A Guide to Reading Marijuana Labels

pill bottle of marijuana with label not visible

Marijuana labels exist to provide transparency and protect the cannabis consumer from the often overwhelming effects of certain cannabinoids like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). State regulators enact marijuana packaging laws to prevent unwitting adults or children from accidentally consuming a seemingly normal-looking product laced with weed.



Many cannabis consumers have become accustomed to the ever-present marijuana label affixed to all cannabis products, but first-timers might not be so well-versed in the nuances of reading marijuana labels. Understanding marijuana labels is the first step toward making an informed purchasing decision.

Marijuana Packaging and Labels

cinnamon marijuana cookie with label
Editorial credit: Dan Holm / Shutterstock.com
Standard regulations for marijuana packaging and labeling would be easier to decipher than the current hodgepodge of laws. For the moment, each state has its own marijuana packaging laws. Generally, packaging laws require manufacturers to secure and seal their products in a tamper and child-proof container. Some of the most common tamper-proof containers include:

  • Push-and-turn caps
  • Pinch-and-slide mylar bags

Labeling requirements vary by cannabis products. For example, flower, edible, and tincture labels will have some minor differences. Labels will feature dosage information, cannabinoid concentration, ingredients, lab testing date, and more. Many states also have restrictions on using images that appeal to children. In some states, manufacturers can't use cartoon characters or any other reference on marijuana labels that might appeal to children.

Marijuana Label Regulations Vary by State

bottle of marijuana on wood table

Every state with medical or recreational marijuana laws has its own unique set of packaging and labeling laws. Manufacturers are required to adhere to every regulation to remain compliant or risk losing their license.

As these laws change, cannabis companies must adjust their labels to comply with all the new rules. For example, most states require products to be packaged in an opaque and tamper-proof container. California, for example, has specific requirements for the font size of the text.

How to Read Marijuana Labels

cannabis buds on top of each other on a table showing strains that might show benefits of medical marijuana for parkinson's

There is no standard marijuana label for all products. Marijuana labels will usually come in sticker form and contain vital information to guide your purchasing decision. Some states' marijuana labels will have more information than others. For example, some states require third-party lab testing for contaminants. Others states do not, leaving medical consumers vulnerable to untested products.

Flower

Cannabis flower bud labels will have the strain and grower's name, whether it's an indica or sativa, lab testing date, lab name and information, cannabinoid content, harvest dates, and, sometimes, terpene levels. Some flower products will also have a batch ID to trace its origin and usable marijuana weight to avoid selling over the legal limit.

Flower potency can range anywhere from 5 to 25% with some strains reaching up to 30% THC. Strains with higher than 1% cannabidiol (CBD) have been reported to mitigate THC's negative side effects. If THC makes you feel paranoid, opt for CBD-rich strains.

Confused about whether to get sativa, indica, or hybrid strains? Many consumers have reported feeling energized with sativas, relaxed with indicas, and a balanced mind and body buzz from hybrids. Keep in mind, everybody reacts differently to cannabis.

Edibles

Like cannabis flower, edibles feature similar marijuana labeling information with unique additions. For example, cannabis-infused edibles will have a lot number, similar to a flower's batch ID, to be used in case of a product recall. Edibles will also show an expiration date and nutritional facts, which are helpful for consumers needing a certain serving size or those with food allergies.

New users are advised to start with a low dose, which is around 2.5 milligrams. Edible labels may also indicate a dosage amount per single serving, which can be around 10mg per dose. After your first dose, wait at least 2 hours to take additional doses to gauge its effects.

Tinctures

Tinctures are cannabis concentrates that can be added into food and drinks or applied under the tongue for rapid absorption rates. Like edibles, tinctures will feature nutritional facts to show what ingredients were used. A tincture's potency is shown as milligrams.

A marijuana label will show how much THC, CBD, or other cannabinoid is present. Because many consumers microdose tinctures, manufacturers will include the dosage amount per drop to give users a better idea of how much they should take.

Cannabinoid Content

After potency testing, marijuana strains will have a percentage of total THC present. Total THC represents the amount of THC available in the strain that can be consumed. The higher the total THC percentage, the higher you will get. The presence of CBD and other cannabinoids can also affect the experience.

THCA

Marijuana labels will show the percentage of THC and THCA, two closely related compounds. Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) is the raw and non-intoxicating acid form of THC. Only after a heating process called decarboxylation does THCA convert to the psychotropic THC.

THC

Marijuana labels will also include the THC percentage. After harvest, the cannabis drying and curing process naturally converts some THCA into THC. THC percentages may seem low, but the total THC is what you should be looking for. Many companies will include just one number for the total THC amount.

CBD and CBDA

Just like total THC percentages, total CBD percentages encompass the amount of decarbed CBD and raw CBDA found in the strain. Both CBD and CBDA are non-intoxicating. Look for total CBD content to gauge its effects.

Minor Cannabinoids

CBD and THC are the most commonly found cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. There are hundreds of other cannabinoids, but they are found in trace amounts. Some strains may have higher-than-normal levels of minor cannabinoids. For example, many consumers have reported that CBN, a minor compound converted from aged THC, provides sedating effects.

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Warning Labels

Now that the cannabis industry is being regulated by multiple states, marijuana labels are required to prominently display various warning labels to protect children and adults alike. States like California require products to display the Proposition 65 warning label for products that could potentially cause cancer.

Because of its highly intoxicating nature, cannabis products require warning labels to keep the product away from children and pets. Warning labels also suggest not operating heavy machinery while under the influence. Many states have adopted a bright universal warning symbol with specific size requirements denoting a product that contains cannabis and THC.

THC and CBD Ratios

Cannabis products can contain just one cannabinoid or the strain's entire cannabinoid profile. Products like CBD crystals or THC distillate will feature only just one cannabinoid, while full-spectrum products will contain a ratio of THC and CBD cannabinoids, the most common cannabinoids present in the plant.

Products that contain both THC and CBD levels will be expressed in a ratio to help customers determine their effects. Products with a higher ratio of THC to CBD is said to provide increased psychotropic effects, while a higher ratio of CBD to THC is said to provide a more balanced and clear-headed high, according to cannabis consumers.

Lab Testing

States that require lab testing also require manufacturers to include information about the product's lab test. For one, the label should include the testing date. Some labels will explicitly state the number of pesticides, mold, or other contaminants present. States have differing cut-off levels for pesticides and other contaminants.

Many states will simply state if the product passed the lab testing. Passing a test doesn't mean that the product is pesticide-free. It just means that the product contained below the maximum amount of pesticides allowed. Microbiology tests ensure the strains are free from mold and mildew as well as other bacteria. Some tests will also indicate the presence of residual solvents used in making cannabis concentrates.

Marijuana labels can be intimidating to decipher for new cannabis consumers. It can be nerve-wracking trying to figure out everything when there's a long line behind you at the dispensary. In order to make the best purchasing decision, consider reading up on your state's specific marijuana labeling laws to ensure you don't have a bad trip.

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