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AOAC International Launches New Cannabis Analytical Science Program

By Alexander Beadle

Published: Mar 11, 2019   
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AOAC International is a globally recognized, independent, third-party association and voluntary consensus standards-developing organization. Founded in 1884, AOAC’s primary work is in developing globally accepted standards across a broad spectrum of industries. These standards are developed through AOAC’s work with stakeholder panels to develop consensus-based method requirements, and then through volunteer expert review panels that can evaluate potential methods against these industry criteria.

The potential methods themselves are not developed by AOAC, but rather the AOAC reviews methods that are already known to be used in the relevant industry. After the comprehensive review process, the methods are either deemed acceptable or unacceptable against the requirements that AOAC collected from the industry. The methods that are classed as acceptable are then published in the compendium of methods, the Official Methods of Analysis of AOAC International.

After decades of work in promoting food safety, food security, and public health, AOAC International has announced the launch of a program dedicated to discussing similar standards for the analysis of cannabis, hemp, and their products. The program, named the Cannabis Analytical Science Program (CASP), will aim to bring together experts from government, academia, analytical laboratories, technology providers, private sector organizations, and allied associations in a forum to discuss the various aspects of cannabis analysis methodology.

Cannabis and the AOAC

AOAC International is not a complete stranger to the cannabis industry. Scott Coates, the senior director of the AOAC Research Institute, explains that AOAC first got involved with the industry three years ago, after being approached to start a working group that would look at developing standardized method performance requirements that could be applied to the cannabis testing industry.

“We created standards that we call the standard method performance requirements (SMPR®), which are detailed descriptions of what analytical methods should be able to do,” explained Coates in an interview with the Cannabis Industry Journal. “Using SMPRs, we issued a series of calls for methods [relating to the cannabis industry] and looked for methods that meet our standards. So far, we’ve completed four SMPRs — cannabinoids in plant material, cannabinoids in plant extracts, cannabinoids in chocolate (edibles), and one for pesticides in cannabis plant material.”

This early effort was considered more of a one-off project for AOAC, which was to look strictly at creating standards that could be used to review methods being used in the cannabis industry. The decision to launch CASP is a new commitment to creating an ongoing program that can help support the cannabis industry. 

“We are looking to fully support the cannabis analytical community as best we can, which will potentially include working on reference materials, proficiency testing, education, training and ISO 17025 accreditation, all particularly as it applies to lab testing in the cannabis industry,” continues Coates. “So, this CASP work is a much bigger and broader effort to cover more and to provide more support for labs doing the analysis of cannabis and its constituents, as well as hemp.”

The future for analytical cannabis testing

The present regulatory climate has inadvertently created a patchwork of best practices for cannabis testing. While the US government still considers cannabis a Schedule 1 controlled substance at the federal level, individual states have been left to their own devices when it comes to crafting their own regulatory standards for cannabis testing, whether that be for state medical cannabis programs or a recreational market. 

With 33 states now having some sort of legal cannabis system, this leaves the potential for 33 different regulatory systems, each with different priorities and different ideas of what constitutes an ‘acceptable’ analysis procedure. 

“When we started looking at pesticides in cannabis, it became really clear that we have a number of states doing things differently with different limits of quantification,” explains Coates. “Each state, generally speaking, is setting their own standards. One thing we are trying to do with this CASP program eventually will be to have some harmonization, instead of 30 different states having 30 different standards and methods.” 

Having this sort of collectively standardized bank of methods will benefit states at present, especially in regions that are looking at how to best set up their own state-level cannabis programs. But additionally, the CASP program could hold promise in the event that the federal government does move to legalize cannabis in the US. 

Dr. Palmer Orlandi, the recently appointed deputy executive director and chief science officer at AOAC International, explains to Cannabis Industry Journal, “The underlying reason behind this effort is to create some level of harmonization for standards and methods. They can be used in the near future to stay ahead of the curve for when regulatory agencies become involved. The idea is that these standards for analytical methods will already be established and as uniform as possible.”

The ultimate goal for the CASP program is to develop globally-accepted consensus-based standards and testing method recommendations that can serve those involved in the cannabis and hemp industries worldwide.

Further information on the CASP program can be found in the CASP Prospectus

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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