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Heavy Metal Measurement Made Light

The legal, cultural, and societal acceptance of cannabis as a therapeutic or recreational drug has exploded in recent years.  Concurrently, concern regarding the presence of contaminants – notably pesticides, residual solvents, mycotoxins, and heavy metals – in commercial cannabis products has increased. Heavy metals can interfere with metabolic functions by mimicking metals that are vital enzyme components, ultimately inhibiting their normal function. The result of chronic heavy metal ingestion is damage to a variety of vital organs, including nervous system and kidneys.  Moreover, heavy metals can be mutagenic, causing damage to DNA, and leading to a cascade of further problems such as tumor growth.

For cannabis, standards organizations, such as ASTM International, are in the process of developing consensus methods for assessing contaminants, including heavy metals, in cannabis. We should expect the number of metals covered by such methods and regulations will only continue to grow and target concentration levels will continue to decline. The metals of immediate concern have been arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury; however, in some jurisdictions, this has expanded to include others, such as barium, chromium, selenium, and silver. The nonuniformity of regulations between states and between countries has proven to be a particular challenge. In the US, these challenges will continue until there are federal guidelines akin to those for pharmaceuticals (FDA) or food products (USDA). The cannabis testing industry will likely contribute to the basis for the inevitable federal guidelines through participation and contribution to voluntary consensus standards development through organizations such as ASTM International and AOAC International.

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About the Authors

Andrew Fornadel

Andrew Fornadel, Marketing Manager, Shimadzu Scientific Instruments, Columbia, Maryland, USA


Bob Clifford

General Manager of Marketing, Shimadzu Scientific Instruments, Columbia, Maryland, USA.

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