The Rising Threat to the US Cannabis Industry: How THC Inflation and Laboratory Shopping are Undermining Trust

Published on: 
Cannabis Science and Technology, June 2023, Volume 6, Issue 5
Pages: 24-28

A tutorial article that delineates the rising threats of “lab shopping” and THC inflation to the US cannabis industry and proposes solutions to overcome them.

Cannabis testing labs in the US are facing the pressing concern of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) inflation. Producers are indulging in “lab shopping,” which involves engaging with laboratories that artificially inflate THC numbers. Laboratories join in to keep customers returning to them. The laboratories that uphold their scientific integrity and report true results are shutting down. The practice is undermining consumer confidence, damaging the industry’s integrity. This tutorial article delineates the rising threat to the US cannabis industry and proposes solutions to overcome them.

The legalization and decriminalization of cannabis in several states in the US has led to the meteoric rise of the cannabis industry, with industry analysts projecting that the value of the regulated cannabis market will ascend to an astounding $82.3 billion by the year 2027 (1). The impetus for this exponential expansion of the cannabis industry can be attributed to the growing societal acceptance and legalization of cannabis for both therapeutic and recreational purposes. As of April 24, 2023, 38 states, three territories, and the District of Columbia have granted legal recognition to cannabis for medical use, while 22 states have passed laws allowing its recreational use (2). This trend is poised to continue as more states come to acknowledge the manifold advantages of legalizing cannabis, including the generation of increased tax revenue, the creation of new employment opportunities, and the delivery of medicinal benefits to those in need. Moreover, the surging demand for cannabis products, such as edibles, oils, and tinctures, is serving as a powerful engine driving the growth of this industry.

The legalization of cannabis has created new possibilities and spurred a rush of exciting innovations, paving the way for an extraordinary boom in the cannabis industry. The multifaceted nature of this industry has given rise to a multitude of ventures. Whether it be the cultivation, harvesting, processing, testing, or distribution of cannabis products, there is an unending stream of business opportunities for enterprising individuals and investors who wish to capitalize on this burgeoning market. The high growth potential of this sector coupled with the significant demand for cannabis-based products ensures that the market is a hotbed of activity. The rapid influx of new players and businesses has fueled unprecedented growth, and the industry shows no signs of slowing down. The vast opportunities presented by the cannabis industry are not only limited to the aforementioned aspects of the value chain but extend to ancillary services as well. Legal and financial services, marketing, branding, and consulting are all crucial components of the industry, and a multitude of cannabis-related businesses specialize in providing these services. This multifarious industry requires the services of experts and professionals from diverse fields, thus opening up opportunities for a wide array of individuals to contribute to the growth and development of this nascent sector.

However, despite the exciting developments in the cannabis industry, it has encountered some setbacks in recent times. One such notable challenge that came to light in 2022 is the phenomenon of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) inflation, which has garnered significant attention (3). As cultivators strive to achieve the maximum possible THC concentrations in their produce, this predicament has become a major cause for worry, jeopardizing the integrity of the entire industry.

A Widely Held Misconception and the Malpractices of THC Inflation and Lab Shopping

There is a widely held belief among cannabis enthusiasts that products with higher THC levels are inherently more potent and lead to stronger effects. However, this belief is a misconception, as THC levels alone do not solely determine the overall potency of a cannabis product. To accurately assess the potency and effects of cannabis products, it is crucial to consider a variety of factors. These factors include the presence of other cannabinoids and terpenes, the method of consumption, and an individual’s metabolism and tolerance. For instance, a variety of cannabis that has reduced THC content, but elevated levels of other cannabinoids and terpenes may result in more powerful impacts compared to a variety with greater THC levels but lower levels of other compounds.

The mistaken notion that higher THC levels equate to greater potency has contributed to an increase in demand for high-THC products. This demand has resulted in producers offering incentives to laboratories that report inflated THC numbers for their products. As a result, some laboratories have engaged in a practice known as “lab shopping,” wherein they provide reports that meet the producers’ desired THC levels, rather than accurately reflecting the actual levels present in the product.

