A Guide to Reading Labels on Medical Marijuana Products
The labels on prescription medications can contain information that is difficult to understand. Patients taking a new drug for the first time often have to speak with a pharmacist or pharmacy tech to help them know exactly what they’re taking, how and when to take it, and what to expect regarding side effects or other potential problems to watch out for. It can be the same with medical cannabis.
The terminology can be confusing and leave you wondering exactly what it is you are using to treat your health issues. Knowing what the label on your medical cannabis product means is important if you want to be an informed consumer.
Why Cannabis Product Labeling is Highly Regulated
Cannabis is a controlled substance, and consumer protection laws mandate that any controlled substance must be labeled correctly to inform and encourage safe use. Cannabis product labels contain all the information needed to protect your health.
The goals for regulated cannabis labels are to promote the following:
Regulated cannabis labels help reduce adverse events, such as consuming too much THC, which can cause uncomfortable side effects. Information about potency, total active cannabinoids, terpenes, as well as usage instructions helps consumers take precautions and make an informed choice about the cannabis products they use.
The precise labeling of THC and CBD content, minor cannabinoids, and other compounds that can provide psychoactive or physiological effects is important. This helps patients regularly using medical marijuana products to accurately dispense the correct dose for their symptom management needs.
Cannabis labels contain information to let consumers know that the product has been third-party tested for quality. This includes batch tests for contaminants such as heavy metals, pesticides, E.coli, and mold.
There is a growing problem with unlicensed cannabis dispensaries in the United States. Some illegal dispensaries mimic well-known product labels to mislead consumers. Check the cannabis product label before you purchase, as one way of detecting imposter cannabis goods.
Whether you smoke flower, use a tincture, consume capsules or edible cannabis products, you deserve to know precisely what you are ingesting. The regulated labels provide transparency and disclose other details such as processing agents, extraction methods, and additives.
Each cannabis label contains health warnings and additional information about potential side effects. This is very important for all controlled substances, especially for highly concentrated THC products.
Solving the Problem of Variant Strain Profiles
The truth is that while cloning occurs and strains share very similar characteristics, they can be slightly different. That is why you will see potency analysis figures that range from 20% to 25% THC. Different batches can deviate a little, even when cannabis plants are cloned.
Variations happen, which is one of the reasons why batch testing is so important. It helps track that information and all the statistics about each cultivation or crop. Labels are adjusted accordingly for each batch to provide accurate information to comply with state laws.
What Are Common State Labeling Requirements?
The laws regarding cannabis product labeling vary by state. In some jurisdictions, for example, the harvest date information is required on the product label. The packaging date may also be required, as well as a standardized cannabis symbol on the container.
Legal cannabis product labels help protect patients and consumers by providing essential information about the ingredients and potency and also help differentiate legal products from black-market manufactured goods.
When you purchase a medical cannabis product from a licensed dispensary, you will be provided with all the information state law requires on the cannabis labels. But, since requirements vary by jurisdiction, you may find some or all of the following information contained on your cannabis product label.
The THC content of most flower strains ranges from 5% to 25%, though some strains can top out at 30% or even a bit higher in a very few instances. This reflects the percentage of THC based on the dry weight of the product. THC content refers to what is known as total THC, or the combination of THC-A as well as Δ-9 THC, and since THC-A is converted to THC with the combustion or burning of flower and the results are not guaranteed, these numbers can be a bit variable.
Cannabis tinctures will indicate on their label how much THC is in a drop or cc of fluid. This is important because the strength or concentration of the finished product can vary from one MMTC to another, and if you are trying a tincture from a new provider, you may be ingesting more or less than you are used to.
Concentrates or distillates can contain up to 90% THC. For the novice cannabis user, these can be difficult to dose correctly. Some MMTCs compare a single dose to the size of a grain of rice, but this is variable.
Batch Number and Production Tracking
When you purchase a loaf of bread at the grocery store, you will notice some information or codes that indicate batch information—details about when the product was produced. Cannabis product labels must also contain that information for a variety of reasons.
The cannabis batch number is used for the following:
- Quality assurance and control.
- Traceability (state legal requirement) to identify the product’s producer and processor. This is also used to prevent dispensary products from being trafficked illegally or sold by unlicensed retailers.
- Recall management.
Batch numbers may look like a serial number on the cannabis product label. For example, you may see “20231020-002,” which would indicate the product was produced on October 10, 2023, and was the second batch group produced that day.
