How to Write a Cannabis Testing Textbook: A Q&A With Shaun Opie
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Three years ago, Shaun Opie was busy running a successful diagnostics lab in California. Now he’s the lead editor of one of the first textbooks to detail the science and practical considerations of running a cannabis testing lab.
With his guide now published, Analytical Cannabis caught up with Opie to find out how he pivoted into cannabis and what tips a would-be cannabis tester should know before opening their own lab.
Leo Bear-McGuinness (LBM): So, how did you come to be the editor of a cannabis testing textbook?
Shaun Opie (SO): It’s a bit of a story. I founded a clinical diagnostics laboratory in California in 2011, and we ran that successfully through to 2019. On January 1 of 2018, California was going to legalize adult use marijuana and we had the laboratory infrastructure to be able to provide cannabis testing. So we asked the question, why don’t we get into this business? And that is where I started doing serious research into cannabis laboratory testing and what the requirements would be. Because if you rewind the clock to 2017 – I mean, people think it’s the Wild West now, but it was worse back then. And so we wanted to make a concerted effort to expand our clinical diagnostics business into the cannabis laboratory business, and possibly even exit altogether the clinical laboratory business.
It turns out that we didn’t open a cannabis testing laboratory. And so where does an entrepreneurial scientist, a lab guy that likes to likes to build things, go from there? It seemed to me that there was an educational need in the cannabis laboratory testing space, if not for the laboratory staff, certainly for the non-technical team. And so, in 2019, I rekindled a consulting company, E4 Bioscience, and I decided that I wasn’t going to own and operate a lab, but I was going to help other people build labs, and it was going to be cannabis related.
And I listened to some podcasts, and on one the guests talked about how their business changed with the publication of a book. So, I probably should have been working, but instead I wrote out an outline of what a textbook would look like – 13, maybe 15 chapters. I knew what I wanted to touch on; it was meant to cover the entire spectrum of cannabis laboratories. And I sent that table of contents off to the only publishing group that I have deep respect for, and that’s Springer Nature. No kidding, I had a signed contract in less than two weeks.
LBM: Wow. And just like that you’ve got a textbook it write.
SO: Yeah, all of a sudden, I had committed to producing a 300-page book. But I was really excited. I’ve published numerous scientific articles and white papers before, but never a textbook.
The first thing I did was reach out to some of my friends in the industry that I’d met over the past couple of years. I knew I couldn’t write it by myself, so I’d find highly credible, highly knowledgeable people and invite them to participate. In the end, I had 35 co-authors that I managed to invite to participate. I’m so grateful for the authorship team and their contributions to this book, because it certainly would not have been possible without them. And two years later, it got published.
And, you know, the feedback that I’m getting from people that have purchased it are exactly what I was hoping to hear. And that is, ‘Shaun, this is an incredible book. It’s well done, and it’s helped us.’ And at the end of the day, that’s all that I was really looking for, a way to help support the cannabis industry.
LBM: And am I right in thinking that there has never been a textbook of this detail and of this nature about cannabis testing before?
SO: Well, I’ve always liked an adventure. But the goal was not to be first. The driving goal was to provide an educational resource for the cannabis community that brings legitimacy and credibility. Also, I wanted to read something. And it was kind of frustrating that there was not a resource available. So I just tried to fill the need.
LBM: You must have quite a unique perspective now on how things have changed when it comes to cannabis testing. What do you think is needed going forward?
SO: If there were one thing that I would request, it’s for some recognition by the federal government. I would like government oversight. And the reason for that is that what we’re seeing right now is a state-by-state experiment. And it’s very difficult to navigate all of the regulations that each of the states has put together. So one of the most important things that I would like to see in the future is standardized regulations – standardized methods, standardized action limits, etc., so that everybody is playing on a level field. And I think that would make it fairer for laboratories.
“Cannabis Laboratory Fundamentals” is available from Springer. Shaun Opie was speaking to Leo Bear-McGuinness. Questions and responses have been edited for clarity.