Good or Bad: How to pick a cannabis testing lab?
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In the cannabis industry, many people — from consumers and producers to governments and organizations — call for better testing. At that same time, we hear about bad testing and dry labbing — providing analysis of a sample without doing any chemical testing. So, how do you find a lab that you can trust with your cannabis samples or products?
Finding a good lab, says Christopher Hudalla, founder and Chief Scientific Officer at ProVerde Laboratories, “is a huge problem in the industry, because anyone can buy used lab equipment and set up a cannabis testing lab.” Just buying the equipment, though, fails to ensure accuracy. “You see many people with no science background running labs, and they have no idea how to make sure that instruments are working correctly,” Hudalla adds.
To help consumers find a lab that knows what it’s doing, we put together a list of key questions.
From talking with Hudalla, plus Jeff Hatley and Betsy Gribble, President and Information Specialist, respectively, at Sequoia Labs, we’ve compiled three questions that you should ask any lab before using it.
Question #1: Are you using validated methods?
A validated method has been shown through rigorous testing to accurately and repeatedly measure a particular characteristic of a sample, such as the concentration of a specific component in cannabis. It’s not easy to validate methods, but it’s something that a good analytical lab does. “When we validate a method, it takes several weeks,” Hudalla says. This requires running the method on 30–50 samples, plus blanks. To ensure reproducibility, the method should be run with different technicians, on different pieces of equipment and on different days. As Hudalla says, “We test all of the different variables to make sure that we provide accurate results.”
Question #2: Who does the testing?
The results of a test are only as good as the person preparing the sample, running the analytical instrument and analyzing the data. “What is the background of the scientists in the lab?” Gribble asks. “Just having a bachelor’s degree doesn’t mean someone is not fully competent to run equipment, but that does not make you qualified to be a lab director.” In short, the lab needs to be able to document that the people running the tests know what they’re doing.
Question #3: Can you prove you are being transparent?
A trustworthy lab is transparent — upfront about the details behind its operation, such as the kind of instruments that it uses. “Transparency is a big deal,” says Hatley. “We encourage people to walk in, and potential customers can see our people doing sample prep and watch the instruments working.” The lab should also be willing to say what instrumentation is being used for various tests.
Those three questions go a long way to ensure that you get a good lab, but you can dig even deeper. For example, Hudalla encourages customers to find a lab that is ISO 17025 accredited. Moreover, it helps to find a lab that participates in a proficiency testing program. “These are programs for the cannabis testing industry that challenge laboratories by providing the same samples to all participating labs. The analyses from all labs are tabulated and analyzed statistically to provide an inter-laboratory comparison, sort of a proficiency score.” Hudalla says. “We do it twice a year.”
As in any business, ask around to find a good cannabis-testing lab. “Talk to dispensaries that are actively testing,” Gribble suggests. “They’d have a personal relationship with their lab.”
Whatever you do, don’t just go with the first lab that you find without doing some research. As Hudalla says, “It’s easy to set up a lab, but difficult to set up a good lab.” Make sure that you find a cannabis-testing lab that puts in the investment and effort to turn out useful information.