Dirty Industry Secrets: Diseased Cannabis Plants and Fake Lab Results

When you go to a cannabis dispensary these days, there is an expectation that everything on the shelves is safe, legitimate, and exactly as advertised. In such tightly regulated markets, with all products requiring a certain level of testing before they can be sold to consumers, there is no reason to believe that you’re buying something other than what you think you’re buying.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case anymore. As Hop Latent Viroid (HpLVd) continues to infect crops at alarmingly rapid rates, it’s becoming quite common for growers and producers to pay extra money so labs will jack up the potency numbers or even lie about the detection of contaminants. So that weed you got from your favorite shop, the stuff you thought was clean with a label that stated something like 22.14% THC; could actually have closer to 14% percent cannabinoid content and be infected with mold, pesticides, and who knows what else.

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What is hop latent viroid?

First, let’s start with what a viroid is. Viroids are infectious, pathogenic, single-stranded circular ribonucleic acids (RNAs). Although they share a similar name, viroids and viruses are not the same and there are a few crucial differences between the two. First, viruses have a protein outer coating, whereas viroids do not. Also, viroids are smaller than viruses (they are the smallest infectious agents on earth) and they can only infect plants.

It’s generally believed that viroids do not pose any risk to human health, but can be a substantial economic burden for farmers whose crops are infected. In total, it’s estimated that HpLVd is causing around $44 million dollars in annual losses; and that’s when it even gets noticed. If every single plant that was impacted by this viroid was actually thrown out, those figures would be much higher.

Hop Latent Viroid (HpLVd) is not very well known among cannabis consumers, but it has affected numerous food and beverage crops for decades and it’s been a topic of growing importance in the pot industry, especially over the last few months. If left untreated, it can cause abnormal branching, poor trichome/resin production, lower potency, poor overall quality, and reduced yield. This is known as “dudding” or “dudding disease” in cannabis plants. HpLVd can also remain asymptomatic, or dormant, in some plants for many years.

During a largescale study of marijuana and hemp farms in the United States (mostly along the west coast and Canada), nearly every garden tested positive for this viroid in some capacity. Experts believe that up to 90 percent of crops in the largest US and Canadian markets are infected.  

There are a couple different modes of introduction and transmission: mechanical spread from contaminated tools and equipment, insects like aphids or thrips, plant to plant transmission, or taking clones from infected mother plants. When it comes to HpLVd, education and prevention is key, rather than taking a wait-and-see approach and risk losing most of your plants.

According to Oscar Armando Dorantes, archaeologist and alumnus at San Diego State University who has been researching this phenomenon for almost two decades, “Crop disease in marijuana has gone unchecked for many years and the prevalence of these bad crops is rapidly becoming the norm. As early as 2004, I observed symptoms of hop latent viroid in California’s marijuana market. The dud marijuana has taken over the market and is accepted as normal now. Boomers and Gen X’ers know there is something different and wrong, but most of the younger crowd has only seen this diseased version.”

Lab testing in legal markets

Lab testing is the backbone of any legal cannabis market. All the products sold at licensed dispensaries are required to undergo testing from a “state-accredited facility” to confirm levels of cannabinoids and terpenes; as well as test for heavy metals, mycotoxins, residual pesticides, microbials, and any other unwanted contaminants.

Overall, the main purpose of lab testing is to guarantee compliance with whatever state protocols are in place governing the sale of cannabis products. Every test requires certain procedures, different equipment, and needs to be performed by a licensed and trained specialist. Not only do these lab technicians need to be knowledgeable in their field, but they should be familiar with state and local testing regulations, as they are constantly changing.

Most labs are third party companies that are accredited through a state program. All labs have certain guidelines they must abide to and specific tests they are required to perform, but there are no universal standards in place.

Payoffs and padded results

I mentioned above that HpLVd affects trichome production and potency, and that up to 90 percent of the market is infected… so how come most strains on the market, even the bottom-shelf low-budget strains, often test so high for THC levels?

