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Mislabeled Medical Marijuana

Updated on June 24, 2015

Research Findings

A study conducted on medical marijuana edibles by a team led by a Johns Hopkins researcher finds that the products were generally mislabeled. While some states now have laws allowing the usage of marijuana for medicinal purposes, it is not regulated in the same manner as other prescription drugs. If the findings from the study are indicative of all medical marijuana labeling, a full 83 percent of the edible drug products sold through marijuana dispensaries are mislabeled.

The study was conducted through independent laboratories with legally purchased product from nine different dispensaries. The dispensaries were located in the cities of San Francisco, Seattle, and Los Angeles. All the items purchased were edible cannabis products such as beverages, baked goods, or candy. The purchases consisted of 47 different brands.

For research purposes, a product was considered mislabeled when the laboratory measurements differed from the actual label by more than 10 percent. When the measurements resulted in a difference of more than 10 percent, the product was then identified as either underlabeled or overlabeled. Those categorized as underlabeled had more delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, than indicated on the label while those overlabeled products had less than the advertised amount.

While the majority of the mislabeled products (60 percent) were overlabeled, leading the consumer to believe they were getting more THC than they actually were, another 23 percent were underlabeled. This underrepresentation of the amount of THC could potentially lead to overdosing. The side effects from a THC overdose may include extreme anxiety or possible psychotic reactions. Additionally, items that were overlabeled means that the consumer was not getting the dosage for which they paid, thus reducing the benefit of the drug.

While the study conducted was small, if the results are representative of the medical marijuana market, the vast majority of the products do not contain the THC amounts indicated on the label. There may be hundreds of thousands of patients not receiving the drug levels they believe. Obviously, better regulation is required for the sale and quality of edible cannabis products.

Regulation Problems

Regulation is a problem, however. Marijuana continues to be federally classified as a Schedule I substance under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act. This puts marijuana in the same class schedule as Quaaludes and means that not only is there no accepted medical value but that there is a high potential for abuse. It is the highest drug classification under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act.

Regardless of the federal classification, 23 states and the District of Columbia permit usage of medical marijuana. Because of the federal classification of marijuana, there can be no federal regulation of these marijuana products. However, if these states continue to allow legal usage of marijuana, there needs to be regulation implemented to account for the quality of the items sold.

Even though the phrase ‘let the buyer beware (caveat emptor)’ now seems to be an integral part of our society, it shouldn’t pertain to legal usage of medical drugs or products.

Mislabeled Edible Marijuana

Percent Correctly Labeled
Underlabeled (more THC than listed)
Overlabeled (less THC than listed)

© 2015 Deety Petersen


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