A Q&A With Infinite Chemical Analysis Labs’ Erik Paulson
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Earlier this year, a report found that the contents of more than half of tested hemp-based delta-9 THC products varied substantially from the doses claimed on their advertising labels. Some of the products even contained more THC per serving than the average marijuana product.
Published by CBD Oracle, the report was conducted by Infinite Chemical Analysis Labs, a cannabis testing company with facilities in California, Michigan, and Colorado. The lab’s findings highlighted central questions over the legality and regulation of hemp-derived THC products and the company itself called for others in the industry to do more to improve their labeling, testing, and age verification practices.
To share more of the lab’s findings, Infinite Chemical Analysis’ own Erik Paulson presented a webinar, Analysis of Hemp-Derived Delta-9 Products, at Analytical Cannabis’ Science of Cannabis Testing Online Symposium 2022, which took place between September 14-15.
Ahead of this presentation, Analytical Cannabis caught up with Erik to learn more about his study's findings.
Leo Bear-McGuinness (LBM): What can Analytical Cannabis viewers expect from your upcoming presentation?
Erik Paulson (EP): I think the presentation really will be centered around the study that CBD Oracle put on, [which] investigated hemp-derived delta-9 gummies and just the legal aspects and interplay between cannabis regulations and hemp regulations. The disconnect between those two is really what’s allowing this market to grow. That part is pretty fascinating. But I would also like to talk about the science and what we saw in the data and the fact that you can get significant amounts of delta-9 in these gummies still be below the 0.3% legal limit. And you can have up to 400 milligrams in really any edible product. Pretty fascinating stuff. You know, most cannabis legal markets only allow 10 milligrams of THC per serving, so you can actually get more with some of these products and still be below 0.3%.
LBM: It still seems that the regulations have some catching up to do, then. We haven’t even mentioned the situation with delta-8.
EP: Yeah, and that’s the interesting thing about delta-8; it’s clearly a different product than delta-9. There’s this parallel. Delta-8 is not found naturally in any hemp or marijuana product or a plant material, so, [it] has to be synthesized. So if you find it in your product, it’s most likely synthesized from CBD, which originally came from hemp. The argument is, even though it’s psychoactive, it’s from this hemp that’s legally grown, so, therefore, it’s legal as long as it doesn’t have a lot of delta-9, right? But on the flip side, delta-9 can be found naturally in marijuana plants, but in very low levels in hemp plants, but you can still synthesize it from the hemp. So, people are still getting delta-9 from hemp the same way they’re getting delta-8 from hemp, from doing the conversion from CBD. But this makes it a whole lot more complicated because then you can have delta-9 that comes from hemp, and you can have delta-9 that comes from marijuana, and one’s regulated one way and the other is regulated a different way. And they’re exactly the same compound. It’s very fascinating.
LBM: And this wave of delta-8 products, as I understand it, can partly be attributed to the status of the CBD market. There’s been this great swell of people coming into the market and then a bit of a bottleneck. People are then left with all this hemp and they turn it into delta-8 to offset their costs. So do you see anything changing in the next few years if the CBD market changes?
EP: Yeah, I think it could go a number of different ways. With CBD, I think it can become, on its own, more lucrative if there is a bit more acceptance in the wider market area – for instance, being considered a food additive and to be sold in grocery stores. Because right now, while hemp is legal, CBD is technically not considered a generally safe food additive. So, the products being sold are still limited in their marketplace. Delta-8’s the same way. In fact, it’s even more restrictive, because a lot of these states are doing bans or restrictions on it. So, it’s just fascinating. Where is the impetus going to come from? Is it going to come from the federal government or the individual state governments? I think a lot of research is going to need to be done on the safety of delta-8 and of CBD. A lot of that research already is being done. And once it’s found to be generally safe, or have a limited number of negative side effects, then I think they’ll [CBD and delta-8] increase in value; there’ll be more of a demand for them. But at the moment, you know, I think people are just trying to find the next thing to make money off of, as the each of these new things drop in value. Like CBD, the market was saturated a bit. It’s fascinating.
LBM: I agree. Perhaps if CBD regulation changes, and as you say, it becomes more of a legal, regulated commodity that can be sold more widely, then some of those producers might pivot away from delta-8 products back to CBD products. Interesting to think. So, we’ve covered the policy side of things; would you mind circling back around and touching on the testing side of things?
EP: Yeah, of course. So, when we receive these products, we test them in the same way we would test any product; we have a lot of analysis methods for testing; CBD products and THC products, they are all treated the same way. Our methods are robust enough to be able to distinguish them. So, we process them the same way. When we receive these hemp-derived products, there’s no regulatory agency that we report to. So, when we do find a product that, let’s say, is above 0.3% THC – which technically would classify it as a marijuana product – it’s not in our scope to send that to the DEA [the US Drug Enforcement Administration] and say, ‘Hey, look, this is a not legal product.’ Basically, we test them as is. We definitely find some differences between hemp and marijuana products in terms of the kind of mixtures of cannabinoids that you find naturally in those two. In my talk, I’m going to be touching a lot on some of the differences that you’ll see in a hemp product versus a marijuana product. But I think these gummies are being made in a lot of the same ways that the legal market is producing them. They’re just using a different source in most cases.
LBM: Interesting how the expertise on both sides of the divide can be almost equivalent. Away from the specific issue of delta-8, though, there’s another industry problem that I know Infinite Chemical Analysis has been vocal about: lab shopping. Could you touch on that?
EP: Yeah, we’re trying to do our best in this ever-changing landscape. I think the cannabis market and the hemp markets are definitely maturing in good ways and bad ways. I think the issues with our current regulation landscape are how labs are not being regulated properly to try to produce accurate results. That’s a big challenge for us. Because, in the end, we value integrity, ethics, and accuracy above everything else, because that’s what science is, if you’re doing it properly. So, we get frustrated when other labs aren’t doing things right. If we ever find a product that we test, maybe it’s a new product, and we’re having issues with it, then we’ll tinker around a little bit. Oftentimes, we work with clients, and they’ll send us their formulations and we’ll try to figure out where the disconnect is, if there’s an issue. So, we really go above and beyond to try to make sure that our testing is as consistent, reliable, and accurate as possible. But at the moment we’re expanding into other states. And we’re looking at other analyses as well, so we can bring a wider range of services to our customers.
LBM: How have you found the different states compare?
EP: Yeah, I think the California market has been around longer than the Michigan market. But when we started in Michigan, it was really when they first started out there, and you could tell a difference. The regulators would get on the phone with you and talk with you directly. They were very open to listen to the concerns that we had. And they’re constantly changing and making adjustments to the regulations when they find that they aren’t doing what they intended them to be doing. For a lot of cases, that has to do with the things we were just talking about, the improper behavior of labs and inflating potencies and not reporting contaminants. [In Michigan], they really do their due diligence, even though they don’t have a state-run and funded lab in. They have programs in place where they’ll have one lab or a couple of labs go and sample from one lab if they think that that initial lab didn’t test right. So, they don’t even need to have their own lab to be able to do this kind of checking; they’re out there getting the labs to check each other. And I think that’s a really good step that California could adopt. Unfortunately, people can manipulate results however they want; what they really need to be doing is policing them more directly. And there’s a number of ways to do that. Things will change, I hope. With increasing pressure, the DCC [California’s Department of Cannabis Control] might be a little bit more aggressive in their adoption of policies. I guess only time will tell.
Erik Paulson, PhD, lab manager at Infinite Chemical Analysis Labs, was speaking to Leo Bear-McGuinness. Questions and responses have been edited for clarity.