A Comprehensive Guide to Cannabis Testing in Canada

February 2, 2023

The Cannabis Act of 2018 has allowed restrictive possession and usage of cannabis to adults above 18 years of age in Canada. The age and possession limits are very strict, and if a person is non-compliant, there are severe repercussions including a jail term. 

The legal clauses in the act are intended to protect public health and safeguard youth from the hazards of substance abuse. It is the legislative measure to disallow people from succumbing to addiction to cannabis for recreational purposes. 

As an addendum, public health education efforts to raise awareness about the ill effects and de-addiction measures are underway in every province of the country. 

Though cannabis and hemp come from the same plant Cannabis Sativa, there is a difference in the concentration level of THC between the two plants. The cultivation, processing, and sale of hemp products have been legal in Canada since 1998 as per the Cannabis Act. The rules set by Health Canada govern the industrial hemp regulations. 

Regulatory Limitations and Rules for Cannabis

Concentration Limits

As per the regulatory authority for food and drug permits Health Canada, the limit for the psychoactive compound THC along with a combined limit of THCA is less than 0.3% on a dry weight basis for a strain to be classified as hemp. Any amount beyond that will not be considered hemp.

The Possession Limit for a Non-medical Purpose

An adult over 18 years can possess up to 30 grams of cannabis for non-medical or recreational purposes at a time in a public place. Cannabis cannot be sold to minors. 

Any limit above the stipulation and the act of selling cannabis to a minor will attract penalties and legal punishment as prescribed by the provincial rules and regulations of Canada. The fine can be anywhere between 200-20000 Canadian dollars. 

Possession Limits Medical Purposes

Patients who register with federal agencies Health Canada can legally possess cannabis for medical purposes. Without registration, it is not permissible to possess more than the 30 grams limit allowed for every adult in a public place. In addition to the public possession limit, a person registered as a patient who can possess cannabis for medical reasons is allowed less than 150 grams or 30 days’ supply of dry cannabis or its equivalent. 

Edible Cannabis 

The maximum limit of use of cannabis per one unit of the package is 10mg. The use of natural caffeine found in chocolates is permitted in edible cannabis, but it cannot be combined with coffee. Edible cannabis cannot fortify vitamins or minerals, and only food or food preservatives can be added to edible cannabis products. 

Testing Requirements

Though the rules of using cannabis for medical and recreational purposes have been recently modified, it is still treated as substance material that can be abused and has deep psychological and social implications. 

This is the reason the potency limit of THC concentration has to be measured for cannabis plant grower who is interested in marketing only hemp and not manufacturing it for consumption as cannabis. There is a necessity to use a third-party quality control testing facility so that the credibility of the product can be established. 

Other important factors like contamination levels of a food-grade product also need to be tested for samples of cannabis and CBD products to be assumed as safe products for human and pet consumption. 

Different Parameters Tested for Cannabis and Hemp

Potency Test

This test will determine the concentration levels of different psychoactive and non-psychoactive elements like THC, CBD, and CBD. This determination is also important as the poor storage conditions will lead to deterioration of the levels of these compounds in the product and will not be purposeful for a medical patient who is using them as a prescription drug. 

One of the most recommended methods of testing for potency is by using high-performance liquid chromatography and gas chromatography. Here, each component of the mixture is determined through the frequency of its movement and identified separately with the concentration level. Though gas chromatography is less expensive, it uses a method of derivatization that is not acceptable for edible cannabis products. 


The presence of terpenes gives any product a distinctive smell. It is found in higher concentrations in plants with distinctive smells such as lavender, rosemary, sage, and citrus plants. Though there are no conclusive studies, terpenes are believed to influence the effect of the cannabinoid in a particular strain or product. 

Determining terpenes is challenging as structurally they are non-polar and many isomers exist in the compound. Thus determining one element from the other through testing is a challenge. Using a full evaporation technique or FET and headspace or HS, terpenes in a cannabis compound are determined. Citrus smells are preferred for topical application and massage oils containing CBD. 

Microbial Contamination

Any plant-based item that has to be dried and stored will go through microbial contamination that can spoil the entire product and render it harmful for human consumption. Bacteria like E Coli, salmonella and mold, yeast, and fungal contamination can induce severe illness. It can be catastrophic for patients who may already have immune compromised issues. 

Testing for the presence of microorganisms through quantitative polymerase chain reaction will help determine the presence of pathogens before marking a product safe to use. 

Heavy Metals

The presence of heavy metals in the soil where cannabis is grown usually is ingested by the plant through its root absorption system. The presence of heavy metals like mercury, lead, and cadmium is tested using optical emission spectrometry


Residual pesticides that are not removed through watering before harvesting will be dangerous for consumption and can impact human health adversely. Chlorinated and chelated chemicals from pesticides are determined using gas chromatography.


There is wide advocacy to legalize cannabis in more parts of the world and soon this will be the source to treat some hard-to-treat critical illnesses like epilepsy and cancer. However, to maintain public safety, growers and processing units have to get their products tested through different stages of hemp and cannabis processing to stay compliant with the regulations.

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