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Steep Hill's Top 4 Cannabis Testing Predictions for 2023

Steep Hill would like to wish everyone a happy new year! With the new year comes new opportunities for evolution in the cannabis industry, and it provides us the chance to forecast what is yet to come. Here are our top predictions for cannabis products and testing in 2023:


A woman performing lab testing, photo courtesy of jarmoluk
Photo courtesy of jarmoluk

Flower will remain the #1 product type in 2023 in terms of market share. However, we will continue to see growth in pre-rolled cannabis products, infused pre-rolls, and concentrates.


All US cannabis sales data will tell you the same thing: cannabis flower is the #1 product segment by volume in the US cannabis industry. There are many reasons for this, including that dried flower is the starting point for all other cannabis products. It can be ground up and consumed in ways that have been used for hundreds of years. Dried flower can be milled, extracted, processed, and turned into just about any other cannabis product that exists. It has been the primary mode of consumption for a long time, and humans are creatures of habit.


2022 showed that flower continued to reign supreme as the top-selling cannabis product in the overall market; flower purchases made up 61% (Rudy, 2022). This varies by state, as Alaska showed 70% flower purchases, while Oregon showed 58% (Rudy, 2022). Interestingly, 2021 showed a lower percentage of flower purchases, 59% of total sales (Rudy, 2022), which indicates an increase in flower popularity between 2021 and 2022.


However, as new products become available, the winning product formats will continue to chip away at dried cannabis’ market share. In the past few years, pre-rolled cannabis has exploded in popularity. Omar Sacirbey with MJBizDaily reports that “pre-rolls went from $406 million in sales and 7.9% market share in 2018 to $1.5 billion in sales and 12.7% market share so far in 2022” (2022). Canadian consumers take up twice as much market share as US consumers (Headset, 2022), further indicating a growing demand for pre-rolled products. Sacirbey says, “Frequent users are not replacing flower with other products but, rather, both as a stand-alone concentrate and as something infused into pre-rolls, cartridges and edibles” (2022).


There will likely be a closer look at heavy-metal testing on vape cartridges.


The lack of uniform federal regulations has allowed for varied, inconsistent state laws around cannabis safety and testing (Goldman et al., 2021). Lab testing for contaminants such as arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury are common practice. However, many other harmful heavy metals, like nickel, copper, and zinc, are not commonly tested for and have been found in vape cartridges (Bhowmik, 2022). This is because heavy metals seep from the cartridge hardware during vaporization (Afia et al., 2019), as it takes high temperatures to turn the cannabis extract into vapor form (Thomas, 2020). Consumer safety should be considered when implementing cannabis regulation because consuming these metals can be harmful. With this in mind, 2023 may show a more uniform approach to heavy-metals testing, especially in vape cartridges.


A Nikon microscope. Photo courtesy of fernandozhiminaicela
Photo courtesy of fernandozhiminaicela

As the fixation with THC potency and lab shopping continues to grow, we may see some level of state-level potency standardization roll out, despite it likely not being a silver bullet solution.


Currently, potency inflation is a huge problem. Some growers have been hand-picking cannabis testing labs known for reporting higher THC concentrations, creating an inaccurately labeled product that misleads consumers (Adams, 2022). A key reason for this is that lab testing (in many senses) is not standardized – which, as we are seeing, can lead to misuse. As 2023 progresses, we are likely to see some form of state-level standardization for cannabis testing to try and combat the issue, despite it not being a silver bullet solution to the issue. This could hopefully lead to less lab shopping and better consumer education (Schaneman, 2023).


Potency isn’t necessarily the end-all-be-all of cannabis, and potency testing standardization could help to evolve the current mindset. As Benjamin Adams reported in Forbes, we do not shop for the highest alcohol content; we shop for the alcohol that best fits our personal preferences (2022). At Steep Hill, we recognize that standardization will not fix the current issues surrounding potency testing entirely, however, we do believe that standardization will continue to be explored in 2023.


Delta-8 THC products will continue to fight the uphill battle to rival Delta-9 THC products, especially in non-legalized states.


In 2018, the U.S. government passed the farm bill. This bill legalized hemp, a cannabis plant with less than 0.3% of Delta-9 THC. However, the bill failed to consider the regulation of Delta-8 THC, a cannabinoid in hemp/cannabis that has psychoactive effects. This omission effectively made Delta-8 THC legal.


