars that we develop, and we are able to identify those that are infringing upon that; the law is very clear on this issue. We’ll have a very strong case. You’ll start to see litigation around that, as well as those that we believe have infringed on some of our bio-synthetic assets, and that’s also an additional revenue stream for the company.”
The project was part of a larger $56.4 million in funding from the federal and provincial government, as well as private industry and is part of 10 new genomics research projects funded through Genome Canada in conjunction with Genome BC. Genome Canada is a non-profit organization funded by the Government of Canada that seeks to use genomics-based technologies to improve the lives of Canadians. Genome BC is a not-for-profit organization undertaking similar research in BC.
Aurora also says their Coast facility has produced ten new cultivars launched during fiscal 2023, including two high-THC cultivars—Sourdough and Farm Gas— that have also launched in Europe and Australia.
The High Hopes Foundation, a community group providing access to medical cannabis in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, recently launched a pilot project to explore the potential for cannabis as a substitute for people with severe alcohol dependence.
The group was selected by the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research as a partner in launching the project, which will evaluate cannabis substitution intervention as a component of its Managed Alcohol Programs (MAPs) for people with alcohol use disorders who are experiencing unstable housing.
The paper concludes that cannabis substitution was a viable approach but noted a need for proper funding and “inexpensive, legal, and reliable sourcing of cannabis.” High Hopes typically provides cannabis to registered patients through its own medical cannabis sales licence at a few dollars a gram, but the Health Canada program will cover the cost of cannabis used within the program.
Sarah Blyth, High Hopes’ founder, has deep roots in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside community and says she and her team are excited to begin their work.
“As research partners, High Hopes is eager to further explore cannabis as an alcohol harm reduction tool,” Blyth tells StratCann. “Our prior work has demonstrated cannabis’ promise in reducing opioid misuse and improving patient quality of life. We now aim to apply that expertise to studying cannabis as a potential therapeutic for alcohol addiction.
“With our experienced team of researchers and peer workers, High Hopes will continue pioneering safe, effective cannabis treatments to address major community health concerns.”
High Hopes notes that early feasibility study data shows promising results for cannabis as an alcohol substitution:
63% already substitute cannabis for alcohol. Of those, 52.6% use cannabis daily and 42.1% use it weekly for alcohol substitution.
78.9% use cannabis for alcohol cravings, 52.6% for withdrawal symptoms.
84% would participate in a cannabis substitution program if offered. 57.9% felt cannabis could help reduce drinking but cited availability and cost as barriers.
78.9% are open to partial substitution, 63.2% to complete substitution.
The community organization received their medical sales licence in 2022 and, after a long search, secured its first supply partnership with Canna Farms, a cannabis grower located just a few hours outside Vancouver in Hope, BC.
Blyth says they have also established two discreet, official pick-up locations for its patients, with plans to add more soon.
A group of researchers in Vancouver are trying to help cannabis pre-roll manufacturers better understand the most effective and efficient particle size for ground cannabis flower in a joint.
“Our aim is to provide cannabis pre-roll manufacturers with tools to better control the delivery of cannabinoids upon smoking of a pre-roll, thus allowing the user to be better informed on the amounts being consumed during joint smoking” notes a paper shared online earlier this year. Researchers also shared their findings at the e Canadian Chemistry Conference and Exhibition in Vancouver in June.
With the growing popularity of pre-rolls, which continue to increase in popularity in Canada, the research team wanted to look at how the particle size of ground cannabis flower impacts the effectiveness of cannabinoid delivery to the consumer.
The study looked at samples of ground cannabis separated into 1, 3, and 5-mm particle sizes. They rolled half-gram joints and “smoked” 18 of them using a Cambustion Smoke Cycle Simulator. The machine takes a 50 cc “puff” of cannabis at a time until the pre-rolls are finished.
Researchers took a sample via a filter from three puffs of the joint, taken at the beginning, middle, and end of the joint, and then analyzed those filters to see the total amount of cannabinoids present.
They found that the lowest amount of cannabinoids was delivered at the beginning of the joint, with the highest at either the end or the middle.
Both the 1-mm and 3-mm joints showed around a 50% increase in THC delivery from the first sampled puff to the middle of the pre-roll, while the 5-mm samples showed a 500 percent increase.
The results also showed that the amount of CBD delivered in each measured puff was higher than that of THC in absolute terms, ranging from 2.3 mg/puff to 6.1 mg/puff. The 1-mm and 3-mm particle sizes showed an increase in the amount of CBD delivered from middle to end, while the 5-mm CBD particles showed larger increases at the end of the joint.
Overall, the results showed that a smaller particle size burned more easily, which they say should create more “high potency” puffs.
The 1-mm and 3-mm ground cannabis particle sizes delivered 16–19 mg of THC, in comparison to the 5-mm joint which delivered 28 mg of THC. When measuring CBD, they found that the 5-mm particles delivered around 100 mg CBD per half-gram joint, compared to the 1-mm and 3-mm joints which reached around 90 mg CBD per pre-roll.
So while only about half (34–59 percent) of the THC in each joint was transferred to the theoretical consumer, the amount of CBD transferred in each puff was closer to 100%.
However, while the smaller particle size seemed to be more efficient at delivering THC to the consumer, it also meant the joint would burn faster, potentially countering this effect. Whereas a larger particle size was less efficient in delivering available THC but because it burned slower, it might provide more THC overall throughout the course of consuming the pre-roll.
This same trend was not noticed with CBD.
“Analogous to a kindling fire that burns vigorously, it would make sense that a 1-mm particle size leads to a greater propensity for uncontrolled combustion,” notes the research paper.
“In the case of the larger 5-mm particle size, the low reproducibility could simply be attributed to the additional puffs these joints needed to ignite at first. Moreover, as these joints took significantly longer to complete and thus have larger puff counts, it is unsurprising that the puff count reproducibility might be slightly higher. However, the kindling analogy does not appear to apply to the 1-mm CBD joint which smoked very reproducibly, suggesting that other factors might be encouraging controlled burning, such as flower humidity.”
“There’s a lack of quantitative research on joint smoking. I want to understand what happens during inhalation on the chemistry side,” researcher Markus Roggen, president and chief science officer of Delic Labs, a cannabis and psilocybin research facility in Vancouver, British Columbia told Scientific American.
All four researchers involved, Tim Sun, Dr. Hart Plommer, Sajni Shah, and Dr. Markus Roggen are with DELIC Labs in Vancouver, Canada. Direct correspondence to: [email protected]
In a room located next door to a cannabis store on Yonge Street in downtown Toronto, Lit Research offers producers a way for consumers, store owners, and budtenders to learn about and experience new, up-and-coming cannabis products.
Launched in the fall of 2022, Lit Research bills itself as a hub for the cannabis community, helping cannabis producers and brands to provide a unique, value-added educational experience to anyone looking to learn more about their products.
Al Shefsky, the founder of Lit, as well as the neighbouring business Body and Spirit Cannabis, has been hosting multiple cannabis tasting and sampling events every week at his location just up the street from Dundas Square since first opening.
He’s quick to clarify that Lit Research is not a consumption lounge. The business operates under a federal cannabis research licence that allows for sensory testing of products. Licence holders can conduct organoleptic/sensory testing to evaluate factors such as the taste, touch, sight, and smell of cannabis products with human participants.
“The producers come in to educate about who they are, about the product, and then you get a guided tasting opportunity where consumers test cannabis by smoking it. It’s unique. There are no other companies doing it like this to my knowledge. So it’s great for the consumers.”
“Participants value the experience and say it’s a special opportunity for them to see and try new products before and after they reach the market,” he continues, explaining this can then be beneficial for buyers, store owners, and budtenders.
“They also like the idea that their feedback matters. Every participant fills out a Participant Evaluation Form, and then we report that data back to the licensed producer. So they’re feeling empowered.”
In order to get the licence, which he says took about a year, he also had to undertake a significant remodel of the room to be used for research, including installing a high-grade HVAC air exchange system to allow consumers to comfortably smoke or vape products indoors.
Those participating in the study must also fill out information on their experience as a consumer and their thoughts on the products sampled.
Shefsky says Lit Research has held several research sessions every week since opening, with some producers using it as a chance to share products expected to be launched soon in the Ontario market, while others use it as a chance to determine which products they end up bringing to market at all.
The idea for the research centre started as a way to optimize the high rent space occupied by Body and Spirit in the increasingly competitive and saturated retail market in Toronto. Shefsky says his retail store at 361 Yonge St. was the fifth cannabis retailer licensed in Ontario’s second round, following a lottery in 2019 to open the first 50 stores in the province. Body and Spirit opened in May 2020, just as covid restrictions were beginning to come into place, meaning they quickly had to find new ways to stay relevant and economically sustainable.
