Large scale study of cannabis product labeling highlights a critical need for more informative and accurate product description. A study conducted at the University of Colorado, Boulder and published in PLOS One found that a majority of labels failed to reflect the broad phytochemical diversity of a product.
A study of over 90,000 commercial labels across six states revealed that the content on the labels did not consistently align with the observed chemical diversity. Although many cannabis dispensaries sell strains of common names such as Lemon Haze, Jack Herer, and Northern Lights, the products will vary in terpene profile, potency, and quality among cannabis producers. Differences in extraction methods also make it challenging to compare product concentration and quality.
Cannabis products labels must indicate the dosage of the psychoactive compound THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) levels, but they do not always indicate other important information about compound and terpene contents. Medical cannabis patients can make better treatment decisions if there are more accurate labels that include terpene data and cannabinoid profiles that provide a better picture of a cannabis product’s potential effects. The study found three distinct product categories: Products high in the terpenes caryophyllene and limonene; those high in myrcene and pinene; and those high in terpinolene and myrcene. However, the categories did not correspond to the indica, sativa and hybrid labeling scheme.
Research on cannabinoid label effectiveness is limited, but several recent studies have also highlighted inconsistent or ineffective labeling practices of recreational cannabis products. According to study co-author Brian Keegan, “Our findings suggest that the prevailing labeling system is not an effective or safe way to provide information about these products. This is a real challenge for an industry that is trying to professionalize itself.” The researchers support a labeling system similar to the Food and Dietary Association’s nutritional content labels on food and beverages.