Reading a Cannabis Product Label

Health Canada strictly regulates the packaging and labelling requirements for legal recreational cannabis products. Therefore, licensed producers are required to share a lot of information about their product directly on the packaging. While this makes for a busy label, it’s also one that contains all the information you need to understand what you are buying. And, because the labeling is consistent for every product, if you understand one, you’ll understand them all. Cannabis labels have many of the standard elements you’d see on any product such as barcodes and brand logos in addition to storage information and health warnings. There are also a few unique items that warrant special attention:

Strain Types

There are three main categories of cannabis strains: indica, sativa and hybrid. Each category has its own unique characteristics. Some cannabis labels may indicate what kind of strain category the product belongs to as well as the specific strain name given by the producer.

Packaging and Expiry Dates

Cannabis labels list the date that the cannabis was packaged. This packaging date is not indicative of when the product was harvested but rather when the finished product was placed and sealed in its final packaging. Expiry dates, which are directionally used to communicate the stability of the product in regards to potency, are not mandatory in Health Canada regulations, so some licensed producers will provide them, but many do not.

Product Weight

While the weight of the product on the label may seem self-explanatory, it’s worth knowing that Health Canada does allow for slight weight variances in dried flower weight. The allowable variance is up to 10 per cent for products containing less than 2 grams, and 5 per cent for 2 grams or more. So, if you were to weigh your cannabis straight out of the package you may notice a slightly higher or lower amount than specified.

Warning Labels

Every product is packaged in child-safe, tamper-proof packaging to protect youth from the harms of cannabis. Additionally, because THC is intoxicating, the package for any product containing THC above 10 micrograms per gram, will feature a red icon to indicate the presence of THC and a message highlighted in yellow carrying a healthrelated warning.

CBD and THC Content

As the two cannabinoids primarily responsible for the effects of cannabis, CBD and THC content must be displayed on every product label. To help consumers make informed decisions, they are shown two ways.

What’s the difference between the two numbers?

First, it’s important to know that cannabinoids are only activated by heat over 150 degrees Celsius – a process called decarboxylation. So, in its natural state, cannabis has a low level of active cannabinoids. When cannabis is decarboxylated, either through heating or processing, its cannabinoid levels increase.

On package labels, the first numbers, listed as “THC” and/or “CBD”, represent the active cannabinoid levels in the cannabis as purchased. Dried cannabis will have a low level of active cannabinoids because it hasn’t been heated yet. 

The second numbers are listed as “Total THC” and “Total CBD.”These figures represent the active cannabinoid levels in the cannabis when ready for consumption. Because oil and capsule products have been processed (and the cannabinoids heated already), the second and first numbers will be the same between products.

Should you ever need to reach them, the licensed producer of every product must provide their name and contact details on the label, including an email address and phone number.

Each product also includes a lot number which refers to a specific harvest, or “lot” of products, which helps trace it back to quality control processes. Take note of the lot number if making a product inquiry.

Understanding cannabis labels is important for making an informed decision about products. While they contain a lot of information and feature some unique elements, the details are helpful once you know what they mean. Read labels carefully to find the information you need.