“We got into the market early,” continues Shefsky,” but we quickly realized we had more room than we needed and were finding it hard to compete with all the new stores especially since unlicensed stores continued opening and operating with significant competitive cost advantages in our area. I was looking at all the options, reading the regulations, when we decided a research licence could allow us to create something unique for the community.”
Anyone over the age of 19 can take part in the sensory testing at Lit Research, although some events are invitation only. Participants are vetted to ensure they understand any potential risks involved. The room itself has a capacity of 48 people. Each table has a vaporizer and various smoking and vaping accessories like grinders and rolling trays, and participants have access to plenty of water as well as games and snacks.
Producers and brands have an opportunity to engage directly with participants, giving not only their brand story but also information about each product or cultivar, and talking points that retailers and producers may be interested in.
Shefsky advises anyone else looking into a similar approach to do their homework beforehand and understand the process, the timelines, as well as the fairly strict parameters around Health Canada’s research licence. Participants cannot be asked, for example, about any medical effects, but can only convey information about sensory attributes such as taste or aroma.
A recent study in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs examined cannabis consumer preferences as they relate to choosing where and what to purchase.
The study shows that cannabis consumers in Canada are willing to pay more for a higher quality, legal flower with an emphasis on high THC.
However, their motivations have less to do with price and more to do with THC potency and package and label information.
Those with more loyalty to the legal market tended to prefer pre-rolls and were more likely to be less frequent consumers. In contrast, more high-volume consumers preferred larger-volume packaging and were more likely to care about THC potency and price.
Researchers highlight that the results show a balancing act for regulators with public health regulatory goals, while also allowing for product types and packaging that will appeal to consumers more likely to turn to the unregulated to meet their needs.
Three types of consumers
The study divided respondents into three mostly distinct groups and had them rate purchase preference for cannabis flower based on characteristics like THC potency, moisture level, price, packaging, legal status, and recommendations.
The first group, about 30 percent of the 891 total participants, based purchases on a preference for high THC (+25 percent) and price. These tended to be more long-time consumers who use cannabis regularly and were more likely to have an ideological preference for unlicensed sources.
The second group, about 40 percent of all respondents, were more likely to make purchasing decisions based on product type and the amount of information on the label. This group preferred larger packaging and whole flower over pre-rolls and tended to put more importance on proper moisture level than the other two groups.
The third group, 30 percent of the respondents, were also most motivated by packaging type but instead had a preference for pre-rolls over other dried flower SKUs. While most consumers didn’t rate legal cannabis as a high priority in purchasing decisions, this group gave it more importance than the first two groups. This group also tended to consume less often than the other two and were more likely to report starting or restarting cannabis use after legalization.
“When all other attributes were held constant, participants were willing to pay about $15 more for 3.5 grams of dried flower packaged in a bag compared to pre-rolled packages, $8 more for dried flower that had a medium moisture content compared to low, $34 more for 3.5g of dried flower that was 25%+ THC compared to 10-14.9% THC, $19 more for detailed package information compared to no detail, and $9 more for a product that was regulated by Health Canada compared to no regulation.”
All three groups didn’t give much weight to recommendations, including online reviews, family and friends, or retailers. The first group gave more importance to online reviews, the second group had a slight preference for family and friend recommendations, and the third group tended to be more motivated by retailer recommendations.
Although there was some crossover in reporting groups, most tended to fit into just one category. Overall, consumers placed a low priority on recommendations. They were willing to pay more for dried flower than pre-rolls, more for flower that wasn’t overly dried, more for high THC flower, and more for detailed product information on the label.
Despite fears that legalizing cannabis would lead to troubling increases in problematic cannabis use, a new study is once again showing these concerns were over-hyped.
Anyone who was around post-2015, from the #toasterbud affair to the hysteria following Canadian Senator Nicole Eaton’s revelation that five grams of cannabis is equivalent to four tokes, is well aware that a certain subset of Canadian politics has been staunchly afraid that the only possible outcome of recreational legalization could be widespread reefer madness and the full-blown undermining of any semblance of cultural and/or economic normalcy that had been retained from the post-war boom, when everything was perfect for 15 or so years, and only degenerate criminals partook in the Devil’s Lettuce. <gasp>
Despite this hyperbole, as with any movement of great effect, there were an array of reasonable concerns surrounding legalization from rational parties. And now that recreational legalization has been demonstrating its effect for some time in many jurisdictions, researchers have some solid data to work with in analyzing the validity of these concerns.
Earlier this month, a new study from researchers at the universities of Waterloo and Toronto examined one of these reasonable concerns: that of increased cannabis use disorder.
For the purposes of this study, the presence of use-disorder was determined using the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders criteria for cannabis dependence and abuse , the Cannabis Use Disorder Identification Test-Revised  and the World Health Organization Alcohol, Smoking and Substance Involvement Screening Test (ASSIST) ,” with researchers noting that “these scales typically assess a combination of frequent use as well as negative consequences on employment, social relationships and health.”
The study also notes that in terms of non-problematic use, the number of people who had used cannabis once in the last month, last three months, or last twelve months, did increase. But was this also indicative of an increase in problematic use?
The short answer is no.
The long answer is also no.
Researchers screened groups of people of varying ages for problematic cannabis use in 2018, 2019, and 2020. In 2018, 89.1 percent of subjects were rated as low risk for problematic risk, versus 88 percent in 2020.
Researchers concluded that “overall, in the initial period following legalization in Canada, levels of problematic use have changed very little at the population level.”
Adding to this conclusion, researchers noted that “modest differences in problematic use risk scores were observed based on various socioeconomic indicators as well as race/ethnicity,” indicating that “future research should continue to monitor the prevalence of problematic cannabis use indicators keeping these factors in mind to ensure that any potential drawbacks of legalization are not disproportionately impacting marginalized populations.”
In the past, other studies have arrived at similar conclusions. This study from October of last year concluded that while “cannabis legalization in Canada was associated with a greater perception of cannabis harm among young people,” it was “also easier access.” This indicates that harm reduction messaging is having the desired effect, while ease of access to a regulated supply is ensuring that those who choose to partake aren’t putting themselves at mortal risk by doing so.
Also, in 2021, The Journal of the American Medical Association published a survey of about 830,000 Americans that showed cannabis use did not increase in any significant way following legalization in any of the states that had chosen to do so at that point.
So while the widespread recreational legalization of cannabis has certainly increased access, availability, and safety, at present it does not seem that this has precipitated the kinds of doomsday scenarios that Conservative Senators Gladu and Eaton raised alarm bells over back in the early days, or even anything resembling them.
A new study in the US argues that inflated THC levels on cannabis products undermine industry credibility.
Researchers tested 23 samples of cannabis from 10 Colorado stores, comparing those results against the label. They found that, on average, the products were 23 percent lower in THC than advertised.
Although consumer choices continue to be driven by a desire for higher-THC products, the average observed THC levels were just under 15 percent from all samples tested.
Inflation of THC levels isn’t new. Research in Canada and the US has highlighted the issue for years. In Canada, the industry has been calling for more oversight of labs and testing standards.
Nearly two-thirds of the samples tested 15 percent lower than advertised, while three samples were half as low as claimed on the label.
Colorado’s testing standards require a producer to report THC levels as a range based on the highest and lowest percentages from the test batch. However, not all products were labelled in a range.
The samples used were one to two grams in size, looking at 12 different dried cannabis varieties. Researchers also included a handful of results from other studies.
Eighteen of those 23 samples showed THC levels below the labelled testing results. Only one of the products tested showed a higher THC level than the lowest from the range on the product label.
Although THC can degrade over time, the paper contends that this was not a factor given the lack of excessive levels of CBN, a byproduct of THC degradation.
To help address these issues, researchers in this study argue that regulators in Colorado need to do more to ensure that growers are using a representative sample rather than selecting the most potent flowers, as well as enforcing more strict product reporting rules.
Hubert Marceau, the director of development at Laboratoire PhytoChemia—an analytical testing lab in Quebec that tests cannabis products in the Canadian market—says the results once again highlight that most cannabis on the market does not have nearly as much THC as consumers might think.
“What is striking is that even with the samples that reported a range, most of the time the measured value is outside by a large margin,” says Marceau. “This should be the exception. Another interesting thing is that none of the samples cross the famed 20 percent threshold.”
“The fact the standard deviation of the observed values are about half as the reported ones, this means that all samples, regardless of the strain, would have a very similar THC content, even though it seems that there is more diversity on the market.”
Marceau says consumers should look at these results as a good example of why they should not be basing purchasing decisions solely on advertised THC levels.