The term “THC inflation” refers to the practice of falsely elevating the reported levels of THC in a sample to indicate a higher THC concentration than the actual concentration. Strains with less than 10% of THC are classified as low THC, while those with more than 20% THC are considered high THC strains. The act of “lab shopping” arises from THC inflation, wherein dishonest manufacturers search for laboratories that boost THC levels artificially. The extent of this practice is such that certain laboratories openly advertise their services by emphasizing the elevated THC figures in their certificates of analysis (CoAs).

THC inflation and lab shopping undermine the integrity of the cannabis industry and reduce consumer trust. By working only with laboratories that give them the desired results, growers and producers can create the illusion of a higher quality product than what they actually have. This, in turn, can lead to consumers receiving products that do not meet the quality standards they are promised, which can erode trust in the industry as a whole. Moreover, it creates a situation where laboratories that strive to maintain their integrity and provide accurate testing results are unfairly disadvantaged. As a result, customers may become skeptical of all cannabis products and the entire industry may suffer.

Mitigating THC Inflation and Lab Shopping in the Cannabis Industry


Growing THC inflation is largely fueled by the absence of standardized testing protocols within the cannabis industry. As different laboratories use varying methods and equipment, the results are prone to differences in outcomes. This discrepancy is often exploited by corrupt laboratories that capitalize on the lack of standardization to report exaggerated THC values. Moreover, the possibility of manual intervention creates opportunities for such dishonest laboratories to manipulate testing outcomes and deceive regulators. To effectively combat the problem of THC inflation, it is imperative to establish a set of industry-wide standards that would eliminate these gaps in the testing process. The cannabis industry must establish a uniform standard for testing that ensures consistency and accuracy across all laboratories.

In response to the rampant issue of lab shopping, some states have attempted to adopt a uniform standard for testing. For instance, California’s cannabis regulator has made it mandatory for all laboratories in the state to conduct a standardized cannabinoid test. This test will help alleviate the crisis and guarantee that consumers are provided with precise and uniform information about the cannabinoid content of the cannabis and cannabis products they purchase or consume, as stated by the Department of Cannabis Control (4). Likewise, the cannabis regulatory body in Oregon has recently introduced a policy known as the “second lab” policy. This requires cannabis companies in the state to acknowledge that their product samples may be sent to a second laboratory, designated by the regulator, for the purpose of verifying the contents of the product. By doing so, the state regulatory authority can effectively cross-check the cannabinoid content of products and identify any discrepancies that may arise. This measure is aimed at ensuring transparency and accuracy in the cannabis industry, thus promoting consumer safety.

Another feasible solution to thwart THC inflation is to have different laboratories conduct tests on identical samples, as the variations in results among different laboratories can be instrumental in identifying and flagging inflated THC numbers. Once the potential outliers have been identified, regulators must take stringent action against laboratories that report inflated THC levels to the detriment of the industry and the consumers. This measure will aid in maintaining the integrity of the cannabis industry and ensuring that products are marketed truthfully and transparently. However, to implement such an approach, standardized guidelines for testing must be adopted and implemented to ensure the accuracy, consistency, and reliability of testing protocols. Only then can we guarantee fair play and avoid exploitative practices that may damage the cannabis industry’s reputation
and credibility.

It is also imperative to educate and inform the public about the fallacy that equates higher THC levels with increased potency. By disseminating accurate information and promoting awareness, we can combat the issue of THC potency inflation, and thereby, tackle the issue of lab shopping and curb its proliferation.

In addition, laboratories must take the initiative to pursue accreditation to the ISO/IEC 17025 standard to validate their expertise in generating reliable and trustworthy results (5). This move will not only strengthen the credibility of these laboratories but also restore faith in the legitimacy of the regulated cannabis market among consumers.