“The best part of the harvest is submitted for testing and it’s only a sample of the harvest that gets evaluated during the testing process, it’s not the results of the actual cannabis in the container on the dispensary floor,” says Dorantes.

“Also, it’s been known that lab results are often padded in pay to play schemes of some labs offering better results for a higher price,” he added.

This might seem a bit shocking to some. I do believe a lot of people look at the cannabis industry through rose-colored glasses; as if those working in this sector all have your best interest in mind, or like the inudstry more close-knit than it actually is. But the reality is, when big money is on the line, you can expect something unscrupulous is going on behind the scenes.

When it comes to labs, it seems to be a dirty industry secret referred to as “lab shopping” – a shady practice in which growers and producers send their products to labs that have a reputation for inflating potency numbers and overlooking contaminants that would cause the product to fail purity tests at more reputable facilities.

Dylan Hirsch, executive vice president of Diagnostic Lab Corporation says that “Many of the labs will sometimes say they can get better results. It can be so subjective for results on THC.” Dr. Donald Land and Dr. Reggie Gaudino, two of the scientists in charge of running Berkeley’s Steep Hill Labs, one of the nation’s largest testing companies, echoed these statements. Both mentioned that their company is asked to boost potency number on a regular basis. “In almost every state we operate in we have someone approach us and say, ‘Hey, what would it take to get these numbers changed?’” Gaudino said.

The labs aren’t always to blame

It’s not always an issue of fraud, however. Guadino pointed out that Steep Hill Labs has spent millions of dollars on equipment and upgrades – a necessary financial burden for the ability to produce the most accurate results. But not all labs have the capital and many are cutting corners by using out of date equipment or questionable procedures to save money.

And sometimes, it’s not the fault of the lab at all. Some growers and manufacturers intentionally send in products different than the ones they plan on selling. They’ll send all their best, highest potency items in for testing then use the labels for other products. “There is no assurance that what the lab tested and what they are now selling to someone else is the same product,” mentioned Hirsch.

Basically, we have a whole system that’s functioning poorly and needs more oversight at multiple different levels. Some say there needs to more regulations and standardization, but there are plenty of laws and hoops that legitimate producers have to jump through already. The real issue here is implementation of these standards, a common problem in the industry already.

What’s next?

“The viroid f****d everything up,” Dorantes states bleakly. “I hypothesize it’s in many of the vape products too. From what I know, the best looking buds gets sent for packaging and the low quality left over gets turned into concentrate.  I have vaped disease-free product and its nothing like most of what you buy today.”

That being said, what’s next really depends on who you ask. For me personally, the next step is growing at home. It’s something I have been wanting to do for years and learning how widespread HpLVd is and how dishonest some of the testing facilities are, really solidified for me that now is the right time to start on that. I believe that in the coming years, as more people discover all the inconsistencies going behind the closed doors of the cannabis industry, the home cultivation sector, as well as DIY extraction, will likely explode.

It seems the only way to get anyone to take you seriously these days is by hitting them where it hurts, in the wallet. It’s not like HpLVd is some new, ambiguous problem with no known solutions. On the contrary, it’s been a thorn in the side of food farmers for ages and it’s relatively easy to control now through proper sanitation methods. The problem is getting rid of all the existing plants and clones that are infected and forcing growers to start over, as that could be devastating for their bottom line. But it’s really the only way.

Dorantes offers cultivators a few tips. “The problem is controlled and contained in the food industry because hop latent viroid affects our food farmers. The main thing to solve the problem is using purified water treated with chlorine dioxide like vegetables grower currently do, that’s known as integrated pest management, tool sanitation, and lab testing of mothers to rid of diseased plants.”

“A lot of people in the industry know about it, and it’s a dirty little secret,” he added.