Quebec’s annual survey that follows the evolution of cannabis consumption in the province shows no increase in cannabis use in the province from the previous year.
Young people are also less likely to use cannabis than prior to legalization, and those who do use it are waiting longer to start.
However, the number of young people vaping cannabis is on the rise, despite the products being banned in the province.
The 2022 Quebec Cannabis Survey shows that 19 percent of Quebecers used cannabis in 2022, about the same as the previous year. However, previous surveys do show a small increase from 14 percent to 19 percent following legalization.
Men in Quebec are more likely to use cannabis compared to women, with 23 percent of men and 16 percent of women reporting their use.
In 2022, younger Quebecers aged 21-24 were the most likely to use cannabis, with 40 percent of those surveyed reporting their use of cannabis. This was followed by 25-34 year-olds at 37 percent.
Although use has been increasing slightly among adults in Quebec, there has also been a decrease in the proportion of consumers aged 15-17 reporting their use of cannabis since 2018 when cannabis was legalized.
Cannabis vaping on the rise
Despite not being a legal product in Quebec, the report shows an increase in residents vaping cannabis, from about 19 percent in 2021 to 24 percent in 2022. For young people aged 15-17 who reported using cannabis, the number who vaped was about three times higher, from more than 24 percent in 2019 and almost 44 percent in 2021 to 70 percent in 2022.
As in other provinces, smoking cannabis remains the most popular mode of consumption, but has declined slightly from 85 percent of use in 2021 to 82 percent in 2022.
Almost half of respondents (42 percent) who used cannabis did so less than once a day, and around 19 percent did so only about one to three days a month. About one-quarter (24 percent) used cannabis one to six days a week, and 14 percent said they used cannabis on a daily basis.
Around 30 percent of consumers reported using edibles or ingestible oils or capsules.
Black market is shrinking
Around two-thirds of cannabis users (67 percent) in Quebec said they bought cannabis at least once from the Société québécoise du cannabis (SQDC), about the same as the previous year.
Only about 8 percent reported getting cannabis from an illicit source, down from 11 percent in 2021 and 32 percent in 2018. Another 40 percent reported getting cannabis from a family member, friend, or acquaintance.
Quebec’s efforts to educate people about health concerns related to cannabis use are also proving successful. Around 79% of Quebecers aged 15 and over say they have seen or heard of such campaigns in 2022.
Ninety-one percent of young people aged 15-17 reported seeing such messaging, followed by 88 percent of 18-20 year-olds and 86 percent of 21-24 year-olds.
One cannabis testing lab in Canada, with several years of experience in the industry, says most of the cannabis they have analyzed is around 18-24 percent THC, with only a fraction cracking the 30 percent threshold.
In data recently shared with StratCann, High North Laboratories says less than one percent of samples they’ve tested showed results of over 30 percent total THC: just 154 in more than 20,000 cannabis samples. The data was anonymized to remove client names and other identifying information.
Rick Moriarity, COO of High North Laboratories, says they are sharing the information now to add to the conversation around consumer expectations for high THC products. While the market increasingly demands higher and higher THC products—sometimes pushing into the high twenties and even thirties—Moriarity says the cannabis flower they have analyzed tends to be around 21 percent THC.
In fact, after controlling for lower-THC products they test (like hemp or more CBD-rich flower), just over half of nearly 20,000 samples were in the range of 18 to 24 percent THC.
These findings mirror research published in 2021 in the US that showed a similar breakdown of THC levels peaking around 18 to 20 percent.
The expectation of high THC being the only indicator of quality, says Moriarity, isn’t realistic. It can be a factor, but not the only one.
“I hope this information can help guide consumers not to be looking at total THC for a purchase decision. There’s nothing wrong with looking at the total THC to see what it is and if it is a CBD or balanced product; however, it should not influence you enough that you walk into a store and say, “what’s your highest THC flower?”
One of the problems, he acknowledges, is that consumers are focussing on THC, at least in part, because they can’t decide based on aroma, as many consumers could do in the pre-legal market.
“With the regulations around packaging, it is not easy to look and smell before making a purchase decision. I know some stores have jars with little air holes that you can look at and attempt to smell the flower. It’s better than not having that option, but the flower gets old quickly that way and is not truly representative. So I understand why, but THC alone isn’t a good replacement for that.
“Terpenes are one other factor to consider, as is our endocannabinoid system and several other important cannabinoids that we’re only just starting to learn more about. The point is, this all amounts to so much more than just that one number for THC. And that’s even if those numbers are accurate, which obviously, they often aren’t.”
He adds that he doesn’t mean all lab testing is inaccurate, but emphasizes that “the numbers are not accurate when being inflated by a select few non-reputable labs.”
Similar to another cannabis lab that recently shared results of off-the-shelf products they tested, High North shared with StratCann what they say are the results of 35 cannabis flower products they purchased from cannabis stores. As with their other internal testing results, High North removed producers names in the info provided to StratCann.
Of these, nine were within an acceptable deviation range of no more than 12 percent, while most were within between 20 to nearly 100 percent deviation from the labelled amounts. One product tested at 19 percent THC but was listed on the label as having 38 percent. Interestingly, one flower sample that High North’s second test showed at a whopping 31 percent THC was labelled as 38 percent.
Moriarity highlights this specific result as an example of how absurd it is that a producer who is already hitting such a high number like 30 percent, would need to boost those numbers even more.
These results indicate that much of the cannabis on the market is actually in a range of around 20 percent THC, and also how inaccurate at least some of the available product labels are, says Moriarity. The results also highlight the folly of consumers and even provincial buyers in making purchase decisions based on THC alone.
THC content has been the talk of stoners since the molecule’s discovery. We’ve spent decades trying to maximize it—we figured out that stressing out unpollinated female flowers gives us the best buzz and, presumably, the most THC content.
Regardless of your opinion on how much—or even if—THC content affects overall quality, the percentage on the bag is often a large factor in consumers’ purchasing choices.
In the nineties, tokers were looking for legendary Cali bud that supposedly hit the elusive 20% mark. In the short time since, plant morphology has not changed all that much, but the internet has led to growers sharing the secrets they use to maximize trichome coverage.
On a recent product call, the Ontario Cannabis Store is said to have requested more strains that tested above 30% THC. Suddenly, almost every new product in Ontario was hitting marks of 31%, 32%, even a couple 34% batches! Even old SKUs that had never sniffed 26% before were suddenly 30.5%.
Such a steep jump in such a short amount of time, and seemingly relegated to Canada and California labs: Australian labs don’t seem to agree with our numbers up here—a batch of Orange Crescendo sent to Aussie medical outlet Alfie was purported to be 28%, but once tested down under, the new label for the batch was 22%. How did we get here?
In the Canadian legal market, online wholesalers, retailers, and most retail stores are set up in a way that makes THC and price the only things you can judge before the product is in your hands. This blind buying is causing more consumers to ask for the bud with the highest THC, and LP’s are incentivized to make sure they can always be on the top of that list.
The Cannabis Act prescribes a lot about the testing of cannabis, but never explicitly says how cannabis should be tested. Different labs use slightly different methods of finding the levels of cannabinoids, terpenes, bacteria, heavy metals, and all the other things Health Canada requires to be tested in cannabis. Now, certain labs have gained reputations as known “THC inflators,” and some suggest that tests from these labs should raise eyebrows.
One batch of a product recently launched in Ontario purportedly hit 39.58% total THC, and another claims 40.41%. These figures are usually found on cannabis concentrate products like hash and infused pre-rolls. THC and its precursor THCa are predominantly found in the trichome heads of cannabis plants. If these numbers are correct, we can expect approximately 45% or more of the cannabis by weight to be trichome heads. This dense covering of trichome heads would be immediately apparent to even the novice user.
How to Test for THC
On a dreary Friday in March, I paid Thomas Fraleigh a visit at his lab in Mississauga. He took me on a tour of his surprisingly small testing space, walking me through the basics of microbial testing, terpene analysis, and cannabinoid content analysis. For the latter, Fraleigh’s lab, Vivariant, uses what’s known as high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), which most other accredited labs in Canada also use. There are different types of HPLC used, but the broad strokes are the same.
How it works for Vivariant, in layman’s terms, is that each sample is weighed, homogenized cryogenically, and a specific amount of that homogenized, powdery cannabis sample is combined with a sterile liquid. This combined solution is then put through an HPLC machine, where a filter separates the contents of the sample and each ingredient is registered by a detector.
The ingredients are separated one at a time, and once registered by the detector, they are plotted on a graph in relation to the time they took to separate. This leads to ‘spikes’ on a graph, one for each of the compounds tested for. These spikes are then measured against standard cannabinoid concentrations to find the levels of cannabinoids present in the sample.
