Choosing Cannabis Products
Interpreting a Cannabis Product Label
Legal cannabis product labels are full of details that can give you a better understanding of what’s inside the package. Find out what all the symbols and numbers mean
Health Canada strictly regulates the packaging and labelling requirements for legal recreational cannabis products — which means Licensed Producers are required to share a lot of information about their products directly on the container.
While this makes for a busy label, it also means you’ll find all the information you need to understand what you are buying. And, because the labelling is consistent for every product, if you understand one, you’ll understand them all.
Here is a closer look at the information you can find on the label and how to make sense of it.
The class, cannabis species and cultivar
By looking at the label, you’ll learn what class the product belongs to: dried or fresh cannabis, extract, topical, edible, plant or seed. The label will also tell you which of the three main cannabis species (indica, sativa and hybrid, each with its own unique characteristics) is used in the product. Some cannabis labels may indicate the specific cultivar name the Licensed Producer has given the plant used.
The packaged-on and expiry dates
The label must list the date the cannabis was packaged — not when the product was harvested but rather when the finished product was placed and sealed in its final packaging. Expiry dates, which are used to communicate the stability of the product in regards to potency, are not mandatory in Health Canada regulations, so some Producers will provide them, but many do not.
Some edibles, however, must list a durable life date (also known as the “best before”) if the quality of the product will degrade within 90 days of manufacturing. This doesn’t mean the product expires or is unsafe to consume after the date, but its potency, flavour, texture or freshness may have diminished. Note that for all edibles, once the package is opened, the product’s shelf life will change.
The total weight or volume
While the weight of the product listed on the label may seem self-explanatory, it’s worth knowing that Health Canada does allow for slight weight variances for dried flower: up to 10% for products weighing less than two grams, and 5% for two grams or more. So if you were to weigh your cannabis straight out of the package, you may notice a slightly higher or lower amount than specified. All products are identified by weight except infused beverages — they are identified by volume.
The health risks and the presence of THC
Any product that contains at least 10 micrograms of THC per gram must display the standardized cannabis symbol: a white cannabis leaf inside a red hexagon, bearing the abbreviation “THC” in black text. You’ll also see a message highlighted in yellow that carries a health warning about the potential health risks and effects of using cannabis, as well as the statement “Keep out of reach of children” in uppercase letters.
How much THC and CBD it contains
As the two cannabinoids primarily responsible for the effects of cannabis, THC and CBD amounts must be displayed on every product label. To help consumers make informed decisions, they are shown in two ways.
First, it’s important to know that cannabinoids are only activated by heat over 150 degrees Celsius, a process called decarboxylation. In its natural state, cannabis has a low level of active cannabinoids. When cannabis is decarboxylated, either through heating or processing, its cannabinoid levels increase.
On package labels, the first numbers, listed as “THC” and “CBD,” represent the active cannabinoid levels in the cannabis as purchased. Dried cannabis will have a lower level of active cannabinoids because it hasn’t been heated yet.
The second numbers are listed as “Total THC” and “Total CBD.” These figures represent the active cannabinoid levels in the cannabis when ready for consumption. Because oil and capsule products have been processed (and the cannabinoids heated already), the second and first numbers will be the same on these products. For dried flower, the second number will be higher because the THC and CBD will increase when it’s heated.
For extracts in packaging that dispenses a specific amount, you’ll see “Total THC per activation” and “Total CBD per activation,” meaning how much is in each dispensation.
(For a deeper dive into how THC and CBD content is represented on packaging, read Understanding Cannabinoid Content on Product Labels.)
Who produced it
Licensed Producers must provide their company name and contact details on the label of their products, in case a consumer should ever want to get in touch.
Each product also includes a lot number referring to a specific harvest, or “lot” of products, which helps trace it back to the Producer’s quality control processes. Take note of the lot number when making a product inquiry.
Its dried flower equivalency
Cannabis extracts, edibles and topicals must display the statement “Contains the equivalent of 0.66 g of dried cannabis” (where 0.66 refers to the equivalent quantity). This is important information because Canada currently allows consumers to legally possess up to 30 grams of dried cannabis or an equivalent — which, for example, would be 450 grams of edibles.
Its ingredients, allergens and nutrition facts
All ingredients are listed on packaging for edibles, topicals and extracts. And just like a prepackaged cookie from the grocery store, all edible cannabis products must display a nutrition facts table, listing calories, fat, fibre, sugar, protein, sodium and more. Plus, edibles will identify any food allergens, gluten and added sulphites; extracts will also list allergens.
Understanding cannabis labels is important for making an informed decision about products. While labels contain a lot of information and feature some unique elements, the details are helpful once you know what they mean. Read every label carefully to find the information you need.