The use of a batch number on each cannabis label ensures quality, safety, and control of all legally produced cannabis goods. And it is a mandatory requirement for regulatory compliance in the U.S. cannabis industry.
Most states (but not all) require a cannabis leaf symbol to appear on the label. This is helpful, for example, for people who use CBD tinctures and medical cannabis tinctures as well. It differentiates the product by stating that there are psychoactive ingredients inside.
CBD and Minor Cannabinoid Content
Products containing CBD are available in several different formulas. Most flower contains CBD in varying percentages. Products containing less than 0.3% THC are considered low-THC and have little to no psychoactive effects. Additionally, CBD helps minimize the high experienced as a result of using products rich in THC. Every MMTC is required by Florida law to offer at least one low-THC product.
- Balanced cannabis strains can contain up to 6%-12% each of THC and CBD.
- Highly-potent hemp strains may have up to 20% CBD.
- Generally speaking, the higher the THC percentage, the less CBD will be present in the product.
In addition to the details required by law, patients may also find information on the presence and percentage of other cannabinoids in their products, including CBN, CBC, CBG, and THCV. MMTCs that publish their lab results may also indicate the concentration of terpenes present in some strains or preparations.
Does cannabis really have an expiration date? Cannabis labels have expiration dates that you can consider as “Use By Date” indicators. If you have cannabis flower that has been stored after a year, there is a loss of potency, flavor, and aroma.
There is also the potential for cannabis to develop mold if it is not stored correctly. Or if you have attempted to rehydrate cannabis flower more than once. Always check for mold regardless of the expiration date.
Warning About Impairment, Risks, and Potential Side Effects
Every cannabis product label should contain a warning about impairment and the psychoactive effects of THC. Cannabis can impair cognitive and motor functioning, and patients need to be aware to make decisions about driving and other activities that could cause risk of injury under the influence of THC.
Warning About Product Use By Minors
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from December 30, 2018, to January 1, 2023, 539,106 cannabis-involved emergency room visits were reported for people under the age of twenty-five years.
ED visit rates have increased for children under fourteen years of age, with more female adolescents experiencing adverse health events due to ingesting cannabis products. Childproof packaging, warning labels, and regulations that prohibit the design of labels that may appeal to children are all part of helping reduce exposure events for children.
Safe Storage Recommendations
Safe storage means two things: maintaining the integrity of the potency of medical cannabis products and also ensuring that products containing THC are not accessible to children. This includes tinted containers that prevent exposure to sunlight (which degrades THC content) and air-tight containers.
Every cannabis label must indicate the potency by volume of THC content. In most states, that means two different potency numbers: the THC content of single portions (or individual doses) and total THC content in multi-serving containers. Each cannabis strain has different THC potency levels.
Food Allergen Statement
Some cannabis products, like tinctures or vape cartridges, contain a carrier oil. Often, these oils are hemp or coconut, but a statement of any additives that may present an allergy risk are required for any marijuana product.
Third-Party Testing Lab
Read cannabis labels carefully and look for third-party testing lab information. This is another way you can determine whether a product is safe to use. Any legitimate producer will provide a certificate of analysis (COA) for cannabis flower or any other product.
You can follow the link or scan the QR code for a full report on ingredients inside your cannabis product, which have been verified by an independent laboratory.
When you are new to using medical cannabis, you may not know the correct way to administer certain types of products. For example, a tincture must be administered under the tongue and held there for at least one minute to allow absorption. If you swallow the cannabis oil, results are substantially reduced, passing through digestion instead of directly into your bloodstream (sublingual uptake).
Other products like cannabis edibles, capsules, tablets, and topical creams will contain usage instructions on cannabis labels to ensure you get the best results.
With over 25 years of specialty training in Internal Medicine, as well as fellowship training in Functional and Sexual medicine, Dr. Maginso added Plant Medicine (Medical Marijuana) to her niche practice as of 2017. She is licensed in the State of Florida and attended the University of the East (UERM) in Quezon City, Philippines as well as the University of Medicine and Dentistry in Newark, NJ.
She joined DocMJ in 2019 to align with a known group of compassionate physicians that empower their patients to be better versions of themselves. Her favorite hashtag is #powerpassionperformance, using the combination of optimized bioidentical hormones, medical marijuana, plasma therapies, and sexual wellness.
She is an author, speaker and community advocate for Medical Marijuana, Sexual Health, and the empowerment of mature women.