I’m fortunate enough to live in California where cannabis has been medically legal for over 20 years, yet even I find product labels confusing. Between details like strain, potency and multiple government warnings, your ability to understand the information and determine what’s most important to your unique needs can be challenging, especially if you are new to cannabis. And when you consider that each individual state sets its own standards for cannabis labeling, what one person sees on an edibles label in California could differ from what another sees in Massachusetts.
As with food, personal care products and anything else you put on and into your body, it’s important to understand what’s in your cannabis flower or product. So let’s break down what is typically listed on a cannabis product label and why the information matters to you.
What’s On A Cannabis Product Label?
Because cannabis is federally illegal, packaging and labeling requirements are established by governing bodies in each individual state. In California for example, regulations are set by the Department of Public Health while in Oregon the responsibility lies with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.
While the specific requirements where you live may not be exactly the same as mine, much of the same information is required and you’re likely to see the following on product packaging:
Product and Brand Identity
This reflects what the product is (infused cookies, gummies, brownie, etc.) and the brand behind it (such as Kiva, Dosist or Beboe, for example).
The strain could simply be listed as indica, sativa or hybrid, or a specific strain like ACDC, Gorilla Glue or Trainwreck.
The list of ingredients that are in your product, like cannabis oil in a vape cartridge or cocoa butter, nuts and cannabis in an edible.
This is the weight or liquid measurement of the product without the packaging.
Harvest, Manufacture and Expiration Dates
These reflect when the flower was cultivated or harvested, when the product was manufactured, and by when it expires or is best consumed, respectively.
There are a number of government warnings listed on cannabis packaging, including safety warnings (“For Medicinal Use Only”, “Keep Out of Reach of Children and Animals”), allergy statements (“Contains soy and almonds”), and other messaging required by the designated governing body.
Not so different from the packaging we encounter every day in the grocery store or pharmacy, right? Where the confusion lies however is rarely with the more general information outlined above – it’s with product potency.
Potency is typically designated by the amount of THC and CBD in the package overall and per serving, and is usually represented by milligrams or a percentage. Here’s a picture of the side panel of a vape cartridge listing the following percentages: THC/a 65.0%, CBN 0.40%, CBD/a 1.55%.
So what does it all mean?
My brain automatically thinks the THC percentage refers to the concentration of THC in the product – that every time a take a puff I’m ingesting 65% THC – but that’s not quite the case.
THC percentage refers to the amount of THC compared with the other cannabinoids and terpenes present in 1 gram, or 1000mg, of flower or concentrate. So of the over 100 cannabinoids and 200 terpenes possible in cannabis, lab analysis for this oil has revealed that this strain has only 3 cannabinoids – THC, CBD (cannabidiol) and CBN (cannabinol) – present in the above listed ratios.
Some products like edibles and tinctures detail THC amounts using milligrams (mg), and again the lab has determined the amount of THC present among all other cannabinoids. An edible containing 10mg THC can also be said to have 1% THC – calculated by dividing 10mg by 10, or 1/100 of a gram.
What Really Matters
Cannabis product labels can be pretty difficult to understand unless you’re a highly experienced cannassueur or a scientist, which is why I had to consult with one for this article (thank you again for the chat, Reverend Doctor Kymron DeCesare of Steep Hill Labs!).
There’s no standard for cannabis labeling, which means consumers must educate themselves about the information in order to decide what’s most important to them. As legalization broadens however, so does a focus on transparency within the industry, and hopefully we can look forward to labels containing simpler, easier to understand information in the future.