Connect with us

Science & Health

Federal Science Agency Begins Selling ‘Most Carefully Quantified Cannabis Ever Sold’—For $174 A Gram



As part of an ongoing effort to help testing laboratories more reliably determine the potency and purity of marijuana and hemp, a federal science agency has begun selling packages of what it’s calling “some of the most carefully quantified cannabis ever sold.”

Picking up 4.5 grams of the stuff will cost $783, or $174 a gram—far more expensive than the cannabis that’s commercially available in states across the country.

The hemp product, sold by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), isn’t intended for consumption. Rather, it’s a tool to help labs calibrate their analyses of cannabinoids and toxic elements in both hemp and higher-THC marijuana.

“To ensure that their measurement methods are working properly, labs can analyze a bit of this material,” NIST said in a press release about its new offering, known as hemp plant reference material, or RM 8210. “If their numbers match those from NIST to within an accepted margin of error, all is well. If not, they’ll know they need to recalibrate their instruments or otherwise troubleshoot their methods.”

For just under $800, a lab receives three 1.5-gram sample packages of hemp. The samples are carefully measured by NIST for a variety of chemical components, including eight individual cannabinoids such as CBD and delta-9 THC, as well as 13 different toxic elements, like arsenic and heavy metals.

“Although this reference material is composed of hemp,” NIST said in its release, “labs can use it to validate their measurements of both hemp and marijuana, and it will help companies in the fast-growing cannabis industry and state regulators ensure that cannabis products are safe and accurately labeled.”

NIST biologist Colleen Bryan, who was part of the team the developed the reference material, said that consumers ought to be able to rely on what’s printed on product labels.

“If you buy a product that claims to have 25 milligrams of CBD per dose, you should be able to trust that number,” Bryan said, noting that some people use cannabis for medical reasons and may be particularly concerned about safety. “This reference material will help ensure that the cannabis they buy does not contain unsafe levels of toxic elements.”

While the price tag for 4.5 grams of hemp might seem eye-popping, the amount is on par with NIST’s prices for other reference material samples.

A can of “meat homogenate” (RM 1546a), for example, goes for $1,138. And a jar of slurried spinach costs $840. Soy flour? That’s $1,069 a package.

The costs reflect not the value of the materials themselves but the precision measurement that goes into determining their contents.

“Reference materials take years to develop and characterize,” Walter Brent Wilson, a NIST research scientist, told Marijuana Moment in a statement. “Time-consuming and costly contributions include measuring to ensure that the material is homogeneous and stable and measuring the constituent compounds and chemicals.”

“It is important to note, even with the even with the high cost, that NIST reference materials are not sold for a profit but only to recover the costs incurred from development and characterization,” he added.

To decrease any degradation in the material, such as decarboxylation, Wilson continued, samples are also stored at -20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit) and monitored for stability, with documentation maintained throughout the lifetime of the material.

Entire businesses can hinge on ensuring that laboratories’ measurements hold up to scrutiny.

“A farmer’s crop or a company’s product can be seized or potentially destroyed if it turns out to be a ‘hot’ material, so it’s important to make the correct determination,” Wilson said in the release. Under federal law, any cannabis with more than 0.3 percent THC remains illegal. Under that threshold, the plant is considered legal hemp.

Already many products sold as hemp meet the federal definition of marijuana. A NIST analysis earlier this year found that the vast majority of smokable hemp product samples–about 93 percent—contained more than 0.3 percent THC.

Overall, NIST produces more than 1,000 product reference samples, which laboratories use “all the time” to ensure accurate product and safety information.

“Reference materials such as peanut butter, spinach and infant formula are used to ensure food safety and accurate nutrition labels,” NIST said. “You can trust the results of your blood test because of NIST reference materials such as cholesterol, glucose and vitamin D. Environmental contaminants, atmospheric gases, construction materials—the list goes on and on.”

The new hemp sample is part of NIST’s ongoing cannabis research program, which also includes the agency’s so-called Cannabis Laboratory Quality Assistance Program (CannaQAP). NIST began focusing more on cannabis testing following passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized hemp nationwide.

NIST’s CannaQAP recently released a major report on cannabinoid testing in hemp and marijuana, part of an effort at standardization that also looked at toxic elements and moisture content in cannabis.

Evaluating the precise levels of cannabinoids are especially important as hemp and marijuana markets continue to grow.

As law enforcement works to better distinguish hemp and marijuana, for instance, federally funded research published earlier this year detailed two new ways researchers say they’ve discovered to test samples.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) also recently clarified that as far as it’s concerned, the federal 0.3-percent threshold includes not only delta-9 THC itself but also the related cannabinoid THCA, which is converted into delta-9 THC when heated—a process known as decarboxylation.

Some experts have disputed DEA’s interpretation of the statute on intoxicating hemp-based cannabinoids, however. And a federal appeals court ruled in 2022 that the way that existing rules are written makes delta-8 THC exempt from control, as the law is “silent” on the minor cannabinoid while clearly legalizing hemp extracts and derivatives.

Lawmakers at the state and federal levels have also begun looking at standards for delta-8 THC, a psychoactive compound commonly derived from hemp products. Some congressional legalization, meanwhile, would ban most consumable hemp-based cannabinoid products entirely.

Some industry stakeholders have said the change could even federally criminalize CBD products because the measure would apply to all ingestible hemp products with any level of THC.

Federal Report Looks At Improving Marijuana And Hemp Testing To Detect Cannabinoids, Toxic Elements And Moisture 

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
Become a patron at Patreon!

Ben Adlin, a senior editor at Marijuana Moment, has been covering cannabis and other drug policy issues professionally since 2011. He was previously a senior news editor at Leafly, an associate editor at the Los Angeles Daily Journal and a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs. He lives in Washington State.


Marijuana News In Your Inbox

Get our daily newsletter.

Support Marijuana Moment

Marijuana News In Your Inbox


Get our daily newsletter.