AOAC Aims for Standardized Cannabis Methods
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Although the cannabis industry faces a variety of challenges, the top choice might be a lack of standardized methods. Among all the methods that should be developed, potency testing really needs this standardization, or else labs just come up with their own approaches — some reliable, some not. One organization tackling this challenge is AOAC International, which was founded in 1884 as the Association of Official Agricultural Chemists, and is known for developing voluntary consensus standards. In 2017, the AOAC has been working on Standard Method Performance Requirements (SMPRs) for methods to test the potency of cannabis. As the AOAC reported, “Quantitative methods are needed for various measurements of cannabinoids in raw materials, extracts, topical applications, and foods.” That means that lots of work must be done, but this is good news for the cannabis industry.
When asked about the AOAC’s SMPRs for cannabis potency, Susan Audino says, “It’s very exciting and long overdue.” The owner of Audino & Associates and chair of the AOAC’s cannabis advisory panel and the cannabis working group adds, “The cannabis industry has zero standardized or consensus methods for testing or assessing products.”
Status of the standards
At the AOAC’s midyear meeting in March 2017, the organization approved two SMPRs: one for cannabinoids in plant material and one for cannabinoids in concentrates. Now, anyone with a method that meets — or beats — these SMPRs is invited to submit a paper about the method. Those papers will be reviewed by a panel of experts, and the best ones will move on to a review by an official methods board. That board will turn out the first draft methods.
Getting all of this reviewing right, though, takes time. Nonetheless, says Audino, “We hope to have a couple draft methods in 2017.”
At the midyear meeting, the working group also received permission to move ahead on two more SMPRs: one for the identification and quantitation of cannabinoids in edibles, say chocolate, and one for identifying select pesticide residues.
Views on voluntary
Even when the AOAC starts turning out consensus standards, some labs won’t use them. “Some accreditation bodies require members to use consensus methods when available,” says Audino. “Labs that are not accredited can still use the methods, but there’s no driving force for them to do so.”
Today, most cannabis testing labs use their own methods, which they often keep secret. “They think proprietary methods are good,” Audino explains, “but I think it tends to hurt the industry.”
In fact, some labs dislike the idea of such standards. “They think it’s ‘big brother’ telling them what to do,” Audino notes. Instead, standardized methods provide a way to compare and confirm results.
Right now, a bad lab can sell an inexpensive analysis — based on a poor test or no test — and outcompete a lab doing a good job. With standardized methods, Audino say, “less than adequate labs will go away, allowing good labs to flourish.” As she concludes, “Consensus methods level the playing field.” So, to move the industry ahead, these methods must be developed, validated and used.