Final thoughts on diseased crops and dishonest lab testing

Now that some of this unsavory information is making its way into the light, what do you, as a consumer, plan on doing? If you can’t trust the cannabis that is in circulation, or even the lab that’s supposed to be testing it for your safety, is the only logical solution to take matters into your own hands and grow your own bud? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

Hello all! Welcome to CBDtesters.co, your ultimate online destination for the most relevant and thought-provoking cannabis and psychedelics-related news globally. Read-thru the site regularly to stay on top of the constantly-moving world of legal drugs and industrial hemp, and sign up for The THC Weekly Newsletterso you never miss a thing.

DisclaimerHi, I’m a researcher and writer. All information in my articles is sourced and referenced, and all opinions stated are mine. I am not giving anyone advise, and though I am more than happy to discuss topics, should someone have a further question or concern, they should seek guidance from a relevant professional.

The post Dirty Industry Secrets: Diseased Cannabis Plants and Fake Lab Results appeared first on CBD Testers.

Hop Latent Viroid is Destroying Cannabis Crops at Alarming Rates

“Everywhere I go, I’m constantly meeting cannabis growers who are not yet aware of a widespread disease that has been appearing more and more across the United States – hop latent viroid (HpLVd),” Joseph Ramahi, Ph.D., chief science officer for Cultivaris Hemp, shared with me at an MJBizCon-related networking event. Naturally, I was curious to learn more about this potentially devastating plant pathogen that was wiping out crops in some of the nation’s largest markets… and Ramahi had much to say on the subject.

Hop Latent Viroid (HpLVd) is not very well known, but if left untreated, it can greatly reduce a crop’s yield, potency, and overall quality, resulting in roughly $44 million dollars in annual losses. During a largescale study of cannabis and hemp farms in the United States (mostly along the west coast and Canada), nearly every garden tested positive for this viroid in some capacity. Most gardens had a 25-50% infection rate, meaning that’s how many of their plants had been exposed. There a couple different modes of introduction and transmission, but once HpLVd infiltrates a garden, it can spread at an alarming rate and can be extremely difficult to eliminate. In this scenario, education and prevention is key, rather than taking a wait-and-see approach and risk losing up to half of your plants.

Cannabis is fun for sure, but it’s also very scientific. From the extensive medical research going on behind the scenes, to studies on the plant’s biology, it seems that every day we’re learning something new and exciting about cannabis. For more articles like this one, make sure to subscribe to The THC Weekly Newsletter. Also save big on Delta 8Delta 9 THCDelta-10 THCTHCOTHCVTHCP & HHC products by checking out our “Best-of” lists!


What is a Viroid?

Viroids are infectious, pathogenic, single-stranded circular ribonucleic acids (RNAs). Although commonly confused, viroids are NOT viruses. The main difference is that a virus is a small infectious agent with a protein outer coating that can only replicate inside most living cells, while a viroid does not have the protein coating and can only infect plants. All known viroids so far inhabit angiosperms (flowering plants) and most cause diseases. While these diseases doesn’t affect humans by way of causing illness, the economic impact can be substantial.

The first known viroids presented in potatoes back in the 1920s, although it wasn’t immediately known what was causing the symptoms. Initially, the tubers on affected potatoes became misshapen and elongated, and the illness was dubbed “potato spindle tuber disease.” Over the years, symptoms appeared on budded, flowering sections of various different plants. Fungus and bacteria was ruled out, but what was causing this plant disease remained a mystery.

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It wasn’t until 1971 when Theodor O. Diener, Swiss-American plant pathologist from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Research Center in Beltsville, Maryland, realized that this was not your run-of-the-mill novel pathogen. It was only 1/80th the size of a typical virus. This is when he proposed the term “viroid” to describe these extra small infectious cells.

According to Diener’s research, “Viroids are shown to consist of short stretches (a few hundred nucleobases) of single-stranded RNA and, unlike viruses, did not have a protein coat. Compared with other infectious plant pathogens, viroids are extremely small in size, ranging from 246 to 467 nucleobases; they thus consist of fewer than 10,000 atoms. In comparison, the genomes of the smallest known viruses capable of causing an infection by themselves are around 2,000 nucleobases long.”

