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Analyzing Hemp in under 8 Minutes

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Jan 25, 2019   
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Time is money. And no-one knows that axiom quite like cannabis lab analysts, who can find themselves patiently waiting for a chemical analysis to finish, just so they can start the next one in the line. But thanks to cutting-edge analytical tools, these idle intervals could soon be a thing of the past. We spoke to Bob Clifford, PhD, General Manager for Marketing at Shimadzu Scientific Instruments, to find out more. 

Leo Bear-McGuinness (LBM): You’ve just launched a new hemp analyzer; congratulations! Who will it benefit?

Bob Clifford (BC): Shimadzu’s Hemp Analyzer was designed for growers, processors, contract laboratories, and research institutions interested in cannabinoid concentrations. While hemp is federally legal, the psychoactive delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) level can’t be above 0.3% or penalties will occur. THC falls under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and is considered a Schedule 1 drug by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). So even though states in the USA have legalized cannabis with higher levels of THC for recreational or medical use, the federal government considers it illegal. 

Ideally, labs can monitor the THC levels to ensure the hemp products contain less than 0.3%. Some growers may harvest the hemp plants late in the year to increase the reported beneficial, healthy, non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD) levels; at the same time, though, the THC levels may be increasing so caution must be taken, and informative decisions made.  So, Shimadzu’s Hemp Analyzer can also be used as a harvest timing tool. 

Processors are extracting the cannabinoids and possibly concentrating the CBD levels or other beneficial cannabinoids. Again, care must be taken so that the THC levels are not above 0.3%. Also, the processed samples may need to be sent to third-party testing laboratories for cannabinoids potency, as well as terpene profiling and contaminant testing. By pretesting, the processor knows whether the THC levels are in range.

The main cannabinoids most people know are delta-9-THC and CBD, but there are many more, such as THCA, delta-8-THC, THCV, CBDA, CBDV, CBN, CBG, CBGA, and CBC. Research about the health benefits of these other cannabinoids is still in the early stages. 

LBM: The analyzer can process CBD in under 8 minutes. What are the benefits of shorter analysis times?

BC: Shimadzu’s Hemp Analyzer can perform analysis of 10 cannabinoids in under 8 minutes or 11 cannabinoids, including THCV, in under 10 minutes. Shorter analysis times are important for contract laboratories as time is money and throughput is important. At the same time, ruggedness is also essential, which is why the methods were developed based on rigorous USP guidelines in order to minimize instrument downtime.

LBM: The analyzer is “a complete turnkey analyzer for quantitative determination of CBD”. Can you explain what that means?

BC: Shimadzu’s Hemp Analyzer can determine the concentrations of the 11 cannabinoids mentioned. The turnkey Hemp Analyzer comes complete with user-friendly overlay software, methods developed following USP guidelines, analytical column, guard columns, premixed solvents, and premixed 11 cannabinoid standards so the user is up and running samples the first day. The overlay software is on top of the standard chromatography software, so non-scientists can operate the system. The user would only be required to enter sample name, sample ID, weight of cannabis, extraction volume, and dilution volume before analysis to get a final report.

LBM: New compounds are being added to state testing requirements all the time. How can the hemp analyzer keep up with this growing list?

BC: To keep up with demand on the changing list of cannabinoids tested, Shimadzu’s Hemp Analyzer utilizes a choice of 3 methods. They included: high throughput, high sensitivity, and high resolution. The high-throughput method analyzes 10 cannabinoids in 8 minutes, while the high-sensitivity method enables analysis of 11 cannabinoids in 10 minutes. The high-resolution method provides full baseline resolution for the 11 cannabinoids over a 30-minute run, so additional cannabinoids can be added. 

LBM: Shimadzu already have a host of analytical products for the cannabis industry. How will you keep expanding?

BC: The trend will be to continue to develop turnkey analyzers, not just analytical instruments, to ensure easy operation with reliable and reproducible results.

Bob Clifford was speaking to Leo Bear-McGuinness, Science Writer for Analytical Cannabis.

Leo Bear-McGuinness

Science Writer & Editor

Leo joined Analytical Cannabis in 2019. From research to regulations and analysis to agriculture, his writing covers all the need-to-know news for the cannabis industry. He holds a Bachelor's in Biology from Newcastle University and a Master's in Science Communication from the University of Edinburgh.


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