Once that is known, a math formula is used that takes into account all of the factors going into the sample—sample weight, amount of cannabis sample powder added to sterile liquid—which then translates the amount of cannabinoids in the solution to the milligrams per gram we see on cannabis labels today.
One part of the process where Fraleigh thinks it may be possible to skew the result is the math formula at the end. One could, theoretically, add more of the cannabis powder sample to the sterile liquid than they account for in the end formula, leading to a higher concentration of cannabinoids in the end test, and therefore a higher overall percentage on the end result.
Vivariant’s methodology is tested regularly by Proficiency Testing Canada, an organization that sends labs homogenized cannabis samples for testing. The issue with this is that the samples are clearly marked. If a lab were purposely skewing results, it would be very simple for them to not skew the results provided to PT Canada.
Health Canada allows a 15% variance in the stated label claim of cannabinoid content on some regulated cannabis products. Theoretically this means that, legally, your bag that’s marked as 27% THC could contain some bud that tests anywhere from 23% to 31%.
What happens when the weed in the bag falls outside of that allowance? So far, not much. Tom Ulanowski, the chair of C-45 Quality Association, has been raising similar concerns with Health Canada as far back as October 2021. C-45 has a vested interest in accurate testing, as they represent a number of labs and quality assurance professionals across Canada’s cannabis industry. As of yet, Health Canada has not taken any action…. Well, not since 2015 at least. That was the last time Health Canada issued a recall of a product based on inaccurate THC labeling. And yes, eagle-eyed reader, 2015 was before recreational cannabis was legal.
So what would it take to trigger a recall? Let’s find out.
I submitted a sealed sample of the 39.58% bag, a product called Pearadise by Wink, to Vivariant for independent analysis. The result? Vivariant tested the flower in the bag at 22.19% Total THC—a whopping 44% below the nearly 40% stated on the label. I’ve submitted a complaint to Health Canada about the difference in the stated amount vs the tested amount. Wink responded saying they trust their lab, Pathogenia, to give accurate results, and offered the original batch Certificate of Analysis (COA).
Editor’s note:A representative forWeed Me, which brought the Wink product to market, provided this comment to StratCann in response noting they will begin vetting the results from their tests with multiple labs. In part:
“As more and more incredible people apply their remarkable skills perfecting their respective art of cultivating cannabis, we at Weed Me are continually impressed with what they are producing. Through improvements in techniques, fertilization, light and environmental controls and most importantly development of genetics, some of the results we see are hard to believe.
“We equally listen to you as the consumer, and we hear that ultra high potency flower, approaching or exceeding that of infused products, can be hard to believe. In response to these concerns we will implement a competing double-testing methodology of any strains that test over 34% THC. We will submit samples for testing to 2 different 3rd party analytic laboratories and provide the average of the 2 in an effort to most accurately represent the product specifications. While the labs are licensed and regulated by Health Canada we feel it important to go the extra step and double-check. This testing is in addition to the testing provided to us by our cultivating partners.”
Other high-THC products are being called into question as well. High North Labs recently tested a sample, Raptors Rntz by Celebrity, that claimed on the bag to be 40.4% THC. Their tests showed the product to be only 28.74% total THC. This is still an impressive amount by most standards! But alas, it’s also 29% below the claim on the label.
The problem isn’t relegated to extremely high THC numbers, though. Rob O’Brien from Supra Research and Development also tested 46 different whole flower cannabis products in BC, with a variety of products and brands at different price points, THC levels, and bag sizes. Similar to Vivariant’s results, some products were up to 45% below the stated Total THC on the label.
However, O’Brien believes his findings to be a result of inaccurate batch representation in testing, as he found larger buds tested much closer to the stated THC levels than the smaller buds. He believes this to be an issue with LPs who use one crop to fill various sized bags. Larger 3 or 4 gram buds will not fit into 1 gram bags, but are what’s used to test the potency of the whole batch.
What do we do from here?
Everyone has different ideas on how to fix this. Many believe that switching to a “deli style” system, where products are able to be seen and smelled prior to purchase would remove the incentive of testing at ridiculously high THC levels.
Others, like Jennawae Cavion of Calyx and Trichomes in Kingston, had a simpler idea: “They should just put a range on the label,” she says. “Or, even a disclaimer: ‘Flower in bag may be lower than advertised THC.’”
Some believe independent testing at the federal, or even provincial, wholesale level for incoming products should be the norm, with punishments for being outside of the allowance. The OCS has contracted Sigma Analytical for independent analysis of cannabis products, but the extent to which they have tested products remains unclear.
Health Canada said in a statement that of 919 samples they collected since October 2018, when recreational cannabis was legalized, only 68 were tested and “found to be in contravention of the requirements set out in the cannabis act or its regulations.” These 68 could be in contravention for any reason, including failing microbial or pesticide analysis, and do not refer specifically to THC level contravention.
What can be done?
What will happen next remains unclear. Hopefully, it involves more transparency in all aspects of the industry, lest the problem of inflated THC will continue until the balloon eventually pops.
In my perfect world, we would have a hybrid deli-style system alongside the present prepackaged system for those who want it. There’s something to be said for seeing and smelling a product before you purchase it. It would be a long road to get there with regard to regulation changes, but we can do it.
Deli style shops and budtenders who actually tend to your bud is how brick-and-mortar stores started pre-legalization, and, hopefully what we’ll return to. I’d trust my eyes and nose over a number on a bag any day, especially if it doesn’t match what’s actually inside that bag.
Cass is a cannabis enthusiast and former budtender who resides in Toronto, Ontario. They fight for radical transparency in the cannabis industry and beyond. They can be found on Twitter @terp_kaczynski
The owner of one analytical testing lab is calling out what he says is a serious problem with the accuracy of THC levels on cannabis flower in Canada.
Rob O’Brien, CEO and CSO of Supra Research and Development in Kelowna, BC, recently shared online his own independent testing results from 46 different cannabis products he purchased from BC Cannabis Stores.
The results of his tests show what he says are significant variations in the cannabis flower he tested compared to what was stated on the label. In some cases there was more than a 40 percent difference. In one example results show a product labelled at 34 percent THC to be only 19 percent with his own testing.
Rather than publicly calling out producers or labs, though, O’Brien says his biggest concern is holding federal and provincial regulators accountable. While he shared the results online, he didn’t share the labs, producers, or product names. But he says he did share the entire, unredacted info with the BC government and with Health Canada.
“I’m not here to try to shame companies, I’m here to try to solve this problem,” says O’Brien. “The credibility of the entire sector is in question if we don’t get this right.”
Instead, he’s placing that burden on those two levels of government.
“They are the ones that should be responsible for naming names if that does come up.”
Although he doesn’t rule out labs or producers who may “put their thumbs on the scale,” O’Brien says he believes much of the discrepancies he found in his own testing were due to flaws in how producers are required to take samples for testing in the first place.
One of the problems, he explains, is that the current federal regulations only require testing per harvest, even though there can be significant variation in the THC levels in the flowers from that harvest. Flowers closer to the light tend to have higher THC than those further from it. And while some growers take steps to mitigate this, variation of a biological product like cannabis is nearly inevitable.
This, combined with a tendency for producers to then send in only the largest, most impressive flowers that have the highest THC, means that what is actually in the consumers’ packaging won’t necessarily match what the THC numbers show on the label.
“The largest buds are the ones that are closest to the label claim. That’s likely the type of buds that are being sent to the labs for testing. These buds are two to three grams, maybe four at the extreme. And you can’t put a two-gram bud in a one-gram bag. So the smaller package sizes have the smallest buds in them, typically two or three, and those buds are 30-40 percent below the bigger ones. That’s part of the problem.”
Another factor is the tested buds aren’t going through a sometimes disruptive packaging process that can lower the THC level.
“And when you send the first pristine buds to the lab for testing, then the others go through the process of being sorted and packaged, there’s a lot of tumbling and bouncing around, and that knocks off trichomes that affect the THC level. So if you’re testing the packaged product, you’ll be much closer to what’s there.”
If provincial buyers were held more accountable for the products they are generally the gatekeepers of in their provinces, he contends this would immediately force producers to begin better testing procedures on their own, regardless of the minimal requirement from Health Canada for batch lots covering an entire harvest.
This is especially true since, as he points out, most provincial buyers tend to have a bias against cannabis flower that is under 20 percent THC.
“The provincial buyers need to throw away this thing that if you don’t have 20 percent THC on the COA that they’re not going to buy their product. That is ridiculous and is contributing to the problem.”
“THC content has significantly increased over the last two years. We need to have a better regulatory system, and we need to have better transparency.”