Viroids can be transmitted in a few different ways: aphids, cross-contamination from poorly sanitized equipment, or plant to plant when the leaves of infected plants touch other plants. They replicate in the nucleus or chloroplasts of plant cells in through an RNA-based system.  

Hop Latent Viroid

Hop Latent Viroid is the infectious pathogen known for causing “dudding” or “dudding disease” in cannabis plants. A dud crop can be characterized by abnormal branching, poor trichome/resin production, lower potency and overall quality, and reduced yield. However, HpLVd can remain asymptomatic, or dormant, in some plants for many years.

“It is possible for the pathogen to enter a production system and spread quietly while never showing any symptoms,” says Joseph Ramahi. “I have seen many plants test positive but show no symptoms, even over time. What appears to happen is a secondary stress occurs (heat/nutritional/pest) during vegetative growth and flowering, at which point 10%-30% of a crop can be lost to dudding.”

“It is also possible that no secondary stress is necessary,” Ramahi added. “It’s possible that with time, even over years, a tipping point is reached and asymptomatic infections become symptomatic as viroid levels in the plants grow.”

Like other viroids, HpLVd is transmitted through the above listed common ways – mechanical spread from contaminated tools and equipment, insects like aphids or thrips, and plant to plant transmission – although the extent of which the latter two methods cause disease remains a topic of debate that warrants further research.

Testing and Prevention

When it comes to HpLVd, prevention, or early detection at the very least, will be your best bet. Yes, your plants can be treated for the disease via plant tissue culture, but it’s a very time consuming and labor-intensive process. Most growers prefer not to waste their time battling an established case of HpLVd unless they’re trying to preserve a very important cultivar.

That said, the easiest and most effective way to prevent the onset and spread of HpLVd is by practicing good sanitation… it’s really as simple as that. Use freshly cleaned tools and new gloves whenever handling a plant in any way. Minimize foot traffic and visitors around your grow area, and make sure anyone who comes in contact with your plants takes proper precautions.

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A 10 percent bleach solution, the same as in healthcare settings, is the best way to prevent the spread of viroids, as well as pretty much all other pathogens. It’s common industry practice to sanitize tools with a mix of 70% isopropanol/ethanol, but according to newly established standards from the horticulture and agriculture industries, bleach is much more efficient.

Growers should also make sure to screen mother plants and incoming clones with qPCR (polymerase chain reaction) assays – a technique used to detect specific DNA and RNA sequences – to make sure they are not infected. Keeping mother plants for longer periods and constantly clipping clones off them could also be an issue. If the mother plant has say a dormant HpLVd infection, it could be spread through her clones and infiltrate the entire growing area.

Conclusion

This is not just a passing pathogen that will quickly run its course and disappear. We expect to hear about HpLVd for a long time as the industry continues to grow. According to Ramahi, “With the asymptomatic nature of hop latent viroid, this disease will impact both the marijuana and hemp industries for many years.” Make sure to protect your harvest by keeping your tools clean and immediately removing any infected plants from your garden to prevent spread.

Hello all! Welcome to CBDtesters.co, your ultimate online destination for the most relevant and thought-provoking cannabis and psychedelics-related news globally. Read-thru the site regularly to stay on top of the constantly-moving world of legal drugs and industrial hemp, and sign up for The THC Weekly Newsletterso you never miss a thing.

DisclaimerHi, I’m a researcher and writer. All information in my articles is sourced and referenced, and all opinions stated are mine. I am not giving anyone advise, and though I am more than happy to discuss topics, should someone have a further question or concern, they should seek guidance from a relevant professional.

The post Hop Latent Viroid is Destroying Cannabis Crops at Alarming Rates appeared first on CBD Testers.