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The Importance of Heavy Metal Testing in CBD Products

The Importance of Heavy Metal Testing in CBD Products

Historically, the cannabis industry has always been either poorly regulated or entirely unregulated. With no strict rules in place, companies neglect to take safety and purity as seriously as they should have. However, cannabis is only healthy if the soil it is planted in is healthy and is only safe to use if dangerous substances haven’t contaminated it. Because of this, testing is an essential part of the cannabis industry. 

Both potency and purity testing are a vital part of regulation in the cannabis industry in order for it to continue to flourish. However, while manufacturers and sellers often test for potency to ensure correct labelling, they fail to consider purity. As a result, heavy metals and other dangerous substances have been found in CBD products. Read on to discover what heavy metals are, how they affect cannabis, and why heavy metal testing is so important in cannabis products.

What Are Heavy Metals?

Heavy metals are naturally occurring metallic elements that have a high density. They’re present in the Earth’s crust and have always been found in soil. However, soil pollution has significantly worsen with rapid climate change, mining, and industrial agriculture. Human activity has increased the amount of heavy metals found in the soil, and they are now making their way into the food chain. 

Some heavy metals like zinc and magnesium can actually be beneficial. However, in high concentrations, these elements can be extremely dangerous and toxic. 

How Heavy Metals Get Into Cannabis

Pollution, contaminated water, pesticides, and inorganic fertilisers are all causes of heavy metal contamination. When vegetables, fruits, and cannabis are grown in such soil, they’re contaminated with high heavy metal levels that can be dangerous for human beings to consume.

Cannabis and hemp are especially vulnerable to heavy metal contamination because they’re phytoremediators or bioaccumulators. While all plants absorb chemicals and heavy metals from the soil, cannabis is especially good at it and is often used to clean contaminated soil. While this aspect is great when it comes to decontaminating soil, it is a huge problem when growing cannabis for human use.

When cannabis is grown for CBD extraction, it is no longer simply a plant. In fact, according to the FSA, it is a novel food. As such, it is subject to the same regulations and testing and needs to be thoroughly checked by third-party independent laboratories to ensure that it is safe for use.

Heavy Metals in CBD Products

Cannabis has largely been an unregulated industry. Testing has not always been mandatory, and thus, unethical companies have been taking advantage of this and producing products that are not safe for human use. 

However, recently, the industry has made great strides in regulation. In the UK, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) requires Novel Food Applications so that CBD products have pre-market authorisation. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has also deemed CBD a novel food in the European Union and requires regulatory testing and approval before sale.

Because of these regulations, there is now more emphasis on testing and analysis. A study published in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research analysed 29 CBD products widely available in the UK. The study used inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry to test for heavy metals. While it did not find any mercury or cadmium, it found small amounts of lead and arsenic in some products.

Additionally, not all products are even tested for such impurities. According to an industry report that reviewed 2946 different CBD products, 25% of the 136 brands reviewed didn’t conduct any purity testing. Only 13% of the brands thoroughly tested their products for pesticides, microbial content, and heavy metals. 

The Importance of Heavy Metal Testing

Heavy metal poisoning can occur in two main forms: acute and chronic heavy metal poisoning. While the former occurs from a single potent dose and results in vomiting, headaches, and even loss of consciousness, the latter builds up over time. This is why even small amounts of heavy metals are dangerous. When they build up in the body, people can suffer from fatigue, headaches, and aching joints. The following are the main heavy metals that testing looks out for. Mercury, lead, arsenic, and cadmium are damaging, even in small amounts. They accumulate over time and become an even bigger concern.


Cadmium is highly toxic, and exposure to this compound is responsible for bone, lung, and kidney disease and neurological and reproductive issues.


Arsenic is poisonous, with prolonged, chronic exposure resulting in cancer and heart disease. It has the ability to affect all major organs by inducing cell death. 


Lead is toxic, and there is no safe amount of lead exposure. Both, inhaling and swallowing lead is dangerous as the substance can affect major organs such as the heart, kidneys, and brain. High exposure to lead can result in organ failure.


Mercury exposure can occur through the skin or through consumption. Both are extremely dangerous, and even small amounts of the substance can lead to loss of memory, loss of coordination, and substantial harm to the heart, lungs, brain, and immune system. 

With CBD becoming such a popular way to treat both physical and mental illnesses, it’s integral to ensure that testing is carried out to ensure that these products are safe. This is particularly concerning for those who use CBD to find pain relief from severe diseases like epilepsy and cancer. In some cases, even children are using CBD products. 

To ensure safety for all parties and prevent the damaging effects of heavy metals like mercury, cadmium, arsenic, and lead, independent third-party testing for both potency and purity should be mandatory for all CBD products. It is only then that consumers can guarantee that they’re getting what they’re paying for with respect to safety and quality. 

IFS Laboratories: UKAS-Accredited CBD Testing

With new regulations and policies, CBD is being tested for safety and potency before it is sold to the general public. However, not all testing is created equal. Some methods are more effective than others, especially when it comes to detecting trace amounts of substances. That’s why it’s integral to use a well-respected and accredited laboratory for your third-party independent testing needs.

At IFS Laboratories, we use Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS) for elemental analysis to detect the smallest amounts of heavy metals. According to the Cannabis Industry Journal, ICP-MS is the gold standard in testing for heavy metals. While there are other ways to test for heavy metals, ICP-MS is the most sensitive and thorough test for this analysis.

Whether it’s an oil, tincture, food supplement, cream, lotion, or balm, send us 1g/1ml of the substance, and we can help you with not only heavy metal testing but all types of CBD testing, including cannabinoid profiling, terpene analysis, residual solvents, stability testing, and more. Reach out to us here for more information.