Hubert Marceau, a chemist and the director of development at Laboratoire PhytoChemia Inc., an analytical testing lab in Quebec, says consumers should take this kind of knowledge into account when buying cannabis.
Even relatively fair and accurate testing results will always have some kind of variance, he says. Instead, he thinks consumers should think of the THC level on the label as a range, give or take a few points in either direction, not a specific number.
This would account for at least some of the variance in flower size and batch size.
“You can never test the whole batch. So by testing a sample of that batch, you’re only estimating the average. Consumers need to be aware they are askew. There’s no other product on the market where you have this kind of false sense of security, this level of accuracy down to two decimal points.”
Like O’Brien, he says he is also aware of stories that some labs will simply provide the testing results that a processor demands in order to keep their business.
“Eventually, it just becomes a numbers game where people just want to have the higher number and will do everything in their power to have a higher number. And that’s what’s happening here.”
This also brings the credibility of the industry into question for Marceau. THC levels, from his perspective, seem to often hover just under 20 percent THC, so very high THC levels, sometimes well over 30 percent raise his eyebrows.
He references a study from 2021 that showed clustering of testing results from cannabis flower in two US states that, once corrected for outliers from labs found to be inaccurate, showed most cannabis flower, when accurately tested, was around the 20% threshold, some a little under, some a little over.
“Eventually, the plant gets to a point where it can’t produce more THC. There’s no way in hell that THC—that only resides in the trichomes that are on the surface of the flower—is going to be 35 percent of the cannabis.”
Like O’Brien, he says he thinks a lot of it comes down to the 20 percent (or, in the same cases, even higher) THC threshold some provinces prefer. This creates a situation where cultivars, processors, and labs are all encouraged to push up their levels to meet these demands. And this creates a situation where consumers are largely only able to buy these higher THC products, further cementing the idea of higher THC equalling higher quality.
“You have the consumer who has been told higher THC is better, which is the equivalent of saying only drink everclear alcohol, so the distributor is saying it will only buy lots over 20 percent. This forces the producer to put out more than 20 percent flower.”
Health Canada confirms it is looking into the effects of different cannabinoids to create equivalency amounts to delta-9-THC.
The federal regulator plans on collaborating with provinces and territories on the issue and “will continue research and surveillance, data gathering and analysis to support possible future regulatory changes,” according to a statement shared with StratCann. The results of the project are expected during the 2023 calendar year.
The statement comes after two of Canada’s biggest cannabis markets, Ontario and BC, announced they will be pausing approval of any new delta 8 THC products pending guidance from Health Canada. The research will include different cannabinoids, including delta 8.
In order to reduce risks associated with accidental consumption and overconsumption, the federal Cannabis Act and Regulations set limits of 10mg per package for delta-9-THC in edibles, or 1,000 mg for extracts and topicals, but no such limits exist yet for non-delta 9 products.
“While there are currently no similar legal requirements for other intoxicating cannabinoids like delta-8-THC, Health Canada strongly recommends that the total amount of intoxicating cannabinoids should not exceed the regulatory limits set for delta-9 THC, and that testing and accurate descriptions of intoxicating cannabinoid content be clearly indicated on product labels,” a Senior Media Relations Advisor with Health Canada shared via email.
“Delta-8-THC is an intoxicating cannabinoid,” continued the email, “and one of the many cannabinoids found in or produced naturally by the cannabis plant. However, delta-8 THC is not naturally found in significant amounts in the plant. As such, delta-8-THC is typically manufactured from cannabidiol (CBD) by a licensed cannabis processor.”
“Cannabis products containing delta-8-THC have potential health and safety risks that may be similar to delta-9-THC, some of which can be serious or life-threatening. Products containing high levels of delta-8 THC have little to no history of use, so the scientific and medical understanding of their biological effects and health risks is still developing. Health Canada is closely monitoring the emergence of products containing high levels of delta-8 THC, as well as products that may contain high levels of other novel intoxicating cannabinoids, in the Canadian marketplace.”
“Health Canada is currently commissioning preliminary research projects in rodents to begin to compare the psychoactive effects of various cannabinoids other than delta-9-THC. This will help further inform the intoxication equivalency of these non-delta-9 THC cannabinoids to delta-9-THC. The data generated by this and additional potential projects on this topic could help inform public education and awareness efforts, potential risk assessments as well any policies or regulations concerning these substances. The results of this initial pilot project are expected during the 2023 calendar year.”
Delta-8 THC products made a small splash in the Canadian market in 2022, with a handful of companies offering products like gummies, beverages, and vape pens. Speaking with several retailers in Canada, sales for these products appear relatively low, although there seems to be interest in both the novelty of the cannabinoid, as well as the fact they provide a way to provide consumers with more THC per edible than a typical delta-9 THC edible.
Steve Schnarr, the manager at This is Cannabis, with two locations in BC, says his stores saw some initial demand, but given there are only a few products, he suspects they get lost in the high-volume shuffle of products on their shelves.
“It was interesting when they came in because it was one of the first products to go past the ten milligrams,” says Schnarr. “We just had, I think, one beverage and one set of gummies. They haven’t moved that well, I would say. I don’t think they’ve been too popular.”
Omi Sahota, a manager at Giggles Cannabis, with two locations in Ontario, says he thinks the lack of popularity is at least partially due to the fact many consumers still don’t know about it. Although he says he was hesitant to bring in the product because of some of the stories and uncertainty from the US market, their initial small shipment (less than 20) in December sold out quickly
“I don’t think the education is there yet in the market,” says Sahota. “I think (producers) need to do a lot more education, not only for customers but for sellers. They never even told us it was available. I would say our customers who tried it, liked it. We also warn everyone that takes it that this is way more potent than normal THC.”
Michael Krestell is the executive chairman at Dynaleo, a cannabis producer located in Alberta that specializes in cannabis edibles and beverages and is one of the companies offering delta-8 THC products.
“The issue I think that we’re facing here in Canada, is that the delta 8 category here is being examined unfairly under the lens of what’s happening in unregulated markets, very specifically the US,” says Krestell. “We understand regulators and provincial distributors are looking for more understanding, and we think it is important to have a greater understanding of what’s happening.”
Their delta 8 “soft chews” are available in packs of 10 with 10mg of delta 8 THC and 1mg of delta 9 THC per piece. The company has sold more than 50,000 units so far of the product, primarily in markets like Ontario.
Despite these sales, the delta 8 products are only a small portion of their full product menu, so the policy shift isn’t a big concern for the company, says Krestell. However, he does think that some of the concern relating to the unregulated US market is potentially unwarranted.
With that said, he also notes the company understands the government’s cautious approach.
“We’re pleased that everyone is taking a measured approach as everyone gets up to speed from an education perspective and seeing what the actual experience is with the product in the market.”
The policy change does impact the company, though, since they can currently not sell into two of the largest cannabis markets in Canada. Especially when these are all products that have gone through the federal and provincial processes for new cannabis products.
“The impact on us is twofold,” explains Krestell. “One, it constrains an avenue for future growth and we’ve also got commitments out there for purchase of products, and we have delta 8 inventory and purchased bags we have in inventory, so from that standpoint, it’s a little disappointing. We didn’t try to sneak anything by anybody. We went through the NNCP process…. We went through provincial listing processes, and everyone’s interpretation is that nothing here is in contravention of any regulations, and it’s a decision being made to sideline it.”
Health Canada says it will “continue to monitor the effects and risks of all cannabis products, including products with high levels of delta-8 THC, and will take appropriate actions if needed.” Although BC and Ontario are not currently listing any new products of this kind, Health Canada has not currently said they will be implementing a similar policy change nationwide.
Health Canada has released their first two reviews on Adverse Reaction Reports associated with cannabis products.
The most common reports of adverse reactions to cannabis involved ingestible cannabis oils or softgels, and reports were most often from adult women. Younger adults were more likely to report negative effects from inhalable forms of cannabis like dried flower or extracts, while older adults were more likely to report negative effects from cannabis oils or softgels.
While the first year of data collection for 2018-2019 showed 219 adverse reaction reports, the following year saw only 159.
In both years, most reports involved legal cannabis products, while others were associated with the illicit market or from an undetermined source, or from mixing other substances with cannabis.
Of these, 198 (77 in the first year and 121 in the second year) were considered “serious,” with hospitalization as the most frequently reported reason for seriousness. The majority of cases in both years originated from consumers and were reported to Health Canada by cannabis licence holders (federal producers). Only 24% of cases in the first year and 11% in the second year were reported by health care practitioners (HCPs).
