By Carla K. Johnson, Associated Press
(AP) — How much marijuana is really in that brownie? It turns out that chocolate can throw off THC potency tests possibly making labels on edibles inaccurate, and now scientists are trying to figure out why.
In states where marijuana is legal, marijuana comes in cookies, mints, gummies, protein bars — even pretzels. These commercial products are labeled with the amount of high-inducing THC, which helps medical marijuana patients get the desired dose and other consumers attune their buzz.
But something about chocolate, chemists say, seems to interfere with potency testing. A chocolate labeled as 10 milligrams of THC could have far more.
The latest research on chocolate, to be presented at a San Diego conference this week, is one example of chemistry’s growing role in the marijuana industry.
The marijuana business is at a crossroads in its push for legitimacy. The federal government still considers marijuana illegal, yet more than 30 U.S. states allow it for at least medical use. Even in those states, there are no recognized standard methods for testing products for safety and quality.
Chemists working for marijuana companies and testing labs are developing those standards and some are legally protecting their ideas.
Marijuana contains hundreds of chemicals, including cannabinoids such as THC and CBD, a trendy ingredient with unproven health claims. Some pose challenges when they’re processed. Chocolate is a good example.
“The chocolate itself is affecting our ability to measure the cannabinoids within it,” said David Dawson, chemist and lead researcher at CW Analytical Laboratories in Oakland, California, which tests marijuana.
The more chocolate in the vial, the less accurate the test results, he found. He thinks some of the THC is clinging to the fat in chocolate, effectively hiding from the test.
Monica Vialpando, a San Francisco chemist, is working to prevent drinks with CBD and THC oils from separating into unappealing layers while sitting on the shelf. The oils don’t dissolve in water, a problem for companies trying to create new drinks.
“We’re fighting against the true nature of the THC,” Vialpando, who came to cannabis from the pharmaceutical industry.
Chemists solve the problem by increasing the surface area of the oil particles and adding ingredients, called surfactants and emulsifiers, to prevent separation.
Vialpando said consumers should be skeptical of outrageous claims for edibles and beverages, including that all the THC or CBD in a product will be absorbed. Some potency will always be lost in the digestive system before it hits the bloodstream, she said.
Dawson’s research is on the agenda at the American Chemical Society meeting in San Diego. The conference includes 20 presentations about marijuana’s technical challenges, said Markus Roggen, a Vancouver, British Columbia-based chemist organizing the program. That’s a big change from a few years ago when presenters didn’t get much beyond the basics such as: “This is THC. This is CBD.”
AP Photo/Andrew Medichini