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Cannabis edibles are becoming more popular. Getty Images
  • The marijuana edible market has been booming and is estimated to rise to a $4 billion dollar market in 2022.
  • But correctly dosing each edible with THC has been difficult for manufacturers.
  • A new study finds chocolate in edibles may make it more difficult to determine the amount of THC in a product.

As marijuana is legalized in a growing number of states across the country, it’s become apparent that millions of people prefer to eat, sip, or drink their marijuana rather than smoke it.

The marijuana edible market — known for its pot brownies, gummy bears, and cannabis cookies — has boomed in recent years. In 2017, the edibles market was estimated to be worth $1 billion in the United States and Canada. By 2022, it’ll likely hit $4.1 billion, according to a market data report by Arcview.

However, despite the fact that the country’s crazy about edibles, there’s still a major issue when it comes to the product labeling on snacks infused with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.

Most of the time, the THC potency levels listed aren’t an entirely accurate representation of how much THC is actually packed into the edible, according to prior published research.

Now, new evidence suggests that THC potency testing may be even trickier than previously thought.

Chocolate may be interfering with cannabis potency testing, causing results to be somewhat skewed, according to new research being presented at the American Chemical Society Fall 2019 National Meeting & Exposition this week.

“Who knew chocolate could have a potential drawback?” Scott Krakower, DO, the assistant unit chief of psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital, quipped. “It is already extremely difficult to measure potency of these agents. It is even more difficult to get a handle on potency, when marijuana agents are being combined with other additives or food products.”

According to the researchers, there seems to be an ingredient in chocolate that suppresses the signal for THC.

This creates what’s known as “a matrix effect” — the more chocolate in an edible, the less THC there seems to be. On the other hand, when there’s less chocolate, there appears to more THC.

“When we had less cannabis-infused chocolate in the sample vial, say 1 gram, we got higher THC potencies and more precise values than when we had 2 grams of the same infused chocolate in the vial,” the project’s principal investigator David Dawson, a researcher with CW Analytical Laboratories, said in a statement.

While the exact ingredient causing the potency mix-up is unknown, Dawson’s been studying different forms of chocolate — including chocolate bar, cocoa powder, baker’s chocolate, and white chocolate — to better understand the relationship between chocolate and THC.

So far, Dawson suspects it’s the fats manipulating the potency results, seeing as THC is fat-soluble.

In general, regulating marijuana has been a difficult and complicated matter.

Although several states have legalized medical and recreational marijuana, the drug is still illegal on a federal level. This means the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate the vast majority of marijuana products, so it’s pretty much up to each state to determine how marijuana’s regulated. However, several states haven’t nailed down the best way to test the safety and quality of marijuana products.

“Given the federal illegality of cannabis, there is no FDA regulation for medicinal cannabis products, so it really is a ‘buyer beware’ situation,” Dr. Diana Martins-Welch, an attending physician in palliative medicine at Northwell Health, told Healthline.

In California, the Bureau of Cannabis Control regulates all things cannabis. They control the restrictions on what can be sold commercially along with what needs to be tested before going to market.

“When the product undergoes compliance testing to certify it is clean and ready to be sold, it must test within +/- 10 percent of the stated label claim,” Dawson told Healthline.

If, for example, a bar of pot-infused chocolate has a label claim of 100 milligrams (mg) of THC, it must test either above 90 mg or below 110 mg to pass its label claim, Dawson added. If a product didn’t test within this range, it must either be relabeled — which can be very costly — or destroyed, also costly.

All in all, the chocolate mystery shouldn’t affect the average pot user, according to Dawson. Rather, it’s something for cannabis producers and third-party testing facilities to keep an eye on when testing potency levels.

“First and foremost, the findings of my research pose no threat to public safety,” Dawson said. “It is much more a quirk of analytical testing than it is something that consumers have to be wary about.”

Hopefully, the findings will help third-party cannabis testing groups provide the most precise and accurate results possible, he added.

Still, it’s important to be smart about how you take edibles. Albeit small, there’s always a risk you could under- or overdose because of a labeling error — which may cause some to experience not-so-fun side effects, like paranoia or extreme sedation.

Purchase your treats from a reputable source, like a state-licensed medical cannabis dispensary, Martins-Welch advised. In addition, start small and work your way up to see how your body reacts to the edible. It can take up to 2 hours for an edible to kick in, so be patient.

“Starting off with a small amount of the edible product to ‘test drive’ its effects is the best way to start off,” Martins-Welch said.

New research has found that chocolate may interfere with how much THC is detected in edibles during cannabis potency testing. According to the researchers, when there’s more chocolate in an edible, less THC will show up in testing, and when there’s less chocolate, higher and more precise levels of THC will appear. Given the fact that marijuana’s still illegal on a federal level, regulating marijuana has been a complicated issue that many states haven’t nailed down yet. Hopefully, these findings will help third-party testing facilities deliver more accurate, precise potency results.