How to Read a Marijuana Label

Recreational marijuana in Washington is sold in packages of plastic, metal, and layers of red tape from state laws that frequently change. One example of these laws can be found in the stickers and labels affixed to many marijuana products. While these labels contain valuable information for marijuana customers, not all the information is easy to understand right away, so we offer these guidelines:

Labels are not Nutrition Facts

Unlike the Nutrition Facts labels that adorn the sides of most food products, the sticker labels on marijuana products in Washington have no format or style guidelines to follow, said Brandon Caffrey, CEO of Creekside Cannabis. The packaging or stickers must, however, include information such as:

- Product weight.

- The selling retailer's name.

- The UBI of the originating business.

- The concentration of THC and CBD in the product.

- Pesticides used in the production.

Why stickers?

The use of stickers is specifically outlined in Washington Administrative Code 314-55-105, which establishes rules for labeling of marijuana packaging. In part, the code states that, "all marijuana and marijuana products when sold at retail must include accompanying material that is attached to the package or is given separately to the consumer."

What are THC and CBD?

Strains of marijuana affect the body in different ways based on their chemical composition. For instance, a marijuana product with high levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and low levels of CBD (cannabidiol) will tend to deliver more psychoactive effects on a consumer, while a low-THC and high-CBD marijuana product will provide a more mellow experience.

While marijuana package labels inform customers of these chemical compositions, the information is not always explained the same way. For instance, raw flower products will have active ingredients labeled in percentages, while products derived from marijuana concentrate, such as edibles and topicals, will list the information in milligrams.

THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and THC-A (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid)

As the active ingredient in marijuana, the percentage of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is often used to gauge the "potency." Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board spokesman Brian Smith described 20 percent THC as very potent marijuana for getting high.

Often described as the active ingredient in marijuana, THC causes psychoactive cerebral and bodily effects. Marijuana plants do not contain raw THC, but a slightly different compound known as THC-A: tetrahydrocannabinolic acid. As Jeff Clemens, the director of IT at marijuana testing lab Analytical 360, explained, THC is produced when THC-A is heated or smoked, but THC-A itself is not psychoactive at all.

While sativa marijuana plants tend to have higher levels of THC than indicas, Heather Manus, a Registered Nurse and board member of the American Cannabis Nurses Association, stressed that the difference between sativas and indicas means less than it once did because of so many hybrid varieties.

CBD (cannabidiol) and CBD-A (cannabidiolic acid)

Those in search of marijuana products for pain relief might prefer products with higher levels of CBD, which produces a high that is generally not psychoactive and has more mellowing effects on users, according to the BelMar Bellevue Marijuana Store. "If you had something that was high in CBD and very, very low in THC, you wouldn't get high," Smith added.

Higher levels of CBD tend to be found in indica marijuana plants, and like THC, CBD comes in an acid form called CBD-A, which becomes CBD when heated, Clemens said.

Recreational or medical purposes

Customers who seek a recreational experience with marijuana need only pay attention to the levels of THC in their products, Clemens said. He added that medical marijuana consumers should focus more on higher levels of CBD, but that many seek a 2:1 mix of CBD to THC for the best medical interaction.

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