The Importance of Laboratory Software for CBD and THC Laboratories

Laboratory software for cannabidiol (CBD) and THC laboratories, also known as laboratory information management system (LIMS), is crucial for meeting the requirements of ISO/IEC 17025. This system is paramount in ensuring an added level of assurance and confidence in the accuracy of laboratory results. Laboratory software for CBD and THC laboratories automates processes through analytical instrument integration and adherence to strict quality standards, thereby reducing the potential for manual manipulation of test results (6).

Moreover, laboratory software for CBD and THC laboratories generates reports automatically, complete with scannable QR codes that can be shared with customers in real-time. By configuring the QR code, it is possible to include a link to the original CoA produced by the laboratory, which permits buyers to authenticate the reported composition on the product label by referring to the authentic test outcomes on the CoA. This fosters transparency, trust, and accountability in the cannabis industry.

Laboratory software for CBD and THC laboratories meticulously tracks and records all activities, including staff login activities, changes to documents, sample records, and test results. This comprehensive record-keeping eliminates the possibility of manual manipulation of laboratory data, further bolstering the reliability and defensibility of test results. Additionally, the system manages the results of various quality control (QC) samples to ensure accurate test results (7). It identifies analytical errors by comparing the test results of QC samples with the test samples, and this helps cannabis testing laboratories maintain high-quality standards.


The decriminalization of cannabis in multiple states across the US has propelled the cannabis industry into a meteoric rise, with the industry expected to reach a value of $82.3 billion by 2027. The surge in demand for cannabis products and the creation of new opportunities for employment and tax revenue are some of the advantages of legalizing cannabis. However, the industry has faced setbacks, including the problem of THC inflation and lab shopping. This issue is fueled by the absence of standardized testing protocols within the cannabis industry. Unscrupulous producers and laboratories exploit this discrepancy to deceive regulators and consumers. To mitigate the problem, industry-wide standards for testing must be established to ensure consistency and accuracy across all laboratories. California and Oregon have already implemented measures to tackle the issue by mandating laboratories to perform standardized tests and implementing the “second lab” policy.

The importance of regulators to enhance the accuracy and dependability of cannabis testing, along with fortifying consumer confidence, is indicative of an ambitious objective—to secure maximal profitability for the cannabis industry. As substantial amounts of capital have already been injected into the development of cannabis products, as well as the establishment of laboratories for testing, it is in the interest of growers, producers, and testing facilities alike to ensure that the actual worth of cannabis products really does align with the projected worth of the cannabis industry. Laboratories that are complicit in suspect practices must contemplate how such association harms their own repute, whilst also augmenting the risk of decertification and legal action, both of which could severely damage their economic viability during this pivotal moment for the industry. Given the number of competitors who are willing to lower their standards, the time is ripe for investment in and showcasing the quality and trustworthiness of one’s laboratory, so as to garner the trust, loyalty, and attention of reputable growers and distributors within the industry.

The cannabis industry is an exciting and innovative sector with vast opportunities for entrepreneurs and investors, but industry-wide standards must be put in place to promote consumer safety and guarantee transparency and testing accuracy.


  1. Cannabis Market, Latest Global Industry Size Forecast Report. MarketsandMarkets.
  2. State Medical Cannabis Laws (accessed May 1, 2023).
  3. Leveraging a Laboratory Information Management System for Cannabis Testing to Address THC Inflation & Lab Shopping Concerns, (accessed Apr 28, 2023).
  4. How US Cannabis Testing Laboratories Can Thrive, Despite Lab Shopping (accessed Apr 28, 2023).
  5. On-Demand Webinar: Prepare Your Lab for ISO 17025 Accreditation Using a Cannabis LIMS (accessed Apr 28, 2023).
  6. What Is A LIMS: Benefits of Using A LIMS (accessed Apr 28, 2023).
  7. Achieving Quality Analytical Testing of Cannabis Using LIMS (accessed Apr 28, 2023).

About the Author

Arun Apte is the CEO of CloudLIMS in Wilmington, Delaware. Direct correspondence to:

How to Cite this Article:

Apte, A., The Rising Threat to the US Cannabis Industry: How THC Inflation and Laboratory Shopping are Undermining Trust, Cannabis Science and Technology, 2023, 6(5), 24-28.