Skip to main content

FS16 – THC levels and cannabis lab consistency

By September 30, 2022No Comments

Huge thanks to the 2,537 of you who have subscribed to Free Smoke

We’ve got a rare deviation from Drake for our bars this week. All hail King Push. Let’s get into Free Smoke:

“The dope game destroyed my youth,
now Kim Jones dior my suits”
– Pusha T, Let The Smokers Shine The Coups

Numbers and incentives

I’ve wrote in the past about THC’s role in the consumer zeitgeist of cannabis, and in particular how high THC is associated with quality. For a refresher on that: the consumer is always right and we’re not debating that today.

According to the National Library of Medicine the average potency was 4% in 1995, and 12% by 2014. By 2016 in the dispensary medical market we were slapping the highest test we could find for a strain on it and calling it a day, and it was a lot better than 12%. Things aren’t quite as flexible these days with Metrc but never the less THC potency has continued to go up and to the right, and it isn’t just because the growers are getting better.

3rd Party testing labs are an intrinsic part of maturing rec markets and they’ve got it in an absolute strangle hold. The THC number that a lab gives a batch of cannabis can make or break a grower’s business, and a lab’s reputation can make or break their own. We have a system that is built on incentives that are life or death for everyone involved, and they act like it. Growers will never go to a lab that gives them low THC numbers, so if a lab wants to stay in business they better tread lightly.

For everyone involved: High THC = more customers and low THC = dead meat.

I could leave it at that and you’d get the point (anyone operating in cannabis would also say “no shit sherlock”) but I won’t.

In California, cannabis products need final form testing. That is, you don’t just test the flower before it goes in the jar or preroll, you test the jar or preroll too. As if incentives weren’t enough to turn this sideways, now we have to deal with consistency too. A couple years ago, I wanted to put this to the test. Not to see who the good guys were and who the bad guys were. To see who could consistently run their own machines. This is science for crying outloud!

We prepared 6 batches to be sent off to testing. We then broke those batches up into 3 sub batches for a total of 18, and sent matching sets off to 5 labs. To clarify, it was 6 batches but the labs were told it was 18 different batches. We were looking for 2 things: 1) consistency across labs and 2) consistency within a lab.

The results sucked.

Across all labs and batches we found a relative standard deviation of more than 14%. For example, 1 lab tested the same weed at 19.00%, 15.26%, and 20.80% THC respectively, and then 15.28%, 16.96%, and 20.62% on joints made from the same stuff. For the businesses involved that spectrum ranges from dead weight to a quick and easy sale, all on the same weed. Gimme a fucking break will ya?

In this environment and with these stakes, how do you operate without at the very least putting your best foot forward? You’d be a fool not to take your weed to a lab known for good THC numbers. You’d be a fool not to cross your fingers they pull the best nugs for sampling. And you wouldn’t be the first to submit GMO for all your batches knowing it’ll do numbers your other strains will never.

I don’t know how to fix this and I don’t see how you can without a market wide reset to level the playing field. Maybe we do that and also have the labs learn about the scientific method and SOPs so we can bring these 40% THC flowers back to earth.

Thanks for reading Free Smoke, if you’re new you can check out previous issues here.

Btw check out my podcast

Check out me n the boys on the Builders Build podcast: Apple / Spotify and both their newsletters below:


Photo by Hans Reniers