Health Canada defines an adverse reaction as “a noxious and unintended response to a cannabis product” and defines a serious adverse reaction as “a noxious and unintended response to a cannabis product that requires inpatient hospitalization or a prolongation of existing hospitalization, causes congenital malformation, results in persistent or significant disability or incapacity, is life-threatening, or results in death.”
As the reporting of adverse reactions by consumers, health care practitioners (HCPs), medical cannabis clinics, and retailers is voluntary, Health Canada notes that serious and non-serious cases from these sources are “likely underreported.”
Cannabis licence holders are required by federal regulations to report any serious adverse reactions.
While the total number of serious cases reported to Health Canada increased by 57% between the reporting periods, from 77 cases in 2018–2019 to 121 cases in 2020, cases where hospitalization was required declined, from 43 in the first year to 33 in the second. In the first year, there were seven reports considered life-threatening, while only one was reported as life-threatening in the second year.
In contrast, the total number of non-serious adverse reaction reports decreased by 49%, from 74 in 2018–2019 to 38 in 2020.
However, reports associated with other medically important conditions increased in the second year, from 27 to 86. “Other medically important condition” includes events that are not immediately life-threatening or do not result in death or hospitalization but may jeopardize the patient or may require intervention (for example, ambulatory services, emergency department visits, outpatient visits with an HCP or at-home medical interventions) to prevent a serious outcome.
In both years, cases involving legal cannabis products were more likely to involve female adults, and the majority of the time involved cannabis oils or softgels. Very few cases were associated with minors (two in the first year and three in the second).
While the first year’s report did not capture a significant amount of cannabis extracts or edibles (most weren’t yet on the market), in 2020, there was one suspected case of vaping-associated lung illness (VALI) that was reported as involving legal cannabis products, and two suspected cases that were reported as involving undefined cannabis. None of these cases were established to be a confirmed or probable case according to the case definition established by the Public Health Agency of Canada, though.
The majority of reports of adverse reactions in both years involved a single legal cannabis product, although some included the mixing of multiple cannabis products. Orally-ingested extracts (ie edibles and/or oils) were the most common product associated with an adverse reaction, followed by inhaled cannabis products.
Cannabis oil products or extracts were more frequently reported in serious cases, while dried cannabis products were more frequently reported in non-serious cases.
Interestingly, most of the cannabis oil products in the adverse reaction cases were considered ‘CBD-dominant’ or ‘CBD-leaning’, while the dried cannabis products were typically reported as ‘THC-dominant’.
Cases involving adults 65 years and older exclusively reported use of cannabis extracts. Cases involving younger adults reported use of dried cannabis and cannabis extracts.
Only those between the ages of 18–64 were involved in adverse reaction cases with vaping liquids, while older adults (≥65 years) were more frequently involved in adverse reaction cases with ingestible oils in liquid form and softgel capsules.
The most common associated events leading to hospitalization were nervous system disorders and psychiatric disorders, followed by “general disorders” and gastrointestinal issues.
The most commonly reported symptoms in the first year were headache, nausea, hallucination, dizziness, and anxiety. Reports of headache and dyspnoea (difficulty breathing) were more frequently associated with THC-dominant products, while reports of dizziness and diarrhea were more frequently reported with CBD-dominant or CBD-leaning products.
In the second year, headaches were replaced by hallucinations as the most frequently reported medical events, followed by dizziness, nausea, euphoria, abnormal feelings, and insomnia.
Different medical events were also associated with different types of products, cannabinoids, and modes of consumption.
In the second year, insomnia and pain were more frequently reported with THC-dominant or leaning products, whereas anxiety and diarrhea were more frequently reported with CBD-dominant or leaning products. Dizziness, loss of consciousness, syncope, and hallucination were also more frequently reported with CBD-dominant or leaning products.
In the first year, instances of headache and dyspnoea (difficulty breathing) were more frequently observed with THC-dominant products, whereas events of dizziness and diarrhea were more frequently reported with CBD-dominant or CBD-leaning products.
Health Canada also notes that more data over the coming years will be needed to draw more solid conclusions. The regulator also highlights that other factors may be contributing to these events including: the age and health status of patients (including pre-existing health conditions and use of concomitant medications); prior exposure to cannabis (for example, cannabis naïve consumers); dosage; route of administration; and knowledge or awareness of effects of cannabis and cannabinoids.
Health Canada also covered one new data point that involved an increased bleeding risk associated with an interaction between orally ingested CBD-dominant cannabis oil products and the anticoagulant medication Warfarin.
Helping to gather data on the topic, the most recent Canadian Cannabis Survey, released in December, also included questions about any accidental exposures to cannabis in the household for humans or pets in the past year.
Under federal cannabis regulations, licence holders are required to submit serious adverse reaction reports for instances involving a cannabis product and are encouraged to voluntarily submit non-serious adverse reaction reports involving a cannabis product. Licence holders can find more information in the Cannabis adverse reaction reporting guide.
Consumers and HCPs are also encouraged to report all adverse reactions to a cannabis product directly to the Controlled Substances and Cannabis Branch (CSCB). Consumers and HCPs may also send a report to the LH of the cannabis product.
That online Cannabis Reporting Form can be found here and includes reports for issues relating to marketing and promotion, products and packaging, as well as potential negative health events.
Last Friday, Health Canada announced several changes to the cannabis regulations. While a long-awaited change to beverage equivalency factors is getting most of the attention, the allowance of standard reference materials (SRMs) for product testing is arguably of equal importance.
In particular, the announcement allows for “analytical testing licence holders and federal and provincial government laboratories to produce, distribute, and sell reference standards and test kits, to increase access to cannabis testing materials and thereby support access to a quality-controlled supply of cannabis.”
As unenthused as I am about the prospect of being able to push a wheelbarrow full of weed drinks home from the store now, I’m enthusiastic about this lesser-celebrated advancement.
SRMs allow manufacturers to provide accurate information about the products they sell. For instance, when you read the nutrition information on the label of any food product, you can rest assured that the calorie count and fat content listed are accurate because the equipment used to measure them has been calibrated with an SRM that contains a known quantity of each substance being analyzed.
Now imagine there were no SRMs. Imagine the ice cream you’re eating actually has significantly more fat and sugar in it than the nutrition label states, or only half of the vitamin C.
Until now no such communal standard reference has been available to the cannabis industry, meaning that labs have been left to calibrate their equipment with self-adopted standards. It has been argued that, in the absence of SRMs, some labs might have calibrated their equipment in such a way as to maximize cannabinoid and terpene measurements, which would be desirable to cannabis producers in that there is an established retailer and consumer preference for higher levels of these constituents. It’s much easier to move flower at 20+ per cent than it is at say, 17.5 per cent.
These new standard reference materials have the potential to put an end to inflated cannabinoid and terpene values. Scrupulous labs can now use them to calibrate their equipment, ensuring consistently accurate measurements. They can advertise that they do this. As time progresses, this will become expected, if not mandated.
And what’s more, these materials don’t come cheap. It takes a great deal of time and expensive equipment to produce them and all of the documentation they come with. This presents a potentially lucrative opportunity for licensed labs with the means to manufacture them.
While I’m happy that beverage equivalencies are now more realistic—even though I’m personally not a fan of drinking weed—I’m much more optimistic that in the future this artificial notion that cannabis needs to test above 20 per cent THC in order to appeal to consumers will be a thing of the past.
–Until it closed last spring, Ryan was the general manager of Aurora’s 200-acre outdoor facility in Westwold BC (which is now a heavily fortified garlic farm). He’s currently looking for new opportunities. Previously, he was one-half of Verp, a news editor for Lift (before the ampersand), managing editor at Canlio, and a longtime employee and ally of the Victoria Cannabis Buyers’ Club.
One of the often misunderstood aspects of legal cannabis production is the quality assurance measures many licensed producers take post-harvest to ensure that their product passes a variety of tests. And in the four years since legalization, few have garnered as much attention as the process of irradiation.
Take this Forbes article from April 2022, for example. “Would you smoke ‘nuclear weed’?” asks the headline before quickly (and ominously) answering: “You might already.”
The nuclear weed in question is not, of course, the glowing, radioactive bud image the headline conjures, but cannabis that has undergone irradiation—a quality assurance process, common in both the Canadian and American cannabis industries, that exposes cannabis to radiation in order to bring its microbial levels below regulated thresholds.
Irradiation is generally accepted within the cannabis industry as a useful quality assurance process at the end of the production cycle that brings microbial levels under safe thresholds. Many producers routinely irradiate all batches of cannabis as a kind of quality guarantee—not necessarily to bring an unsalable batch up to par, but to provide an assurance that the batch will pass quality tests. “The intent of the irradiation process is not to make up for, or compensate for, really poor sanitation systems or really contaminated product,” said Gordon Dobrindt, senior manager of quality systems at Steris, during an irradiation panel discussion earlier this year. “It’s a final level of insurance.”
