.Test Before Toke

MEASURED HIGH: Elemental’s Dustin Mahoney tests marijuana samples.

ENTER ANY one of San Jose’s 100-plus medical cannabis dispensaries and you’ll find dozens of jars containing a variety of strains. But patients may wonder: Who grew the grass? And how can anyone be sure if it’s free from pests, mold, pesticides and/or other contaminants?

The Food and Drug Administration, which regulates, well, food and drugs, won’t touch Schedule I substances like cannabis. So, as California’s medical cannabis industry matures, a handful of South Bay collectives are turning to scientific labs to test their buds, tinctures and edibles for both safety and potency.

“We are dealing with an ill population, a patient population, sometimes immune-compromised, sometimes [with] pulmonary issues, and you would not want to have them smoking mold, mildew, and other totally questionable medicine,” says Ariel Loveland, the executive director at Elemental Wellness Center.

Loveland says that when patient-providers bring in extra meds, Elemental’s uber-experienced purchasing specialist, Dustin Mahoney, puts the growers through a rigorous screening process. “He will go over their growing procedures, he’ll go over what nutrients they use, he’ll go over everything about the plant,” explains Loveland, who opened Elemental in March 2010.

Mahoney checks for mold and mildew, then puts the buds under a PC-connected Dynascope to magnify them to incredible detail. “There’s a lot of love and a lot of one-on-one that goes on between a grower and his plants if they want it to come off successfully,” says Loveland.

If the meds pass the in-house inspection, Mahoney then packages a two-gram sample and sends it to Steep Hill Lab in Oakland. Labs like Steep Hill are no joke—their Ph.D.-level scientists use gas and liquid chromatographs and mass spectrometer machines, the same pieces of equipment used in the biomedical industry.

Steep Hill’s services include checking for THC, CBD and CBN, the cannabinoids responsible for cannabis’ psychotropic and anti-inflammatory effects. Earlier this year, several labs joined forces to form the Association of California Cannabis Laboratories to help standardize testing procedures.

“This alliance establishes a basis for the evolution of an improved scientific approach to protocols and procedures our laboratories perform,” said Dr. Robert Martin, co-founder of cannabis testing labe CW Analytical, in a press release. “The more we standardize our protocols the more we truly serve our industry and the patient community.”

Elemental will soon participate in a pilot project for onsite, remote testing with Steep Hill, which will allow collectives to analyze samples in-house and get test results over the web.

The cannabis testing industry is young, but Loveland says he gets people coming through his doors specifically because they do test their meds. He adds that testing is one of the biggest advantages cannabis dispensaries have over the black market. “People never knew what they were getting when they were getting their medicine from the street,” Loveland says.

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