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One of my favorite tales from our youth is a story about my sister (now my business partner) and I attending band practice. It was summer. It was Florida. So, it goes without saying that it was incredibly hot. Every day after practice, Margaret would drive us to McDonald’s, where we would acquire nutrients (well, at least calories) and refreshments. Margaret’s favorite treat was chocolate milkshakes. So, one day as she was driving us home, she reached down and grabbed her milkshake for a large sip. Suddenly she froze, a look of utter horror on her face. She looked about in panic and then spit the milkshake into her hand. “What?!” I asked. With a shaky, but emphatic voice she replied, “That milkshake. It’s 10 million years old!” That was when I realized that she had picked up the remains of the milkshake she had gotten the day before! 24 hours in the Florida sun had not done it any favors. She turns green to this day when I remind her of that incident – so, shhhh, don’t tell her I told you!
Most everyone has had some kind of experience with spoiled food or beverages. This is never pleasant. It is vastly worse when you don’t realize it is spoiled until 24 to 48 hours when you are finding comfort in the cool tile of your bathroom floor and thinking you might be better off dead. Fortunately, when it comes to supplements and medications, it is not usually food poisoning that one must worry about, but rather the efficacy of the products you enjoy. Although, when the supplement is a food such as cookies, chocolates, beverages etc., then the food rules still apply.
Why do Products have Expiration Dates?
All medications & supplements should have an expiration date on them. Calling this a “best by” date is often more appropriate than an expiration date. Unlike milk or cheese, most dry preparations of herbs, medications, and cannabis supplements typically won’t “spoil” in the traditional sense. Manufacturers use these dates because they can only guarantee safety and full potency for a certain period. And yes, some of this is about selling more products even when what you already own is still perfectly good. But it is true that time, contamination, light exposure, and storage in less-than-ideal conditions can all contribute to the breakdown of any supplement or medication, including CBD and other cannabinoid products. If the product is in shelf stable packaging, unopened and stored in a cool, dry place, it might well be perfectly fine even a few years after its expiration date. However, it might not have maintained its full potency and could therefore be less effective.
Pharmaceutical companies and cannabis extract manufacturers employ “best by” dates for three primary reasons. The first and likely, most compelling reason, is the legal requirement. The FDA requires medicines and supplements to have these dates. A 1979 law made it a requirement for these dates to be stamped on packaging to give consumers a guideline for the useful life of their medications. The second reason is safety. In the case of dry preparations, it is not that the older product would poison you, but rather that it might no longer be as effective as it once was. Liquid items are, indeed, subject to spoilage by microbial contamination, especially if they have been opened previously. The third reason is slightly less altruistic. This reason is that by putting conservative expiration dates on items, it may cause the consumer to purchase more even when they have perfectly good medications on the shelf. To be clear, I am not suggesting that you should use products that have passed their “best by” dates. It is just a reality that comprehensive studies on the longevity of medications are rare. This means manufacturers err on the side of conservative dates.
What is interesting is that The FDA conducted a study on behalf of the military decades ago. The military had apparently stockpiled about a billion dollars’ worth of medications for potential deployments, but they had gone unused. The study found that out of 119 medications, only 5 were no longer useful. The rest were still potent. Some of them were up to 10 years past their expiration dates, but still as effective as when they were manufactured. The items that failed were liquid antibiotics, insulin, and nitroglycerin.
I read an article by an MD about expiration dates that had some interesting wisdom in it. His philosophy was a risk / reward calculation. If your heart medication, without which you could die, is past its expiration date – get a new prescription. If your Tylenol is 6 months past its expiration and the only risk is less headache relief – go ahead and use it. With Cannabinoid products, using something a bit past its expiration will likely not cause harm. Gummies may be too chewy, tinctures will need a good shake, and softgels start to stick together as they age. Product breaking down over time means that fresher products may be more enjoyable in addition to being more potent. This is some of the reason expiration dates are used in the first place. It should go without saying, but I will say it anyway – if a product has mold on it, a foul smell, or otherwise seems “off”, then please don’t use it. This includes products that seem off even before their expiration date.
Legal Requirements for CBD Expiration Dates
There is a requirement in Florida that all Hemp derived products have a batch number and an expiration date. However, there is no specific requirement for the timeframe. This means it is up to the producers to choose the appropriate longevity for their products. These dates should take into account the type of product, ingredients, and even packaging. The Hemp industry recommendations are these:
CBD Tinctures (oils) – 3 years (Blue Lotus uses 2)
CBD Gummies / Candies – 6 months to 1 year (Blue Lotus uses 1 year as our gummies are cured to reduce moisture)
CBD Softgels / Capsules – 2 years (Blue Lotus uses 1 year)
CBD Vape Cartridges – 1 year
Other Ingredients May Impact Quality Beyond Expiration
Each company may vary its “best by” dates based upon the ingredients they use. The below are some examples:
In the case of CBD Tinctures made with MCT oil, the expiration date may be three years. MCT oil is quite stable and because it does not contain unsaturated fats, it is not subject to oxidation. This gives it a longer shelf life than many other oils. However, Hemp seed oil or olive oil may used as the “carrier” oil for CBD tinctures. Hemp Seed oil is very nutritious and provides an alternative for people with tree nut allergies (MCT oil is derived from coconuts). But Hemp Seed oil has an unopened shelf life of 12 months and once opened, should be used within three months. Extra Virgin Olive oil has a recommended unopened shelf life of 12-18 months. This is slightly longer than Hemp Seed, but still much shorter than MCT.
