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 as far as 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. Since this form of medication comes from plants, some of the variables can be critical to be aware of since you might need to adjust your doses or the intervals between medicating in order to maintain an effective treatment regimen. To find out if you pre-qualify to obtain a Florida medical cannabis card in 5 minutes or less, take our short eligibility survey. At your initial appointment, you can discuss your health concerns with a Florida Medical Marijuana Doctor to help determine which product, route, dose and time intervals would be most effective in helping you improve your quality of life.
Florida medical cannabis products have strict packaging and labeling requirements established by the Department of Health. Since it is still a controlled substance, packaging for any cannabis or cannabis-derived product intended for oral consumption falls under guidelines set by the United States Poison Prevention Packaging Act of 1970.
- The effectiveness of the packaging cannot be compromised by the physical or chemical characteristics of the product.
- Containers must be child-resistant.
- It needs to be packaged in such a way that senior citizens can access the product without undue difficulty.
- It cannot be packed in reusable containers.
- The containers or other packaging have to be strong enough to maintain their effectiveness for the expected duration of use of the product, including the opening and closing mechanisms.
- In the case of liquids, if the container is opened, no more than 2 ml of fluid can be obtained if the container is inverted & squeezed or otherwise opened or activated once.
- Such substances can only be packaged in metal and/or aerosol containers if it can be demonstrated that such packaging is necessary for effective storage and application of the product. (1)
In addition to these packaging requirements, medical cannabis labeling must contain the following information:
- The cannabis provided is grown, harvested, and tested according to state regulations and is safe for human consumption.
- The name of the MMTC.
- Batch and harvest number as well as the date dispensed.
- Recommending physician’s name.
- Patient’s name.
- Product name and dosage form, including percentage of THC and CBD. This cannot contain words usually associated with products advertised or sold by or to children.
- Recommended dose.
- A warning that it is illegal to give or sell medical cannabis to anyone other than the patient.
- Universal medical cannabis symbol agreed on by the DOH.
Each purchase must be accompanied by an insert with specific information about the product:
- How the product works on the human body (clinical pharmacology).
- What the product is to be used for and how it should work.
- Dose and how to use it.
- Form of dose and strength (liquid, capsule, flower; how strong one dose is).
- When or why not to use the product.
- Warnings and precautions (do not drive after dosing; may cause dizziness or lower blood pressure, etc.)
- Negative side effects.
- In addition, medical cannabis sold in flower form for smoking must be packaged in a sealed and clearly labeled container containing a warning to keep away from children as well as stating that cannabis contains carcinogens that can negatively affect the user’s health. The container must be plain, white and opaque (not see-through), cannot reveal the contents, and is required to display the universal cannabis symbol as well as the DOH-approved logo.
- Once edibles are available, they must also be packaged and sold in similar plain, white, opaque containers. They are required to contain a listing of all ingredients, instructions on storage, an expiration date, a clear and direct warning to keep away from children and pets, and a statement that they are not produced according to federal food safety laws. When possible, edibles need to be marked with the universal cannabis symbol.
- Delivery devices sold by MMTCs are also required to be labeled and must be consistent with medical use. (2)
As one of the most most popular cannabinoids, THC content is something patients often look at first.
- The THC content of most strains of flower ranges from 5%-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. (3)
- 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 92-95% 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 based on patient perception. Care needs to be taken not to over-ingest concentrates, so starting with a small dose and building up slowly is advised.
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. (3)
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. (4)
Florida medical cannabis patients should keep in mind that every batch of cannabis will have different lab results. The levels of THC, THC-A, CBD, CBG, and other cannabinoids can vary due to heat, light, watering techniques, humidity, and a number of other factors. Cannabis potency and content can affect how much you need to use as well as how often you need to dose. Unlike pharmaceutical drugs, where one pill always has the same dose, even if you buy the same strain from the same MMTC, you may have slightly different results based on changes in environment or other growing conditions. Knowing what you need will help you medicate more effectively, and keeping track of the information on product labels is one way of doing so. Being informed cannabis consumers is an important part of achieving and maintaining optimal health and well-being.