Special thanks to our student volunteer, Luc Robichaud for writing this article.

Patients using cannabis vaporizer cartridges may be inhaling more than just cannabis oil according to new heavy metal tests of these devices that are now required by law in California. These new tests revealed that 0.5% of the most common commercially available cartridges, known as CCELLs, contain 0.5 parts per million (ppm) or more of lead. No amount of lead exposure is safe due to its neurotoxic, teratogenic, and cytotoxic nature.  

As of January 1st, 2019, California mandates the testing of all cannabis products for heavy metals such as lead and limits the legal amount of lead in cannabis products to 0.5 ppm, which is the most stringent limit on lead concentrations in the Union. Some states, like Oregon, haven’t even banned the presence of heavy metals in cannabis products. However, cannabis products in California produced before 2019 remain untested for heavy metals and are still permitted to be sold. There are also illegal/black market pot-shops opening up without approval by the state so BUYER BEWARE.

Another challenge for quality control is the inherent inconsistency between labs. Different labs use different reagents and so their reference ranges can vary as well. This leads to some products being approved at certain labs while being rejected at others.  There is still no federal regulation or oversight that would support consistency throughout the United States.

The FDA oversees the manufacture of pharmaceuticals to ensure dangerous chemicals, like lead, stay out of foods and medicines. Unfortunately, the federal classification of cannabis as a schedule I substance means that in the eyes of the FDA, cannabis products have no medical value and are illegal. This means that regulation of cannabis manufacturing processes falls on the shoulders of the states that permit its sale, resulting in inconsistent cannabis manufacturing reglations across the US. A national standard of safe cannabis manufacturing processes would maximize the safety of American cannabis users.

While notices of product recalls may be alarming, consumers should be grateful that a government agency is actively protecting public health.  Be sure to check the California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control for more information on Cannabis recalls.

The International Society of Cannabis Pharmacists supports stringent testing and labeling to support public health.  Check out our labeling recommendations here.