As the stigma attached to cannabis consumption continues to erode from popular culture, a fascination with the plant’s incredible compounds has taken its place. Cannabis is a pain reliever, anxiety reducer, sleep aid, cancer treatment, and so much more. The positive attention cannabis is receiving, especially in the wake of a momentous wave of legalization, has instilled an important curiosity in the cannabis consumer.

That curiosity is a good thing because it means that people are paying attention to what they are consuming.  As with any industry, things can get shady and weird, and that is why cannabis lab testing is so important.  While cannabis can be powerfully beneficial to those who use it, every strain—every batch of product, even—has a unique profile that can lead to varying results.  Moreover, the awesome things about those results can cannabis labelsbe overshadowed by the presence of mold or dangerous pesticides.  Unfortunately, the marijuana industry is not immune to bad practices, so those kinds of agents can be present in legal marijuana.  This is why it is so important to shop at a dispensary that tests its products with an independent lab.

Because cannabis is labeled as a Schedule 1 drug, or a substance with no medicinal value and a high potential for abuse, a classification upheld by the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration, there is no federal oversight standardizing how states should test cannabis or even how those results should look once printed on a label.

What Do Cannabis Labels Look Like?

Since there is no universal standard, it depends.  Here is some basic information that you might find on a strain label.

Test Expiration Date: This date represents the expiration date of the lab test results, not the product expiration date.  So if the test expiration date is 5/1/2017, that means that the results indicated on that label may have changed since the time of the test and are no longer valid once 5/1/17 arrives.

Strain Name: The label will probably indicate the specific strain name as well as its species (indica, sativa, or a hybrid).

This information is helpful as strains have reputations for creating certain types of highs

Cannabinoids: The organic chemical compounds that give cannabis its many therapeutic and recreational effects are known as cannabinoids.  These compounds interact with the cannabinoid receptors comprising our endocannabinoid systems to cause the sensation of being high as well as other therapeutic effects.  While the cannabinoids work synergistically in the homeostasis-inducing phenomenon known as the entourage effect, each cannabinoid has its own unique properties.

THCA: Tetrahydrocannabolic acid is the non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis. Through time or through heat, THCA converts to its more well-known version, THC.  Although THCA converts to THC, it loses some of its mass once exposed to heat, so a lab result indicating 17% THCA does not mean that there is 17% of THC.

THC: Tetrahydrocannabinol is the psychoactive form of THCA, and it is typically the most sought after cannabinoid by consumers. Some of its benefits include relief from pain and nausea, and, more famously, the sensation of euphoria and lightness that comes with feeling high.  However, THC can also cause feelings of paranoia or anxiety in users, sometimes culminating in panic attacks.  This is why it is important to know how much THC is present in the cannabis you are consuming, especially if you are sensitive to the negative effects of THC.

THCV: Tetraydrocannabivarin is another psychoactive cannabinoid present in the marijuana plant. Like THC, it begins in non-activated acidic form and is changed overtime or through heat exposure. THCV may help in combating obesity because it is believed to reduce the feelings of pleasure we experience when eating unhealthy foods.

CBDA: Cannabidiolic acid is the non-psychoactive precursor to CBD. As with THCA, CBDA converts to CBD through heat.

CBD: Cannabidiol is the therapeutic all-star of cannabinoids. It can be used to treat depression, tumors, inflammation, neurodegeneration, epilepsy, nausea and even cancer.

CBG: Cannabigerol is a lesser-known cannabinoid with a lot of promise. Research suggests that CBG is an anti-inflammatory, an anti-depressant, and can potentially combat the proliferation of cancer cells.

CBN: Cannabinol is the cannabinoid responsible for cannabis’ utility in treating insomnia. A high CBN content means a good night’s sleep.

You can use the strain label to help you meet whatever goals you have for using cannabis, whether that’s to alleviate pain or to unwind.

Simply choose strains that have high levels of the cannabinoids known for producing the results you’re looking for

Terpenes: Found in all produce, these aromatic compounds do more than just give each cannabis strain a unique flavor and scent.  Terpenes can enhance your high and come with therapeutic qualities themselves.  For example, linalool is known for its soothing and sedative effect, and CANNABIS LABELSlimonene is known for its anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.  Knowing the terpene profile of the cannabis product you are interested in may help you better discern what strain is best for you.

Mold: It’s insidious, disgusting, and so common.  Mold loves high temperatures and high humidity, and, unfortunately, cannabis.  Strain labels will let you know if the product you are looking at has been infected by mold.  In addition to indicating the presence of mold, some labs will test for other microbial contaminants including E. Coli or insect droppings.

Residual Solvents: Labels may also indicate whether traces of solvents used to extract concentrates are present in a cannabis product such as Rick Simpson Oil or BHO.  These results let consumers know if they are ingesting chemicals with their marijuana, and they let producers know if their extraction process needs a little cleaning up.

Pesticides: Since there is no standardized approach to safe pesticide use on cannabis, this is usually a pretty straightforward part of the strain label.  Each state has its own standard for pesticides, and labs will indicate whether a product “passed” or “failed” those standards.  Hopefully, the label you are looking at says, “pass.”  If it doesn’t, you may want to find yourself a less chemically treated product.

Dianna Benjamin

About the author: Dianna Benjamin is a freelance writer, teacher, wife, and mom horrified and fascinated by social justice and our inability--yet constant pursuit--to get it right.