Food products containing Hemp Derived extracts should have expiration dates which are determined more by the food ingredients rather than the expected potency of the cannabinoids. For example, we sell a bottled juice that is organic juice with hemp extract in it. This product has a shelf life of only three months. The expiration has little to do with the cannabinoid content and everything to do with the fact that juice, even juice bottled properly, will only last so long. Chocolate, on the other hand, is shelf stable for quite a long time and chocolate that has been stored properly will last for well over a year. The chocolate items we carry have a “best by” date of 1 year.
Ensuring the Quality of the Product Before You Ever Open it
Most CBD and THC consumers are aware of potency testing. These are the independent lab tests manufacturers use to verify their products contain the expected amount of cannabinoids. These are essential for any reputable manufacturer. Blue Lotus has always required a much more rigorous testing panel for any product we carry. This “safety panel” testing means the products (or the extracts used to make them) are tested for the presence of microbials, heavy metals, and pesticides. Blue Lotus CBD products are produced in Colorado, which has an additional requirement that the finished product be retested for microbials. This ensures that no microbials were introduced during the production process. This extra verification ensures that we are not only selling you what you expect, but that it is not coming with any extra undesirable additives!
How Storage Affects Cannabinoid Potency
How many times have you read the words, “store in a cool, dry place.” This is a standard for almost every pill, gummy, or shelf stable food item we have ever purchased. Moisture creates a breeding ground for microbials, so keeping your dry products dry makes sense. Likewise, warm temperatures can cause existing mold or bacteria to grow. The combination of the two is right out!
Cannabis flower, extracts, and food items should be stored in the absence of one other factor. That factor is light. Light is wonderful for growing cannabis! Farmers have discovered that constant and bright light helps increase both the number and the potency of the flowers. I, unfortunately, have a brown thumb, so I (for the sake of the poor plants) have never attempted to grow the plants myself. But I have spoken with both professional and hobbyist growers who extol the virtues of lots of light.
However, once the plants are harvested, light contributes to the breakdown of cannabinoids. Anyone who has seen cannabis flower stored in a transparent glass jar has no doubt observed that it loses its green glow and turns a muddy brown color. This is not only less appealing, but it is an indication that the potency has decreased. The same is true for cannabinoids that have been extracted from the plants. A light resistant jar or bottle is ideal for reducing the amount of light that can access the products. This is most manufacturers choose opaque packaging or UV resistant colors. This is also the reason that we store the bulk of our products in drawers and have UV proof coating on our glass cabinetry.
The bottom line is that cannabis products store best in cool, DARK, dry places. Refrigeration will preserve the products (including flower) beyond their shelf stable “best buy” dates. Gummies can even be frozen for up to 3 years. Flower can be frozen, but this is only recommended if you plan to make edibles with it as the structure is affected by the freezing process and it won’t burn as well once thawed.
Avoid Contamination After Opening
In addition to proper quality assurance and storage, there is one additional subject worth mentioning. That is how to avoid contaminating your own product.
CBD and THC Edibles – if you are a person who uses partial gummies or eats half your cookie at a time, be aware that biting the edible and placing the remainder back in the package carries the germs from your mouth with it. We recommend cutting them. I cut my gummies all at once and place the halves back into the jar.
CBD Tinctures – Using sublingual oil without touching the dropper to your mouth can be challenging but will prevent contaminating the rest of the bottle. The droppers are glass and can be washed and sterilized if necessary. This applies to pets as well. Not only is a glass dropper a risk to your pet, but if you touch their mouth, it will bring the germs back to the bottle.
Beverages – If you are only using part of it and storing the rest, we recommend using a glass rather than drinking directly from the bottle or can.
The Bottom Line
Yes, CBD products have an expiration or a “best by” date. Using them up before this date will allow you to have the best possible experience with them. Choose products that are in containers that help preserve their potency. Quality products that are properly stored in a cool, dark, and dry place will provide the best results. Avoid contamination after opening by keeping your (or anyone else’s) germs from entering the bottle or jar. Keep the shelf life in mind if purchasing products in bulk and put extras in the refrigerator to extend their life even further!
As always, please feel free to reach out to us with any questions or concerns. You can use the chat right here on this screen, call us at 407-235-0653 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org