How to Ensure Quality Control For Cannabis Purchases

Jessica McKeil March 27, 2020 0 comments

As a patient, how can you ensure you are getting the highest grade product?

There are regulations and testing protocols in place across the cannabis industry, but when relying on the plant for medical conditions, quality control for cannabis is of the utmost importance. And yet, recent headlines make it clear – we can’t always leave the quality control to the cultivators, retailers, or budtenders. As the cannabis world has witnessed over the last few years, sometimes regulators and lab tests don’t tell the full story.

It’s very important for patients to take control of their medicine to guarantee they are getting the best product and the most effective relief. Here’s how.

Tips for Quality Control for Cannabis at Home

There are three specific tools every medical cannabis patient should own, to perform routine quality control tests on the flower you buy or grow at home. Quality control for cannabis eliminates the risk of mold, guarantees peak potency, and elevates the sensory experience (aroma, flavor, and more).

Here is what you’ll need to get started:

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  1. Glass or Metal Airtight Container: Always keep cannabis flower inside a glass or metal airtight container when not in use. This traps in the terpene profile, regulates humidity, and avoids contamination from atmospheric spores or bacteria. Avoid plastic, as these compounds are technically porous and may leech into the flower.
  2. Humidity Control: Relative humidity (the amount of moisture suspended in the atmosphere) regulates terpene loss, cannabinoid degradation, and also the development of mold. Cannabis prefers between fifty-five and sixty-five percent relative humidity. Use a humidity pack, like the cannabis-specific options from Boveda, to regulate the humidity levels of cannabis in storage.
  3. Handheld Microscope or Jewelers Loupe: Small, inexpensive microscopes or jewelers loupes help you see aspects of the flower usually invisible to the human eye. Look for trichome development, mold infestation, and more. These items cost no more than twenty dollars but drastically improve your ability to ensure cannabis quality.

Quality Control for Cannabis represented by trichomes viewed through a jeweller's loupe

5 Steps for Quality Control on Your Medical Cannabis Purchase

As a patient, what can you do to improve the quality of the cannabis you purchase? Depending on where you live, you may not be allowed to handle the product before leaving the dispensary, but you can assess the quality when you get home.

If it’s not up to the standards you demand, or you suspect it could even have a mold infestation, you have a right to discuss this with your budtender.

At the very least, you know that you may not want to purchase that strain again. You may also call into question the standards of the brand and choose another option altogether.

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If you grow for yourself or consume home-grown cannabis, you’ll know cultivation and storage conditions aren’t always perfect. The following steps are helpful to ensure the quality of home-grown cannabis and that it’s safe for consumption.

Use the following five steps to help control the quality of your medical cannabis:

1. Squish Test for Humidity Level

Humidity plays a key role in cannabis cultivation from start to finish. Both the retailer and the consumer have a role to play in properly regulating the humidity level. Proper storage across the industry mitigates the risk of mold and improves the quality of the administration method (smoking, vaping, edibles, etc.).

After curing, you should store cannabis at a relative humidity between fifty-five and sixty-five percent, according to ASTM International. Proper storage entails keeping the flower in a glass or metal container with a humidity control like the Boveda packs mentioned above.

How do you know if your cannabis is too wet or too dry? A simple squish test. Grab a flower between your fingers and gently squeeze it. The flower should give but slowly bounce back after a few seconds. If it breaks, it’s too brittle, indicating it’s far too dry and will have lost valuable cannabinoids or terpenes. If it sticks together but doesn’t bounce back, this shows it is far too moist and maybe at risk of mold.

Quality Control for Cannabis represented by hand holding cannabis bud over grinder

2. Pest Control

Pest control is especially crucial for cannabis purchased from black market sources or grown in home gardens, but it’s worth looking at all your flower as a standard quality control measure.

Using your jeweler’s loupe or handheld microscope, carefully inspect the flower for pest infestation. While it’s highly unlikely you’ll see bugs crawling around on the cured flower, you may notice small black or dark brown specs. These can be dead insects and indicate poor cultivation practices. Although not dangerous for human consumption, insect infestation is highly undesirable.

3. Mold Control

If you do nothing else, you should always assess your flower for mold. Even big producers can end up with post-harvest mold infestation, which is dangerous for human health. Your dispensary may also run into problems should a flower come in too wet or improperly stored.

First, use your small microscope or loupe to get a close look at the flower. You may want to pull apart the nug to get a look deep inside. Mold through the microscope looks like fluffy, white hair. It’s almost like a spider web in appearance. Mold often lives along the stem, so gently open up the flower to peer inside.

Should you find any evidence mold, the safest bet is to dispose of the product. Mold can cause respiratory infections and even lead to death for those that are immune compromised.

Quality Control for Cannabis represented by hand holding cannabis bud

4. Trichome Development

Examining your flower for trichome development is a quality control measure that evaluates the harvest. Was the product harvested and cured at its peak potency, or did the cultivator miss the mark? Harvesting at the perfect time captures the most cannabinoids and the best flavor profile.

For this quality control step, you will need a microscope or loupe. Hold the flower up for inspection under magnification. Look for the small, sparkling, mushroom-shaped, crystals on the calyx (tiny bud-like ‘petals’ of the cannabis flower). Commercially trimmed flowers may not have as many on the surface, as they tend to break off with excessive handling. Further, you can try opening up the bud to inspect the inside.

Translucent trichomes with a bulbous head show peak THC potency, but as the cannabinoids begin to tdegrade, these will turn cloudy. Further, if the trichomes are clear with only a few heads, it was harvested too soon.

5. Burn Test

If your flower has passed all other tests, and there are absolutely no signs of mold, it’s time to perform a burn test. Burning in a pipe or a joint helps test for flavor but also for a proper nutrient flush. A nutrient flush is a cultivation practice used in hydroponic setups, where the added nutrients are flushed from the system about two weeks before harvest. Rinsing out the nutrients helps improve the flavor of the final product.

After smoking or otherwise burning the flower, note the color of the ash. If the ash is fluffy and pure white, this is a good sign the cultivator performs a nutrient flush. If the ash is salt and pepper colored, there still may be some nutrients leftover. Black ash, which falls off in chunks, is a sign of no nutrient flush at all. While not dangerous for consumption, it does degrade the quality and flavor profile of your flower.

Taking The Time to Assess Quality Improves Therapeutic Value

The first glimpse of your flower through a microscope opens up a galaxy of possibilities. Suddenly you’ll begin to understand how much of the flower is invisible to the human eye and how much can impact the quality.

The more flowers you inspect up close, the better you become at sussing out the good from the bad.

Remember, this isn’t just about selecting mold-free products but about finding flowers with the most cannabinoid content and best flavor profile. It’s a process that connects you to your medicine.

Author avatar

Jessica McKeil

Jessica McKeil is a freelance writer focused on the medical marijuana industry, from production methods to medicinal applications. She is lucky enough to live in beautiful British Columbia, Canada where the cannabis industry is exploding. When not writing, she spends much of her time exploring in the coastal forests.

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