Since then, Delta-8 THC has exploded in popularity, especially in states where recreational marijuana use is illegal (Hill, 2022). A study by Livne et al. found that those who self-report the use of Delta-8 THC do so because of its legal status and supposed therapeutic effects (2022).


However, because of its rising popularity and relatively unknown nature, many states (specifically, ones where recreational cannabis use is legal) have made Delta-8 THC illegal. Eventually, we believe that as states legalize the recreational use of Delta-9 THC, the consumption of Delta-8 THC will naturally decrease, especially in newly legalized states.



As we look toward 2023, it is easy to see that this new year is promising. Although we have shortlisted a few of our top predictions above, you can expect many other significant changes to our industry in 2023!


Steep Hill is excited to continue building a community around accurate, reliable science. We offer many cannabis testing services in Arkansas, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Vermont. Contact us today for all your cannabis testing needs and sign up for our newsletter to keep up-to-date on our latest cannabis testing activities!



References:


Adams, B. (2022, August 16). Potency inflation runs rampant in cannabis industry despite measures to combat it. Forbes. Retrieved January 4, 2023, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/benjaminadams/2022/08/15/potency-inflation-runs-rampant-in-cannabis-industry-despite-measures-to-combat-it/?sh=6477c4d3e8ae


Afia, I., Weltman, R., & Boyar, K. (2019, September). Heavy metal contaminants from cannabis vaporizer cartridges: Valid ... Cannasafe. Retrieved January 5, 2023, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/336070263_Heavy_Metal_Contaminants_from_Cannabis_Vaporizer_Cartridges_Valid_Concern_or_Blowing_Smoke


Bhowmik, S. (2022, December 9). Study reveals the presence of metal particles in cannabis vape liquids. News. Retrieved January 5, 2023, from https://www.news-medical.net/news/20221209/Study-reveals-the-presence-of-metal-particles-in-cannabis-vape-liquids.aspx


Goldman, S., Bramante, J., Vrdoljak, G., Guo, W., Wang, Y., Marjanovic, O., Orlowicz, S., Lorenzo, R. D., & Noestheden, M. (2021). The analytical landscape of cannabis compliance testing. Taylor & Francis. Retrieved January 5, 2023, from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10826076.2021.1996390


Hill, D. J. (2022, January 12). Study: Users say delta-8-THC is delta-9's 'nicer younger sibling'. University at Buffalo. Retrieved January 5, 2023, from https://www.buffalo.edu/news/releases/2022/01/009.html


Livne, O., Budney, A., Borodovsky, J., Walsh, C., Shmulewitz, D., Fink, D. S., Struble, C. A., Habib, M., Aharonovich, E., & Hasin, D. S. (2022, October). Delta-8 THC use in US adults: Sociodemographic characteristics and correlates. Addictive behaviors. Retrieved January 5, 2023, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35644057/


Pre-rolls: An analysis of category trends & performance. Headset. (2022, August 2). Retrieved January 5, 2023, from https://www.headset.io/industry-reports/pre-rolls-an-analysis-of-category-trends-performance#form


Rudy, N. (2022, February 18). Top selling cannabis products: Is flower still king? Flowhub. Retrieved January 10, 2023, from https://flowhub.com/learn/top-selling-cannabis-products


Sacirbey, O. (2022, November 28). Variety of sizes, infused joints are driving growth in marijuana pre-roll sector. MJBizDaily. Retrieved January 5, 2023, from https://mjbizdaily.com/variety-of-sizes-and-infused-joints-are-driving-growth-in-the-pre-roll-sector/#:~:text=Pre%2Drolls%20went%20from%20%24406,are%20being%20spent%20on%20them.


Schaneman, B., Robertson, K., Israel, S., & Huhn, K. (2023, January 3). 10 cannabis industry trends to watch for in 2023. MJBizDaily. Retrieved January 4, 2023, from https://mjbizdaily.com/10-cannabis-industry-trends-to-watch-for-in-2023/


Thomas, R. (2021, November 16). Measurement of heavy metals in cannabis vaping aerosols: A practical assessment. European Pharmaceutical Review. Retrieved January 5, 2023, from https://www.europeanpharmaceuticalreview.com/article/151190/measurement-of-heavy-metals-in-cannabis-vaping-aerosols-a-practical-assessment/


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