PAH: This Is Why We Test Hemp & Cannabis For Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons

PAH: This Is Why We Test Hemp & Cannabis For Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons

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In the U.S, laboratories aren’t legally required to test hemp and cannabis for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). But ethically, labs have a duty to protect clients and their end users. Knowing how dangerous PAH chemicals can be, ACS tests products to be sure they’re safe to ingest. 


What are the health risks?

While the U.S. is behind in regulating PAHs in cannabis, the EU first established maximum limits for PAHs in oil-based food supplements in 2015. That’s because PAHs are known to cause cancer due to the damage they impart onto human DNA. They are extremely toxic, mutagenic, and carcinogenic, which can all lead to a variety of diseases.

At a less severe but still harmful level, PAHs can also cause extreme skin and eye irritation. PAHs are readily absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract, so customers need to be sure that the product is clean. Verified testing is the only way to guarantee that hemp and cannabis products are safe to ingest.

So what exactly are PAHs?

PAHs consist of about 500+ environmental contaminants, which can accumulate in oils. They are primarily formed by the burning of carbon-based organic matter, which can occur during industrial processes such as wood and coal combustion, as well as power generation, or through natural fires. Other sources are gasoline and diesel-powered engines. PAHs can also form during common home cooking practices like baking and frying meats at high heat.

PAHs generally occur in complex mixtures that consist of hundreds of harmful compounds. For cannabis users, the number one route of PAH ingestion is through CBD oils. However, PAHs can technically contaminate flower as well. 


How do PAHs contaminate cannabis oils?

PAHs are very soluble in organic materials and can easily contaminate cannabis plants used for extraction. According to New Food Magazine, this most likely occurs during the drying phase if the plants are exposed to smoke or dust. 

The issue with extraction is that PAHS are similar to cannabinoids–both are fat soluble. Thus, both can be extracted together from the plant material when processing it into an oil. And according to a recent study, this is extremely common.  


How common is PAH contamination in hemp and cannabis?

The University of Technology, Prague recently teamed up with the International Institute for Cannabis and Cannabinoids to study various whole plant and CBD-based oils. The results were staggering. 

Only 9 out of 29 tested CBD oils were below the legal safety limits. That means about 60 percent of the products exceeded the threshold. Conversely, the whole plant oils performed much better. 92% of cannabis oils (which the study defined as oils from cannabis seeds and not from the plant) satisfied the legal limits of PAH in foods.


What are the safety limits for PAHs in cannabis?

Currently, neither Florida nor the federal government has safety limits in place for PAHs in cannabis. But the EU does. According to the Commission Regulation in the EU, these are the following limits for the most dangerous and common PAHs in edible oil-based food supplements.. 

  • benzo (a) pyrene –  2 µg/kg
  • the sum of benzo(a)pyrene, benzo(a)anthracene, benzo(b)fluoranthene and chrysene – 10 µg/kg


How do I know if a product is safe to ingest?

Unfortunately not every company and laboratory tests for PAHs. The only way to know if a product was tested for these chemicals is to check the Certificate of Analysis (COA) and scan the document to be sure that it contains information about PAHs. If the COA does not contain any details, that means the product was not tested and should potentially be avoided. 


Why we test for PAHs

Currently, there are no legal standards related to PAH testing. However by law, all consumable products–regardless of specific requirements–must be safe to ingest. That means it’s imperative for responsible laboratories to test hemp and cannabis to be sure it is free from these dangerous chemicals. Brand reputation, cannabis industry success, and consumer health rely on it.


ACS Laboratory’s testing panel and protocol is compliant with Florida’s Hemp Program. ACS meets federal requirements by testing to the standards of Florida, the strictest state. The compliance panel consists of:  Cannabinoid Potency,  Pesticides, Residual Solvents  (unless its flower), heavy metals, mycotoxins, moisture, microbiology. Contact ACS today.


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