Somebody recently asked my if they should be concerned about pesticides in concentrates. The short answer is that you should be aware and informed. There are many identified health risks related to consuming products that contain pesticides.

There is also a longer answer. There are many stories in the US and Canada regarding the production practices and testing of cannabis. With legalization of recreational adult-use cannabis in many states and Canada’s legalization date fast approaching, it is evident that strict regulated testing is needed to control the industry and make it safe. This regulation must include clear regulations about pesticide use in cannabis cultivation.

In February 2017, NBC’s Channel 4 investigation team from Los Angeles tested 44 samples from multiple dispensaries in California. The results were surprising: 41 of 44 samples tested positive for pesticides, some at levels high enough that these products would have been banned for sale in some states.

This story highlights concerns around pesticide exposure. The presence of pesticides is not detectable by sight or smell, so it must be tested in a certified lab with highly sensitive instrumentation. Pesticides are very toxic when inhaled. As former USC chemistry professor Dr. Jeffrey Raber stated, “It’s really like injecting pesticide into your bloodstream”.

Why Do I Keep Hearing About Pesticides?

As the industry continues to develop and meet the needs of patients and growers, the tools to measure product quality will develop too. Pesticide detection has been highlighted recently by a number of stories about product recalls due to pesticide contamination. In the US, there are no national guidelines to regulate pesticides in the cannabis industry. States are independently developing regulatory frameworks for pesticide use. In fact, Oregon has been at the leading edge and has established strict guidelines for cannabis growers.

Why are Pesticides and Cannabis Use Important?

When I explain the process for pesticide analysis, I start with the fact that the instruments used to measure the levels of pesticides are tuned to detect parts per trillion (ppt). This is a very small number when you consider that one ppt is equivalent to one second in 31,709 years. Knowing that your test lab is looking for such small quantities of pesticide compounds is revealing about the importance of pesticide testing.

Testing the dry flower for the absence of pesticides is important for consumers. Knowing that your products are safe and free from contaminants is critically important. Testing of extracts products is equally important.

It is necessary to understand the process of converting plants to oil is essentially a way to remove the solid plant materials and be left with the desired, concentrated extract. The methods to make oil from plants not only concentrate the cannabinoids but the pesticides as well. Typically, the rate of concentration of the cannabinoids is in the range of two to five times.

Pesticides, on the other hand, can be expected to reach concentrations 10 times higher than in the raw materials, as discussed in a Cannabis Safety Institute white paper from 2015. Again, this critical step that purifies all the goodness of the plant also concentrates the pesticides; pre-tested, clean starting material actually contains an alarming amount of contamination after processing.

Be alarmed. This is important enough for consumers to ask for pesticide-free products. It is also important enough that if you are preparing your own extracts from purchased plant materials, you should consider testing your final extracts for pesticides.