Pesticides, Cannabis, And Canadian Regulations

Posted on May 19, 2021

cannabis farm using pesticides in production

Are Pesticides Used in Cannabis Production?

Much like the farming industry, the Cannabis sector has a bit of a pest problem. In an effort to fight off these pests, growers in Canada use a variety of methods, some of which include the use of chemical agents known as pesticides. Within Canada, pesticides are common across almost all sectors with many being commercially available. Their use is closely regulated by both the federal and provincial governments. With the large number and diversity of approved pesticides comes a unique challenge for testing facilities and regulators alike. Laboratories (like us!) need to know which pesticides they should be looking for in a product, primarily targeting those that are consistently used or especially toxic.

Thankfully, CARO’s team of scientists are no strangers to pesticide detection. As of this writing, we actively test for over 300 pesticides in Canada’s food, water, and natural environment, so we’re a great source of information for those in need of answers. If you ever have a question or concern regarding pesticides in cannabis, drop us a quick message and our dedicated team of charismatic scientists will be able to assist you.

Who Decides Which Pesticides to Monitor in Cannabis? 

Most often Federal regulators are tasked with creating a target list that specifies the pesticides to be monitored in cannabis and cannabis products being produced and sold in their countries. To keep things interesting, these lists are constantly changing, as more pesticides are brought into the market and novel solutions to the pest problem are implemented. Governments around the world vary in their approach to creating these lists, so it is no surprise that you often come across drastically different lists.

Understandably, the hunt for clarification on what pesticides to monitor is an ongoing challenge, and how much is “too much” can be confusing. As mentioned above, with no universal list to pull from, countries rely on their governing bodies to create and regulate their own lists. For example, the list approved by Health Canada (96 pesticides), may differ from the list approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S., and is a snapshot of the more than 300 pesticides that are closely regulated in other countries.

What is the Maximum Residue Limit (MRL) for a Pesticide?

MRLs reflect the maximum amount of a target compound allowed to exist in the tested product.  MRLs are determined from research on the health effects of pesticide exposure. A low-level exposure to a very toxic pesticide may be more dangerous than a high exposure to a relatively low toxicity pesticide. Every pesticide that comes onto the market for use is assessed for toxicity by governing bodies and will be registered for use only if the estimated exposure presents minimal or no cause for concern.

As there are many cannabis products on the market and a variety of ways the products can be consumed (eaten, drank, inhaled, or applied to the skin), exposure to pesticides may differ from product to product.  As a result, maximum pesticide limits may not be the same across all cannabis products. It is important to know the limits for each of the individual products you are manufacturing, to ensure that your end-product complies with the aforementioned limits.

Not sure where to start? Our team has been supporting Licensed Producers in Canada through accredited testing since the legalization of Cannabis in the Country in 2018, and we’re always happy to share what we know.

What About the Minimum: Why Can’t You Just Report Zero?

In analytical chemistry, we are always chasing that elusive zero, but there are limits that prevent us from ever being able to see nothing with absolute confidence. Every testing instrument and technique will have a limit to what it can detect, or a limit at which instrument noise or matrix background obscures our ability to resolve the analyte of interest.  Another challenge with accuracy that relates specifically to cannabis and cannabis-related products is how ubiquitous pesticides and cannabis compounds are. The more sensitive our instruments become at detecting compounds, the more of these background, long-life pesticides will be found. The question is, what are the health implications, if any, of inhaling or consuming pesticides at such a low level?  While the analytical industry will always drive towards the lowest possible detection limit (it’s in our nature!), what are the real-world implications of being able to see almost everything to almost zero?

What Does the Future Hold for Pesticide Regulation in Canada?

It is hard to say what the future will hold, as it is possible the prohibited use of pesticides on cannabis in Canada may not last forever. Either way, it will always be important for cannabis and cannabis products to be routinely analyzed for pesticide content at an accredited laboratory before any batch or lot is sold.  If you are approaching a new market and are faced with a list of pesticides that appears insurmountable, reach out to the scientists at CARO; we have the experience and enthusiasm to take on any challenge!

To learn more about CARO’s pesticide testing capabilities, connect with our team of experts today.


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