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An Insider’s Look at the Canadian Cannabis Testing Industry With Kaveh Kahen

By Alexander Beadle

Published: Oct 25, 2019   
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By virtue of its patchwork of regional regulations, the United States tends to dominate discussions of cannabis regulation and cannabis testing. It can sometimes be easy to forget that there is a whole world of other countries out there dealing with their own rules and regulations surrounding the cannabis industry.

In October 2018, Canada legalized the recreational use and possession of the drug nationwide, becoming just the second country in the world, after Uruguay, to do so. Canada is now the world’s largest national recreational cannabis marketplace.

Serving this national marketplace is a network of cannabis testing facilities responsible for conducting the mandatory testing of cannabis products required under the official cannabis regulations.

To find out what it’s like inside Canada’s cannabis testing industry, we spoke to Dr Kaveh Kahen, president, co-founder, and CEO of Sigma Analytical Services, a Toronto-based provider of testing, research, product development, and consulting services to the cannabis and hemp industry.

Alex Beadle (AB): What sort of services does Sigma Analytical offer to those in the cannabis and hemp industry?

Kaveh Kahen (KK): We offer a variety of services: complete analytical and microbiological testing as well as genotyping services to cannabis and hemp producers; consulting services for analytical method development, lab setup and operation, technical training, quality management system implementation and gap analysis (cGMP, EUGMP, etc.); and consulting services for extraction, formulation, and new product development.

AB: Sigma Analytical Services was co-founded by yourself and Ashton Abrahams back in 2017. What led you to get involved with the cannabis testing industry in Canada back then?

KK: I was running PerkinElmer’s global mass spectrometry business prior to founding Sigma with Ashton, and cannabis was part of my portfolio. We saw a tremendous growth opportunity as well as significant knowledge gaps in the cannabis testing and science space and decided to establish Sigma Analytical Services to address these gaps.

AB: All over the world, countries are choosing to legalize cannabis for medicinal or recreational use. How have things changed for you, and for your industry, since Canada legalized cannabis nationwide?

KK: In Canada, we are developing tremendous amount of know-how and intellectual property when it comes to cannabis. As other countries legalize cannabis, companies like Sigma will have the opportunity to expand in the new legalized space with years of experience and established intellectual property.

For example, we recently announced our joint venture with Avicanna in Colombia. In this case, we will be establishing the first EU-GMP [European Union - Good Manufacturing Practices] certified testing lab for cannabis in Colombia. We have several opportunities like this in the pipeline in other countries.

Note: The European Union has the toughest cannabis GMP standards in the world, and so achieving the EU-GMP certification generally means that products certified in these labs will be eligible for distribution worldwide where allowed by law.

AB: Right now, what do you see as the biggest challenge facing the Canadian cannabis testing industry?

KK: We see a number of challenges:

  • The batch/lot size and sampling methods in Canada are not established by regulations and producers are allowed to define it themselves. This could potentially lead to poor quality since it is very challenging to get a representative sample from a very large batch. It could also drive some bad behavior.
  • Lack of standard methods is another problem. Therefore, labs have developed their own sample preparation and analytical methods, and, in some cases, these methods are not as robust as they should be. This leads to discrepancies in results and creates confusion in the market.
  • Edibles, topicals, and extracts are being legalized this year and not many labs are aware of the challenges with these samples. We have worked with many labs in California and Oregon when they were developing their methods and these are not trivial issues.

AB: What is your vision for the future of cannabis science, and the cannabis testing industry?

KK: In the long run, cannabis will become an agricultural commodity. The biggest differentiation will come in the form of intellectual property that will be developed for cannabis extraction, testing, product development, etc. In addition, as cannabis and cannabinoids are traded globally, quality control (QC) and quality assurance (QA) of products become a significant challenge. Therefore, establishing global standards for cannabis QA/QC and building the necessary infrastructure, globally, to assure that products meet these standards will be critical over the next few years.

AB: And finally, Sigma Analytical joined the Global Cannabis Partnership earlier this month as its first full-service testing and research lab member. What kind of things would you like to see come out of this new relationship?

KK: As GCP’s first full-service testing and research lab member, Sigma Analytical Services has the opportunity to help shape Global Cannabis Partnership’s commitment to corporate responsibility practices in the areas of cannabis product testing, compliance, and research and development.

We are committed to developing industry-best practices in this nascent, and rapidly growing global industry to ensure practices that go beyond minimum compliance, and set an example for corporate social responsibility within the cannabis industry.

This article originally appeared in Analytical Cannabis' Advances in Cannabis Extraction ebook in October 2019. 

Alexander Beadle

Science Writer

Alexander Beadle has been working as a freelance science writer since 2017 and has covered the cannabis industry for Analytical Cannabis since 2018. He has also written for our sister publication, Technology Networks, and the cannabis industry consultant firm Prohibition Partners, among others. Alexander holds a Master's in Materials Chemistry from the University of St. Andrews, where he won a Chemistry Purdie scholarship, and conducted research into zeolite crystal growth mechanisms and the action of single-molecule transistors.


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