op-ed

Op-Ed: Patients Over Profits

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Jessilyn Dolan 20 May 2020

I was recently chastised because I wholeheartedly advocate for full panel lab testing over company profit. To me, the UVM nurses’ strike slogan of “Patients Over Profits” came to mind.

Many cannabis vendors label their products as “Third Party Lab Tested.” That should absolutely make you feel comfortable and safe consuming those products, shouldn’t it?

But in actuality, that is not, in any way, ensuring your safety, nor is it labeling the product truthfully. The labeling is to market the product to get you to buy it. Period. 

One row of the farm, compared to the rows a few feet away, let alone a few acres away, can be VASTLY different. Just ask any farmer.  

When you want to look for lab testing, you want to look for a few things – not just words saying “lab tested,” because many companies test only for CBD and THC, or what we call cannabinoids. 

It is extremely important to test not just for cannabinoids, but for what we call a full panel, meaning testing for cannabinoids, terpenes (the aromatic or essential oils of the cannabis plant), and the unwanted contaminants, or the bad stuff we want to make sure is NOT in our products, like heavy metals, mold, pesticides, and other contaminants.

Testing a few grams of flower is not even semi-close to an accurate representation of an entire plant, let alone an entire field of hemp. 

Do you think that one plant or even one acre of the farm is the same exact as another plant or another acre on the farm? Actually, plants are so individual and need to be respected and honored as such! One row of the farm, compared to the rows a few feet away, let alone a few acres away, can be VASTLY different. Just ask any farmer.  

A typical hemp flower test tests only a few grams of flower (think of an eighth of weed or a handful of nuggets in the palm of your hand). Testing a few grams of flower is not even semi-close to an accurate representation of an entire plant, let alone an entire field of hemp. 

A few grams is tested as compared to the dozens, hundreds or thousands of pounds of hemp that will be later used for processing or medicine making.Those few grams are usually carefully hand chosen so likely would not have mold or mildew, but how do you know the other dozen or hundreds of pounds of hemp that was not tested, also doesn’t have any mold or mildew? 

When you process cannabis, it can sometimes have a mind of its own and process differently one time to the next, meaning levels of cannabinoids will inherently vary. 

Those few grams of hand picked and tested flower doesn’t test positive for heavy metals, but what about the hemp that was grown three rows over, or three acres downstream on the same farm? Those few grams that were tested may also have been the top nuggets or bigger colas, so that cannabinoid content may not be even close to accurately represent hundreds of pounds of shucked whole plant hemp and all the bottom branches and little nuggets compared to testing that top nugget?  

When you start to harvest and finish harvest a week and a half later (which is VERY common for harvest time frames), the plants will have different cannabinoid contents from that harvest timing alone. When you process cannabis, it can sometimes have a mind of its own and process differently one time to the next, meaning levels of cannabinoids will inherently vary. 

Even levels of contaminants that come out in processing may vary. When you process some of the hemp right away, then process the rest of it months later (the same hemp that maybe wasn’t stored perfectly), you can see how that would also change the outcome of the processed hemp, whether from degrading cannabinoids (so being less potent), to increasing the risk of mold or pests in the hemp – which can easily happen during storage.

The term “lab tested” is now being used as a marketing term, much like an organic certification and logo is.

So when it says lab tested, what do you need to know? Unfortunately more than you think because the term “lab tested” is now being used as a marketing term – much like an organic certification and logo is, according to Cary Giguere from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets. 

So, a consumer needs to now know, at what point has it been lab tested, and was it tested for full panels or just cannabinoids? If you read my article on testing, you will also understand that during the processing and formulating procedures itself, contaminants can happen, from the overall extraction to the bottling and labeling the oil to be sold. So again, looking for that full panel lab testing at the end stage, not from the harvested flower.

This is a lot to ask consumers to understand and delve into themselves. I truly and passionately hope to help Vermont set the bar for top shelf cannabis, and help consumers know to look for true clean cannabis, not just for words that are on labels, that lead us to believe it is safe or safer. To truly allow this plant medicine to be accepted and honored, we need to set the bar high, pun intended.  

If it is not safe, it is not medicine. 

If we want this plant to NOT be considered snake oil, and be given the respect it deserves, we need to do much better than what we are doing. I am not saying make it a pharmaceutical; full panel lab testing is not at all that in any way, not even close. But if we want medical professionals to accept this as medicine, they need to know it is clean and safe. If there are not full panel labs after extraction, it is not safe. If it is not safe, it is not medicine. 

What I hear all too often is the excuse that it is just too expensive to conduct that much testing.  Well again, Patients Over Profits comes to mind. For a batch of 500 products, it is just over $1 a bottle for full panel lab testing. When you’re paying over $100 for that one ounce bottle of CBD, does that $1 seem like too much to you? Personally, and as a research nurse, herbalist and hemp farmer who understands the ins and outs of how much it all costs and how many businesses don’t make a profit right away, I don’t think so. Patients over profits. I will say it again and again. Lab testing over profits when it comes to cannabis! 

I welcome thoughts and conversation to educate or convince me otherwise, as well as questions and comments to discuss and ensure your safety.  

From Your Vermont Cannabis Nurse, advocating only for the cleanest cannabis possible. Cannabis products you can trust! 

Jessilyn Dolan, RN, is a nurse educator and consultant for medicinal cannabis, maternal child health, substance, and opioid use and mental health disorders. She is the co-owner of NurseGrown Organics-Vermont Hemp and CBD, a proud Clean Green certified hemp farmer, an experienced herbalist, and massage therapist. Jessilyn co-owns HomeGrown Consulting, is a cultivating cannabis caregiver and medical marijuana patient and is the founder of the Vermont Cannabis Nurses Association.

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