But this is far from a unanimous opinion, and critics of how the industry uses irradiation say the process is being “abused” by some producers. Craft producers, meanwhile, are finding that marketing their cannabis as non-irradiated is attractive to quality-conscious consumers coming over from the illicit market.
The public’s understanding of irradiation is spotty. Questions and myths persist about the safety, value, and necessity of irradiation in cannabis production, as well as the impact on the cannabis itself, with many laypersons blaming irradiation for all manner of deficiencies, from dryness, to colour, to poor taste.
When it comes to this oft-misunderstood process, who’s right here? In a way, everyone is.
What is irradiation?
In the simplest sense, irradiation works by exposing harvested cannabis to radiation—commonly either gamma, electron-beam (e-beam), or x-ray—to render contaminants like mould spores and other microbes inert and harmless to the consumer. At the outset of legalization, gamma irradiation was the most common method of decontamination, but since then, some producers have moved to e-beam irradiation, a shorter and cheaper process than gamma that produces comparable results.
There’s little disagreement, even among critics, that the process, which was first used on food in the 1950s, can effectively reduce microbial contamination to safe levels. Irradiation is broadly effective at bringing microbial levels below acceptable, safe-to-consume thresholds. The goal is rarely to sterilize the product completely but rather to bring the microbial levels down. “The limits themselves are pretty strict,” says Siva Kalyan Sompalli, quality assurance technical lead with Aleafia Health. Stripping cannabis of all microbes is unrealistic, he says. “It’s not free of microbes, it’s just that the microbes are within acceptable limits.”
Does it damage the cannabis?
Although a few studies over the years have examined the effect of irradiation on cannabinoids and terpenes, “there really is very limited science out there on this issue at the moment,” says Tess Eidem, a microbiologist and owner of Rogue Micro, a microbial control consultancy in Colorado. “Overall, data is pretty lacking in our industry.”
A 2020 study led by researcher Olga Kovalchuk found that irradiation converted some of the THCa in their samples to THC, as well as noted “changes in several terpenes.” A further study, published in November 2022, found, however, that irradiation “has minimal effects on THCa, delta9-THC and terpene concentrations”—but noted that they achieved that “under well-controlled laboratory conditions” that “do not reflect how cannabis manufacturers may conduct their decontamination procedures.”
Terpenes are a slightly different story. A 2016 study by Bedrocan’s Arno Hazekamp found that “irradiation had a measurable effect on the content of multiple cannabis terpenes, mainly on the more volatile monoterpenes.” The damage was normally found to be in the 10-20% range. “The slight terpene reduction observed in the current study is comparable to the effect that short-term storage in a paper bag had on cannabis samples,” the study found. “A likely explanation, therefore, seems that gamma irradiation slightly accelerates the evaporation of some of the more volatile terpenes.”
But it’s important to note that the degradation of terpenes is not due specifically to the irradiation. “Irradiation itself generates a very small amount of heat,” says Sompalli. “It’s not the irradiation itself that affects the terpenes, it’s the temperature change.”
How are LPs using it?
It’s been estimated that between 80 and 90 percent of Canadian LPs are routinely irradiating their cannabis as a standard practice in order to avoid costly recalls and failed tests. “We are irradiating because we want to guarantee the quality,” said Nina Ackah of Viridis Cannabis during the previously mentioned panel discussion. Microbial regulations are strict. “I believe almost every LP would not be able to meet those limits,” she said. “Irradiation comes in to meet the product specification that we require.”
Producers often claim that their microbial levels can vary a lot, regardless of sanitary practices. Cannabis is a living plant, after all, and microbes are crucial to the process. “You’re growing something that is plant material, in grow mediums where you apply nutrients,” Sompalli says. “You need to have microbes to support plant growth, and that’s the primary source of any microbial contamination itself. It’s a natural balance, a symbiotic relationship.”
Growers with large operations have found that sanitary practices are not always sufficient — some strains encourage more microbial growth than others, while sometimes it is just up to chance. Sompalli, referring to his past experience at a federally-licensed cannabis producer, says it can be a challenging process.
“We have seen that no matter how clean your process is, it’s almost like guesswork.” One batch will pass; the other won’t. “It’s also strain-specific,” he says. “Some strains like a Kush—those dense strains—they’re hard to reduce moisture [which enables microbial growth].”
But not all producers see irradiation as inevitable. Craft growers say that consumers (especially those with a foot still in the legacy market) prefer non-irradiated cannabis. Jonathan Wilson of New Brunswick-based craft grower Crystal Cure says, “in my eyes, if a product has to be irradiated or remediated before it passes a microbial test, then I don’t consider that clean cannabis.” This echoes what any LP, even those who are irradiating, will tell you: irradiation does not exist to replace good microbial control practices, which are the most consequential factor on final microbial levels. “We prefer to be clean all the time and prevent things that would require remediation.” Being able to list one’s product as non-irradiated allows them to communicate this to consumers fairly quickly.
It also represents cost savings. “If we can avoid using it as a company, why wouldn’t we? Irradiation is a very costly process.”
Although federal organic regulations don’t apply to cannabis, some third-party organic certification agencies (such as the Fraser Valley Organic Producers’ Association, for example) require cannabis to be non-irradiated to receive the designation.
Critics of the process say that producers are over-irradiating. “Irradiation is abused in cannabis, in my opinion,” says Eidem. “For sure, in some contexts, these methods may be useful, specifically if a product is strictly medical and the intended use is for immunocompromised patients.” Eidem says that it’s common for producers to build irradiation into their production cycle because irradiation suppliers market it successfully. “Look at some of the irradiation company marketing,” she says. “It says stuff like ‘guaranteed passing,’ and ‘100% passing.’ They don’t talk about quality or integrating this step into their good manufacturing practices.
“People irradiate because it’s a guarantee that no matter what happens in their garden or during post-harvest, they can pass testing,” she argues. “Canada is miles ahead of the U.S. as far as good practices go, but they’re nowhere near where they should be.”
Is irradiation here to stay?
Given the industry’s comfort with the practice, irradiated cannabis is likely going to remain a valuable part of the production process. Done properly, it poses no risk to the end user on its own—though done improperly, Eidem says, it may have the ability to leech toxic chemicals from plastic packaging into the weed.
But others would still like the industry to shift away from irradiation, if only towards improved remediation techniques. Florina Truica, chief technical officer of the Cold Plasma Group in Kingston, Ont., believes her company’s cold plasma technique (which uses cold plasma gases to kill contaminants) offers an improvement. “Our plasma remediation cycles are optimized specifically for use with cannabis flower, balancing the kill efficiency with the need to protect the flower quality. For example, their appearance, the moisture, smell, as well as the precious phytochemicals contained in the cannabis flower,” she explains. “In addition, the treatment penetrates in all the pores of the flower from all directions, ensuring a complete and uniform treatment.” She also says that their cold plasma treatment machines are “several orders of magnitude cheaper, can be operated by the processors’ regular employees, and require only a small footprint of space for installation.”
Supporters of irradiation practices see the issue as a minor one, ultimately, that consumers will eventually forget about. “I think over time, all this will go to the back burner, and consumers will care about more specific things,” says Sompalli. “You consume spices every day—nobody is looking at the labels to see if it is irradiated or not. You are using, on a day-to-day basis, a product that is irradiated; cannabis is no different.”
A new research paper showing evidence of high levels of heavy metals in vape pens suggests the government should require more testing and labelling to help better protect consumers.
The study, a partnership between Health Canada’s Office of Cannabis Science and Surveillance and the National Research Council’s Metrology Research Centre, found evidence of high concentrations of some metals in cannabis vape liquids from both the legal and illegal markets in Canada.
Several of the samples—20 legal and 21 illegal—”significantly exceeded” the established tolerance limits for elemental impurities in inhaled products that are established by the European Pharmacopoeia.
The samples of cannabis vape liquids (from the OCS on the legal side and from the Ontario Provincial Police on the illegal side) were analyzed for metals that are commonly tested for in cannabis, such as arsenic, cadmium, mercury, and lead. These elements can be present from fertilizers, pesticides or other environmental reasons.
The samples were also then tested for metals that could be present due to leaching from the metallic parts of the vaping devices themselves, such as cobalt, chromium, copper, iron, and several others. Research suggests that the potentially high acidity of cannabis vape liquids can cause these metals to leach into the cannabis oil itself.
The concentrations of arsenic, mercury, and cadmium in all of the tested samples were within the generally accepted tolerance limits, but the concentration of lead exceeded the tolerance limit in one legal vape pen and six illegal ones. Levels of nickel were, in some cases, 900 times above the established limits in several illegal samples.
