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Study Reports Low Consumer Knowledge of CBD & THC Levels


The legal hemp and marijuana industries are attracting new consumers by the day. But how much do these new cannabis users know about the products they use?

With the wave of cannabis legalization across North America over the last couple of years and the explosion of the CBD industry, cannabinoid-infused products are now everywhere. 

With taboos crumbling, more and more North Americans are willing to experiment with cannabis. But how much does the average cannabis consumer know about the products they’re using?

Spoiler alert: it turns out, not much. 

Scientists at Ontario’s University of Waterloo recently took on the job of quantifying just how knowledgeable North American cannabis users are about the cannabis products they are using.  And just to be clear, we’re not talking here about the mislabeling of products. That is a separate issue, also endemic to the industry. But these researchers weren’t testing the products for cannabinoid potency at all. They were simply trying to find out what kinds of questions a cannabis consumer could answer about the products they use.

To find out, researchers collected data over a two-month period from cannabis consumers in three different regions: in Canada, prior to the legalization of recreational cannabis, in U.S. states in which recreational cannabis was prohibited, and in U.S. states with legalized nonmedical cannabis.

The results of all that data collection and analysis were a bit depressing for those who care about informed cannabis usage. 

Few studies have examined the accuracy of self-reported THC or CBD levels, but according to these survey results, many North American cannabis consumers have little idea how much THC or CBD they take.

In fact, all manner of confusion was on display. Only 10% of dried cannabis users could say how much THC their products contained – and less than one-third of all consumers were able to identify the CBD and THC levels of their products. 

Additionally, of those who did report CBD and THC levels, many consumers reported what researchers saw as implausible amounts of THC (over 30%) or CBD (more than 20%). There was also clear confusion over the appropriate units of measurement, with consumers reporting levels of THC in milligrams (rather than grams).

So why does this matter?

After all, if people are experiencing benefits from a product, does their ability to cite the exact ratio of CBD to THC diminish the effects? 

Well, possibly not. But consider what happens when a consumer tries to replicate the benefit with a different product. If you have little idea how much CBD or THC you have been ingesting, how can you possibly hope to experience similar benefits? How can you even know what cannabinoid was more helpful? How can you experiment with different levels of cannabinoids? 

Also, how can you report to a doctor or medical professional what you are using – and what has or has not worked for you, if you simply don’t know?

Clearly, when it comes to cannabis medicine, knowledge is power for the consumer. 

Secondly, and perhaps with greater impact on the scientific community, there are currently many cannabis studies that literally rely on accurate self-reporting of cannabis use. That is, there are studies that require a cannabis consumer to accurately report what kind of cannabis product they are using, and describe THC or CBD levels. 

The authors of this study point out that this is clearly a real limitation for cannabis research at present if most users really don’t know what they use:

“The current study casts doubt on the validity of self-reported cannabinoid levels in cannabis products. Between one-fifth and one-half of consumers were unable to report even a descriptive ratio of THC and CBD for their usual cannabis product.” 

Perhaps some of this lack of information may due to a burgeoning market combined with recent legalization. After all, the study does find that “consumers who use cannabis products more frequently were more likely to report THC:CBD ratios and to report THC levels within a valid range, similar to previous studies.”

Either way, the study illustrates that there is a real need for better consumer education around CBD and THC levels – and perhaps some research into the best way to label products for consumers. 

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