Testing of microbial organisms in cannabis measures the amount of mold, bacteria, and yeast present in the sample. Because all marijuana was once a living organism, all useable marijuana contains certain amount of microbial life. In states with mandatory testing, though, guidelines are in place to limit the amount of microbiological life present. This is typically done through one of two methods:
An overall count of the total aerobic content, and/or the total yeast and mold present measured in colony forming units (CFU) - (Usually done through traditional culture methods)
More detailed testing on amounts of specific harmful pathogens present including Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), Salmonella, and Pathogenic Aspergillus species - (Usually done through DNA-based quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) technology)
The first testing method with an overall count of microbials is less specific, since not all microbials are necessarily harmful, whereas the latter method gives results regarding specific pathogens that are harmful.
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When solvent-based concentrates are made, a solvent (commonly butane, ethanol, pentane, etc.) is combined with the cannabis to extract cannabinoids and terpenes, which is then purged to remove as much solvent as possible without degrading cannabinoids and terpenes. All solvent-based extracts contain amounts of residual solvent in the final product, however states with mandatory testing limit the amount of residual solvents allowed in products, typically measured in parts per million (PPM).
One of the most important tests on cannabis is for the presence of harmful pesticides. In states with mandatory testing, pesticides that are harmful when inhaled/ingested are forbidden for sale. This includes pesticides such as Myclobutanil (commonly known as Eagle 20), which turns to toxic hydrogen cyanide when combusted. Ideally, one would want to smoke organic cannabis, though many pesticides considered to be not harmful are permitted for use in licensed grows. Lab tests for pesticides are measured in units of parts per million (PPM).
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One of the most common tests regarding cannabis testing is the testing of potency. These tests count the amount of cannabinoids present in the sample (THC, THC-a, CBD, CBN, etc.), and is measured in mg/g but is usually converted to a percentage for consumers. Each cannabinoid has particular effects associated with it, most commonly for example, THC being responsible for the psychoactive effect of cannabis. When marijuana is decarboxylated, the THC turns into THCA, which has anti inflammatory, and anti nausea effects. CBD is another common cannabinoid, providing non-psychoactive medicinal benefits for a multitude of medical issues, including pain-relief, anxiety/depression relief, and anti-cancer properties.
CBN is a lesser known cannabinoid which is responsible for heavy sedative properties. Like previously stated, each cannabinoid plays it own roles, and these cannabinoids working together are what create each strains’ unique high. Terpenes also play a part in the effects felt by cannabis.
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Another common test of cannabis products is a test of terpene content. Terpenes are found not only in cannabis but also in many foods, herbs and plants. Terpenes provide cannabis with the aromatic properties we are familiar with, and also give each strain its specific high, depending on what terpenes are present. Certain terpenes bind with scent receptors while others bind with cannabinoid receptors, creating feelings that are unique to each strains’ composition. When tested, terpenes are measured in units of mg/g to decipher which terpenes are contained within the sample. Common terpenes in cannabis can be seen in the chart below along with their effects.
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