Cannabis products have become increasingly popular. Yet, as they are still relatively new to the market, research has found that most consumers don’t know how to properly identify doses of their psychoactive ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), from current packaging alone. This may then lead to overdosing.
David Hammond, one of the study’s authors, said, "We've known for many years that people struggle to understand the numbers on the back of food packages and cigarette packages. Consumers seem to have equal or even more difficulty with THC numbers, which are used to indicate the potency of cannabis products...Effective THC labelling and packaging could help reduce to accidental over-consumption of cannabis edibles and adverse events, which have increased in jurisdiction that have legalized recreational cannabis."
In their research, Hammond and his team at the University of Waterloo, Canada, conducted two experiments on 870 Canadians aged between 16 and 30. In the first experiment, they randomly assigned participants to respond to three labeling systems. The first had no label while the second showed THC quantities in milligrams (mg) , and the third showed THC doses per package.
From this experiment, the researchers found that just 6% were able to identify serving sizes on products without labels, whereas 77% could identify THC potency when dosages were listed in mg. Meanwhile, 54% were able to identify THC levels when the number of doses per package were mentioned.
To make dosage recognition easier, the researchers then tried out a traffic light system to label the products. During this experiment, green was used to indicate low potency, whereas red suggested high potency and yellow moderate.
In the end, they found that the traffic light system was the most effective way in communicating THC quantities to the participants. Using this system, 85% correctly understood when THC products had a low potency, while 86% correctly recognized those with high potency.
Hammond said, "New regulations that limit cannabis edibles to a maximum of 10 mg per package are particularly important given that most consumers do not understand THC numbers...However, the findings suggest that consumers will need easier-to-understand THC information for other products, including oils, concentrates and dried flowers."