While consuming a controlled substance like alcohol or cannabis is never completely free of potential risk, there are ways to manage and reduce that potential. Understanding why you want to consume cannabis and starting with a low dose are two key steps, as is making sure you trust the source of the cannabis you buy.
Legal cannabis is a highly regulated substance in Canada — and that’s a good thing. Regulation is what guarantees that cannabis products are produced, manufactured and packaged in a consistent and transparent way that keeps you informed and safe.
Read on to discover what you get when you buy from a legal source and how it helps you consume responsibly.
Your safety comes first
It’s plain and simple: There are no guarantees that unregulated cannabis products are safe to consume. A study published in early 2022 by the Ontario Provincial Police and the OCS found that 19 of the 22 illegal products tested contained at least one unauthorized pesticide — many of them in amounts several hundred times above the Health Canada pesticide limits for cannabis. If the illegal cannabis you purchase contains unauthorized pesticides (or authorized pesticides in levels that exceed the legal maximum), for example, the producer will not face repercussions unless they are reported to law enforcement. If the illegal product is subject to a recall or consumer notice, there is no formal channel through which to inform consumers.
All federally Licensed Producers must adhere to strict requirements enforced by Health Canada. These requirements include refraining from use of contaminants and unapproved pesticides, maintaining sanitary and controlled production and storage environments, and creating detailed and accurate product labels.
All cannabis products are subject to specific regulations. For instance, by law, edible cannabis products cannot contain anything other than food and food additives, and vapes and vape cartridges cannot contain vitamins (including vitamin E acetate), minerals, nicotine, caffeine, sugars, sweeteners and more, unless prescribed under the Cannabis Regulations. To ensure Licensed Producers are complying with all requirements, Health Canada may visit their facilities and collect cannabis samples.
A sample from each batch of every finished legal cannabis product is rigorously tested by federally licensed third-party laboratories for harmful and unapproved substances, such as certain pesticides, E. coli, salmonella, staphylococcus, yeast, arsenic, lead, mercury, fungus and mould.
Once a product sample clears testing by the third-party lab, it’s given a Certificate of Analysis (COA) and a Statement of Attestation (SOA), outlining the product’s lot number with the acceptable test results. If a product or production practice is found to be unsafe, a product may be recalled and/or a Producer may be fined — all in the name of consumer safety.
The OCS quality assurance department also double-checks each product to confirm the COA is present and legitimate, and that damaged products are not sold. If a product is later subject to a recall, the OCS will inform consumers.
THC and CBD levels are accurate
The effects of cannabis are highly individualized, as everyone’s physiology and endocannabinoid system are different; how cannabis affects you will depend on an array of factors, including your age, sex, previous experience with cannabis and overall health. Knowing the THC and CBD levels of a cannabis product is critical to being able to make an informed decision and reduce your risk of overconsumption.
The testing of finished legal cannabis products includes an analysis of THC and CBD levels. Producers use the results of that analysis to inform their product packaging, which is double-checked by the OCS quality assurance department to ensure that what you see on the label is what you get in the product inside.
Certain types of products must meet unique dosage specifications; for instance, edibles must have consistent amounts of THC and CBD in each dose. This is crucial for products such as edibles: You can rely on the fact that each soft chew contains the same amount of cannabinoids, which reduces the potential risk of overconsumption.
If you consume cannabis, it’s important to understand the risks and effects of overconsumption. Here’s what you need to know.
The item’s origin can be traced
Just like knowing where your food comes from, understanding where, when and how your cannabis products were made can help you make informed decisions about purchasing and consumption. All legal cannabis products have a traceable supply chain.
In addition to THC and CBD levels, legal cannabis product labels must include the packaged-on date (if a product is perishable, its label must include an expiry date too), the product’s weight, the lot number (it refers to a specific harvest and can be used to make a product inquiry and trace its production) and contact information for the Producer. (Here’s a guide to reading and understanding legal cannabis product labels.)
Some Licensed Producers may also choose to provide information about terpenes, other cannabinoids and production methods, such as whether the dried flower was grown indoors or outdoors.
There’s certainty about CBD
Because CBD is not purported to produce intoxicating effects, some people may consider it a harmless substance. But just like THC, CBD is a controlled substance, one that is highly regulated in Canada.
A federal licence is required to legally produce and sell CBD products, and those products are subject to the same testing and oversight as products that contain THC. Unregulated CBD products may contain little to no CBD, more CBD than the product description implies and unknown, potentially undesirable ingredients.
When you purchase legal CBD products from an authorized source, you can trust that the active ingredient is present in the amounts described and that the product is safe for consumption or application.
Knowing where your cannabis product was produced and under what conditions is an essential part of managing the risks associated with consumption. Choosing legal cannabis products helps mitigate those risks.