Only a few of the tested samples exceeded the limits for cobalt and vanadium, and several samples from both markets were above the limits for chromium, copper, nickel, and lead. Several of the samples from the illicit market showed lead concentrations up to 100 times higher than the allowable limit.
Researchers also noted variations in the concentrations of heavy metals in samples from the same products bought at the same time from the same production lot.
All vape pens tested were no more than eight months old, based on available packaging dates. The report noted that other research has shown increasing levels of leaching from nicotine vape products that have sat on shelves for more than two years, suggesting this same process could apply to cannabis vape pens as well.
Several other publications have identified metal particles in the aerosol generated from nicotine vape devices. The vape devices in these studies were heated and cooled multiple times to mimic normal consumer use better, leading to speculation that this process could add to the degradation of the metal into the vape liquid.
However, the products used in this study did not undergo such treatment. Researchers suggest this could point to other sources of contamination, such as the stainless steel aerosol tube and the core of the electrical connector, as a likely source of detected particles.
The health concerns due to the inhalation of these heavy metals, especially in often very fine aerosolized particles, are significant.
Inhaled metals are quickly absorbed through the respiratory tract and can be further transported to other organs. Researchers highlight that lungs are particularly susceptible to nickel toxicity, with adverse effects ranging from lung inflammatory changes to induced rhinitis and sinusitis or allergic dermatitis.
Even low exposure to inhaled lead can result in an increased risk of cardiovascular and kidney diseases, and inhalation of chromium and copper can lead to reduced lung function, an increased risk of asthma, respiratory irritation, or chest pain.
Adding to this, the presence of nanosized metal particles in vape aerosol is also a significant health concern. These very small particles can penetrate deep into the lungs, where they can be more easily absorbed and react even more strongly with the body.
The uneven heating potential of many cannabis vape pens is also a concern, as high levels of heat can potentially create additional new, dangerous compounds.
Because of this high presence of heavy metals in even legal vape pens, researchers in this paper suggest Health Canada and other cannabis regulators should consider requiring additional testing for heavy metals. Testing should also be required after cannabis has been processed into a vape liquid, not only the raw cannabis inputs, as Health Canada currently requires, adds the paper.
It also suggests Health Canada could require more information about the metal components of vape devices, along with the filling date of the vape device, to help consumers make more informed choices and standards for vaping device construction and the materials used.
These proposed amendments would restrict the production, sale, promotion, packaging, or labelling of inhaled cannabis extracts from having a flavour “other than the flavour of cannabis” and would apply equally to inhaled cannabis extracts sold for both medical and non-medical purposes.
A recent study by researchers in Newfoundland and Labrador shows some changes in youth use rates and perceptions of cannabis one year after legalization.
The study, published in October in The Journal of Adolescent Health (JAH), concludes that cannabis legalization in Canada was associated with a greater perception of cannabis harm among young people, but also easier access to cannabis.
Although researchers say there is evidence that legalization was associated with an increase in cannabis initiation rates among young Canadians, there was also no significant increase in the overall prevalence of cannabis use among youths.
It concluded that additional policy measures are needed to curb youth cannabis initiation and their access to cannabis, but also notes a possible increase in cessation among existing users.
The study notes several significant results. Although they didn’t find a significant increase in cannabis use among minors after legalization, there was a higher initiation of cannabis use among those who had not previously admitted to using cannabis.
More than 20% of young people in Canada and more than 13% in the United States reported using cannabis in 2019, with the average age of cannabis use initiation being 14 to 16 years of age.
Researchers also found evidence that youths aged 17 and 18 years actually postponed cannabis initiation after it was legalized. The increase in the perceived harms of cannabis among young people in Canada contradicts research conducted in the US, which the study speculates is likely due to more strict public health messaging around cannabis in Canada compared to the US.
However, the researchers also argue that the increase in “cannabis initiation” following legalization counteracts this factor.
As with the other research it cites, the study notes it is limited by the available data on cannabis use prior to and following legalization. With the cannabis market evolving so quickly in Canada over the four years since legalization, many significant changes will have taken place that could alter the results of future research.
In the first three years of legalization, Canadian cannabis consumers have had increasingly positive views of legal cannabis products when compared to illegal cannabis products regarding quality, convenience, safety, and price.
Despite this increasingly positive outlook, nearly half of respondents captured in the study still reported that legal cannabis was more expensive than illegal cannabis, while one-fifth reported there was no difference, and only about one in ten reported legal cannabis was less expensive than its illicit counterpart.
Those who were more likely to consume daily or almost daily were more likely to have negative perceptions of the legal market compared to the illegal market when it came to factors like price, quality and convenience.
This view also reflects the declining prices documented in the legal market, especially with the introduction of larger-volume formats like 14, 28, and 30-gram flower offerings, as well as decreasing prices on products like extracts, vape pens, and edibles.
Data for the study were analyzed from more than 15,000 Canadian respondents to the International Cannabis Policy Study who had consumed cannabis in the past year and were of the legal age of access. The survey was conducted in 2019–2021 and completed online.
Over time, data show that respondents tended to show an increase in the consumer perception that legal cannabis is safer and easier to buy and of higher quality, although often more expensive than the black market.
Breaking down responses by demographics such as age, gender, and location, the survey also shows how these shifts affect each group. For example, respondents in Québec were more likely to report that they felt legal cannabis was of higher quality or no different (vs. lower quality) compared to all other provinces except Prince Edward Island.
Those in Nova Scotia and British Columbia were the least likely to say legal cannabis was of higher quality, as well as the least likely to say it was less expensive. Those in Ontario and Nova Scotia were the least likely to say purchasing legal cannabis was more convenient.
Respondents in Québec were also more likely to report that legal cannabis was less expensive than illegal cannabis when compared to those in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia (vs. more expensive; OR reversed). This matches market data showing Quebec with some of the lowest legal cannabis prices in Canada.
Although consumers said that legal cannabis was increasingly more convenient to buy than illegal cannabis, this tended to fluctuate by province, given the significant difference each jurisdiction has in regard to stores per capita, as well as the size of the licit market.
Respondents in British Columbia and Ontario were the least likely to report that legal cannabis was more convenient to buy, likely due to both a robust black market in those provinces and—especially so in Ontario—an initially slow rollout of retail stores (Ontario went from 24 stores in 2019 to 1,042 stores in 2021).
Health Canada says they collected 138 cannabis samples in 2020 to verify chemical (including cannabinoid), microbial, and pesticide results.
Of the 138 samples collected, 109 samples have been tested and confirmed to be acceptable, with the remaining 29 samples still pending analysis, the regulator has confirmed in an email to StratCann.
Such sampling of retention samples for further analysis are part of inspectors’ toolkits in instances where critical non-compliances are found during an inspection. Such inspections can typically look to verify records summarizing testing protocols, method validations, third-party testing facility attestations, established specifications and tolerance limits, as well as Certificates of Analysis (CoAs) to ensure the results provided in the CoAs are within the limits established by the licence holder.
Health Canada says they have not mandated any product recalls based on any of the sampling activities undertaken in 2020. There were at least seven public product recalls of cannabis in 2020, six for errors with labeling and one for a concern with the instability of THC levels in a beverage.
A representative for Health Canada also confirms that they did not conduct any inspections of analytical testing laboratories in 2020. Citing a risk-based approach in regard to protecting public health in regard to how they use their resources, labs were identified as not being a priority.
There has been growing complaints from consumers and industry over the validity and accuracy of results from analytical testing labs and licence producers, largely around the validity of cannabinoid levels.
In 2020 a group of patients took several licensed producers to court over what they say were inaccurate amounts of THC or CBD in various medical cannabis products compared to what was on the label, and more recently one licensed producer has called out another for questionable THC levels on some of their dried flower.
However, in terms of public health, such variances in cannabinoid levels is likely seen by the regulator as a relatively low risk compared to other issues such as the risk presented by biological impurities like various moulds or other bacterias. The fact none of the public recalls of product in 2020 were due to biological impurities potentially speaks to a greater level of enforcement on this end, as opposed to inaccurate or misleading cannabinoid levels, such as inflated THC levels. And none were in relation to edible cannabis products with inaccurate cannabinoids.
There were at least four public recalls of cannabis oils in 2019 for inaccurate cannabinoid levels. There have been two recent recalls this year of cannabis edibles (gummies) due to the presence of mould.
Such recalls would be based on either customer or supply chain complaint, or the licence holder or inspector discovering the problem. Inspections of labs would be a secondary step beyond testing of the end product. However, a more consistent testing standard could allow consumers to have greater trust in the advertised THC and CBD and even terpene levels in their dried flower.
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