The Journey of a CBD Test in the UK
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Image credit: Eurofins
A global boom in CBD products has resulted in a growing desire, from both industry regulators and consumers, to have products tested to ensure their safety and that they meet country-specific legislation for market approval.
Joe Humphreys, business development manager at Eurofins Food & Water Testing (UK & Ireland), discusses the journey of CBD testing – what happens when the products are in the labs, what tests are carried out, and what the results can mean for both brands and retailers.
The cannabis plant
The Cannabaceae family has several genera under it. Cannabis sativa is one of the botanical species that includes several varieties of hemp and can be particularly distinguished by its cannabinoid contents, which are subject to strict control measures. Typically, industrial hemp varieties are those that express very low levels of THC.
While regulations vary around the world in terms of potency verification, all require products to go through testing to ensure they are fully compliant in the market in which they’re sold.
Within the EU, the only permissible cultivars are hemp seeds. In the UK, we work with many small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) manufacturers, from sole traders to larger organisations with operations in the UK and overseas. We’ll also regularly work with raw material suppliers keen to verify levels of CBD in their ingredients to ensure they meet specification and compliance.
How are samples prepared for testing?
Samples are usually sent to our labs in finished form. While we only need around one-to-two grams to run an accurate cannabinoid test, having a larger sample available or multiple samples from the same batch means that we can gain a much more representative result, reflective of an entire batch rather than a single sample of one batch.
Products should ideally be protected from light, which can cause CBD and other cannabinoids to degrade. This degradation can subsequently impact test reliability and accuracy. Based within Eurofins’ Heathrow facility, we can use the wider Eurofins network of labs to carry out wider tests if necessary, such as tests for pesticides, allergens, and microbes.
What happens during the testing process?
Depending on the sample type, a representative portion is homogenised and mixed with a solvent, usually ethanol. As cannabinoids are hydrophobic in nature, they are readily extracted into the solvent, which allows us to filter the sample and mix and dilute.
The amount we dilute is determined by the expected target level of cannabinoid within the product. For example, a 5% CBD product doesn’t need as much dilution as a 40% product, so we’ll tweak and adapt as necessary.
CBD testing in action. Image credit: Eurofins.
When a manufacturer provides the expected levels upfront, it can help to make the analysis process quicker and simpler, as we know how we need to dilute the sample for it to be in range of the calibrations set-up on the (ultra-performance liquid chromatography) UPLC instrument.
To quantify or confirm the presence of a target cannabinoid, a sample would be run on several dilutions in order to provide a full set of results. If the dilution isn’t correct, some cannabinoids can drown out others on the chromatography, which can give inaccurate results.
How long does the process take?
Depending on the client’s requirements, we can process CBD products through the lab in five days as standard. But we do appreciate that sometimes results are needed much quicker, sometimes under 36 or even 24 hours. This is often true if a manufacturer is waiting on results post-mixing. In this instance, producers like to ensure they have the correct homogeneity and concentration before the product is packaged and labelled.
Which tests are carried out in the lab?
The cannabinoid screen is one test, which quantifies 16 major and minor cannabinoids. It’s quite a unique test; an analyst will check that the target cannabinoids (for example, CBD) are at the levels claimed on the product’s labelling and look for compliance in the absence of other controlled cannabinoids, like Δ9-THC or CBN. These tests can pose particular analytical challenges when we are having to quantify pure materials (over 98%) and also confirm levels at limit of quantification.
If the product contains a CBD isolate, we will generally see one to two peaks on the chromatograph. For a “broad spectrum” distillate, we can see additional cannabinoids begin to appear, such as CBG and CBC, depending on how processed and remediated the distillate material is.
For full spectrum product testing, we’d see a good mix of all the cannabinoids we look for. However, in the UK, full spectrum products tend to have controlled cannabinoid levels above one milligram per product, so would fall foul of current Misuse of Drugs regulations.
Making sure testing is carried out using accredited methods and processes is vital for brands and manufacturers to be able to demonstrate their commitment to safety and compliance – something that can and does hold many up when approaching the market with new products.
Using UKAS/ISO 17025 accredited methods, we can provide cannabinoids profile assays (potency analysis), nutritional testing, microbiological contaminant testing, and process contaminants such as solvents, mycotoxins, and pesticides. Some of the products most frequently tested include dried plant materials, oils, beverages, concentrates, confectionary, cosmetics, and powders.
What happens when the test results are available?
Once the results are in, they are reviewed by our experienced analysts to ensure all quality control checks are within specification and results are acceptable.
Once signed off, the certificates of analysis are issued electronically by our dedicated analytical service manager team and sent to our clients via email. Results can also be monitored through our Euro-portal platform, with full lab journey tracking details and data insights available to easily see result trends and monitor consistency across batches. Euro-portal can also provide all past certificates for any samples ever submitted.
What happens after the results are provided?
Depending on the customer, several things could happen once the test results are in. If they are a brand or a reseller simply checking the levels in their product, the results will provide them with reassurance that what they are selling matches what is being declared in terms of product description and labelling.
For a raw material producer, these results would form a part of their certificates of conformity documentation, which manufacturers need to be able to use the material responsibly, safely, and legally in their products.
For manufacturers, the cannabinoid results may be the final checkpoint they need before they proceed to fill and label thousands of bottles (of oil, for example). Having accurate results from a trusted and accredited partner is crucial, as the price of raw materials is significantly higher than normal food ingredients.
Why should testing be done?
While not massively common due to the tightly regulated nature of the CBD market, some products still don’t match up to what’s inside – whether it is inaccurate levels stated on-pack, or the presence of controlled types of CBD, rendering them illegal.
By ensuring tests are carried out by a reputable provider – whether by Eurofins or any other CBD testing firm – brands, manufacturers, and producers can rest assured that they meet all of their legal responsibilities. And above all, consumers can trust in the quality, safety, and accuracy of what they’re buying.