Looking into the Future of Cannabinoid Profiling: A Q&A With Tania Sasaki
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With over 10 years of experience in clinical toxicology labs behind her, Tania Sasaki joined Confidence Analytics, a Washington-based cannabis lab, in 2018. Since then, she has helped test thousands of cannabis products for both contaminants and the lab’s extensive list of cannabinoids. And thanks to the growing popularity of novel cannabinoids like delta-3 and delta-8 THC, this list is still growing.
Given the testing challenge these trailblazing compounds present, Sasaki will give a presentation on how to identify and analyze novel cannabinoids in Analytical Cannabis’ Science of Cannabis Testing 2021 Online Symposium, which will take place on September 16.
Ahead of that presentation, Sasaki spoke with Analytical Cannabis about the future of cannabinoid profiling and the cannabis testing sector as a whole.
Leo Bear-McGuinness (LBM): Since you joined Confidence Analytics, how have things changed in the cannabis testing sector?
Tania Sasaki (TS): It hasn’t changed a lot from our standpoint. In Washington, for example, heavy metals and pesticides are not required, but they are in almost every other state. And so the regulations [in Washington] are moving toward that. So that’s a big thing. You know, there was the vitamin E acetate [issue], that little bubble that came up. So we did some quick emergency validations to test for those compounds. The biggest thing is probably the number of cannabinoids that are coming out. We’ve always had a pretty comprehensive panel. Since I’ve been with the company, we’ve been testing for fourteen. We’re now getting ready to add about six or eight more to our cannabinoid panel, some like CBN, CBG have been seen more recently in the news. And right now there’s D3 [delta-3 THC], D10 [delta-10 THC], D8 [delta-8 THC]. But a lot of those have been in our panel. We’ve been doing D8 for the past few years. There’s a big controversy right now about the legality of D8 and its scheduling, and is it going to be regulated? Across the nation, that’s a big topic of discussion.
LBM: So would you say that the increasing list of pesticides to test for has really been driven by the market? By the popularity of these things?
TS: Yes. As other cannabinoids have gained popularity, we have seen more products – specifically isolates and distillates – that contain a high concentration of these typically more minor cannabinoids. For example, we are seeing CBN and THCV isolates/distillates, among others.
LBM: And speaking of how the state of Washington doesn’t mandate pesticide testing, when will that change?
TS: It is changing. So actually heavy metals and pesticides were supposed to be required at the start of 2021, I believe, but then the 2020 pandemic hit and everything got pushed back. So myself and the CEO of our company and some other people, we’ve been involved in the Cannabis Science Task Force for Washington State and they’re revamping their laboratory regulations and their oversight completely and even transferring it to the Department of Ecology for all laboratory accreditation. And so, this past couple of years, I’ve been involved with a lot of the groups on the different methods on setting the standards. What are the criteria for validation? What are the criteria for an analytical batch? So there is going to be a big revamp for Washington state as far as laboratory accreditation and regulations coming probably around 2024.
LBM: That’s great to hear.
TS: Yeah, and I believe pesticides and heavy metals will be required before then. It keeps getting pushed out. They keep saying, you know, this date, and then six months prior to that date it gets pushed out. It’s all about rulemaking and the legislative process to write that requirement into rule.
LBM: As I understand it, Confidence Analytics is in the process of opening another lab in California. So that must be an education in the requirements of that state, right?
TS: Yeah, I think their bureau is probably one of the strictest, the BCC, the Bureau of Cannabis Control. So we’ve been working on that for probably about the past year and a half from a scientific standpoint. And working through the regulatory landscape. I believe we’re really close to opening. So that’s exciting.
LBM: Fantastic. Has that process of adapting to the Californian system and its list of regulations informed how you operate in Washington at all?
TS: I think it has because we’ve taken the best practices that we’ve learned there and incorporated them into our Washington lab, both because they’re best practice, but also to just have continuity between the two labs.
LBM: It’s good to hear that there’s that element of synergy going on. So, looking to the future, where do you see cannabis testing going in the next few years? How do you see it changing?
TS: Well, I think definitely the cannabinoid list in general is going to grow. In most states, you’re only required to test for anywhere between about four and maybe six cannabinoids. The consumer and the producer tend to like to see a bigger list. But it is still an emerging industry. I guess it’s been legal now in some states for the better part of a decade, but a lot of that research into cannabinoids, their potential therapeutic effects, and things of that nature are really in their infancy. There are hundreds of cannabinoids. And so it seems like every week there’s a new one in the news.
I think the other thing that we find out is, because this is all chromatography and separations, it’s like the more you dig, the more we’re like, ‘Oh, maybe I had a co-eluter there at some point.’ And now we’re starting to separate those out even more. And that’s one thing, I think it was a D10, we knew we had this shoulder on one of our cannabinoid peaks that was present in whatever frequency, 5 percent, of the samples. Once we got a D10 standard, we found out it was one of the D10 isomers. So I think a lot of that’s coming out as those cannabinoids are identified and given names, and we’re going to see where they are and the presence and I think it’s really just going to improve our methods as well because, ‘Oh, well maybe we do need to do something to change the analytical process to separate that out and be able to identify it cleanly and quantify it.’
LBM: Is it fair to see we haven’t seen the end of this trend of novel delta cannabinoids?
TS: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I don’t think it’s that D3, D10, and some of these other ones [like] CBD-HQ, which is a hydroquinone – it’s been on the market as a synthetic cannabinoid and now it’s becoming of interest in this cannabis market. So once we start looking for it, we can see its presence and prevalence in the different types of products.
Tania Sasaki, PhD, chief science officer at Confidence Analytics, was speaking to Leo Bear-McGuinness. Questions and responses have been edited for clarity.
This article originally appeared in Analytical Cannabis' Advances in Cannabis Testing eBook in September 2021.
This article was amended on September 23, 2021, to include some updated responses from Tania Sasaki.