How Safe Is Your Infused Chocolate Bar?

Do you know what's in your cannabis-infused chocolates?
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What's In Your Chocolate Bar?

For many chocolate lovers, the only thing better than a mouthful of dark, rich, decadent chocolate is when that chunk of candy nirvana is infused with cannabis.

Except when it isn’t.

In a trend that dismays us but demands reporting, labs across the country are finding that chocolate interferes with tests for cannabis potency. At the fall 2019 national meeting of the American Chemical Society, Dr. David Dawson, chemist and lead researcher at CW Analytical in Oakland, California, called out cannabis-laced chocolate as one of the more difficult foods to test because “it’s a veritable organic soup of compounds.” Researchers suspect it may have something to do with the chocolate’s high fats effectively camouflaging the THC.

The implications for cocoa fiends are nothing short of an existential crisis. A product labeled as having only 8 or 10mg of THC could contain much more, potentially ending in a green out—smoker speak for a state of heightened anxiety. 

Jeffrey C. Raber, Ph.D., CEO and CVO of the Werc Shop, an analytical testing laboratory for cannabis products in Los Angeles, explains. “If the chocolate manufacturer said it’s 10mg per unit, and the lab says it’s seven, then depending at what stage the lab caught it, the manufacturer may just relabel it as seven and send it out to the marketplace, because they don’t want to trash the batch.

“Or they may think they need to make it stronger. If they add more, they might end up with 13 or 14mg in the end product, but label it as 10. So now you can have mislabeling and mis-dosing.”

Even 1mg more or less than advertised can send unwary consumers flying high into a cerebral La La Land. That’s why the “Golden Rule” of edibles—start low and go slow—came into being. Because of the way edibles are metabolized, those who indulge might have to wait anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours for their desired results to take effect.

Why so long? One reason is edibles pass through the stomach and are metabolized by the liver. In doing so, the THC is converted into 11-hydroxy-THC, which is notoriously effective at sneaking across the blood-brain barrier, resulting in a more intense high. Inhaled THC travels directly to the brain without being converted to 11-hydroxy-THC, which is why the effects of smoked or vaped cannabis happen faster and then fade quickly. 

Related: CBD Chocolates to Calm Your Nerves

Exact, step-by-step testing protocols are still being established. “Cannabis is complex,” Dr. Raber says. “With all these derivative products, it will take time until everybody has harmonized and established protocols” for isolating potency-skewing variables. 

That’s why you should nibble a bit less than the amount you think will deliver the proper dose; wait and assess for two hours; then eat more as desired. Reliable brands should be fine, but if you want to be extra cautious check the Certificate of Analysis (COA) and follow the golden rule when sampling new batches. 

For those who inadvertently overindulge, Dr. Raber has this advice: “Try to relax and be calm, and know that time is your friend. Your body will metabolize it and you will be okay. If you can go to sleep because you’re feeling drowsy, that would be fantastic. Relax as much as possible and know that it’s just going to be a matter of time.” 

Seattle fitness instructor Reeann T., who asked that her last name not be used, is one of those accidental overeaters. She spent 30 minutes curled up on her bed after eating too much of a pot-chocolate bar. “The room was spinning,” recalled Reeann, who had been eating cannabis-infused chocolate for two months to manage her pain. “I knew I wasn’t in danger. However, I didn’t like that feeling. So, I had to come to a calm state and not panic. I laid down, and I just had to wait it out. It took about a half-hour to 45 minutes.”

What's In This CBD?

Why you should care, and how to read the fine print of a COA

When you buy beer, do you worry about the stated alcohol content? Or that your brew may contain toxins? Of course not. There are regulations, inspection protocols, and a century-old industrial process that guarantees a safe, homogenous product.

Until similar safeguards exist for CBD, there is a tool consumers can use to separate reliable cannabis from untested, potentially unsafe goods: a Certificate of Analysis (COA). 

To measure CBD/THC levels and validate ingredients, reputable brands submit samples to independent labs. The jargon-filled reports, called COAs, provide measurements of cannabinoids, vitamins, heavy metals, and pesticides.

It’s standard practice for brands to require COAs from hemp oil manufacturers to make sure they’re getting what they pay for and can blend correct ratios into their products. Every batch of oil is different and needs to be authenticated.

Before offering their oil for sale, responsible extractors test their plants in the field, after curing, and before blending to make sure THC levels are low enough (less than .3%) to be legal. They will typically do one full workup per lot of flower and multiple tests before and after blending.

The Supplement Facts on a product label are pulled from testing, but it’s worth diving deeper into the COA (usually accessed via QR code). The first thing to verify: 

(1) That the company performing the test wasn’t the company making the product.

COAs are typically divided into two columns. Scan the left side to find THC (2) and verify it’s under the 0.3% permitted by law. Then check the CBD levels (3) to make sure they match the potency (%) and amount (mg) listed on the label.

In the right column, you’ll find a terpene readout (4). As you become more sophisticated and selective in your cannabis consumption, you’ll start basing purchases on the terpene profile. Maybe you’ll want the mood-lifting benefits of limonene or the insomnia relief of myrcene.

certificate of Analysis

Below these figures are results on heavy metals and pesticides (not shown below). Check these to verify that the product satisfied the safety limits set by the state where the testing was done. (Most states are following the FDA’s recommendations for contaminants in food products.)

“Pass” means the product contains amounts under acceptable levels. A blank cell in that column indicates that there was no trace of any contaminant. “No Pass” means, well, don’t buy this product.

Trustworthy Chocolates

Three chocolates with cannabis content that consistently matches their labels:

1. Bhang Full-Spectrum CBD Dark Chocolate Bar : This award-winning bar features bold, rich South American chocolate paired with full-spectrum, U.S.-grown hemp oil. Each bar is divided into 10 squares for easy dosing. $18,125mg, bhangcbd.com

2. Kiva Confections Dark Chocolate Ginger: This 1:1 CBD-to-THC bar combines 100mg CBD with 100mg THC for a calm and relaxing high. Each bar comes with 20 servings of 5mg CBD:5mg THC. Nibble slowly on the unique fusion of ginger, dark chocolate, and cannabinoids derived from California-grown cannabis. Available only in California. $30–$33, kivaconfections.com

3. Venice Cookie Company The Chipster : These chocolate chip cookies feature chewy cranberries and a touch of sea salt in a 4:1 ratio of CBD to THC, or 100mg:25mg THC. Ten cookies per bag, Available only in California. $20–$23, vccbrands.com