Cannabis testing is a crucial step in ensuring the safety and quality of cannabis products before they enter the retail market. Here, we take a step by step guided tour of a virtual cannabis lab and provide an overview of the journey of a cannabis sample from collection right through to the production of a certificate of analysis.
annabis laboratories are modern, tech-heavy facilities equipped with sensitive analytical instrumentation and qualified, competent technicians and analysts trained for each type of test conducted. Analysis often utilizes organic solvents like methanol and acetonitrile, or corrosive liquids like nitric acid and hydrochloric acid. Therefore, chemical fume hoods are required to ensure employee safety, along with safety glasses, gloves, and lab coats. Security is paramount at these facilities, and all activity occurs in designated areas under video surveillance. When not being handled, samples are retained in a secure storage location with restricted access to authorized personnel only.
pon request by the licensee, laboratory personnel are dispatched to the cultivation or processing site to collect representative samples. The field samplers arrive on-site with fresh personal protective equipment (PPE) including gloves, lab coat or coveralls, often hair coverings, disposable bootie coverings, and surgical masks. Field sampling kits accompany the samplers, often as carry-on sized hard-shell rolling cases, sanitized before each sampling site. A field balance is verified with reference weights to ensure proper functionality and accuracy, and the sample increments are randomly selected from the batch, weighed, and recorded on chain-of-custody (CoC) paperwork. Upon completion of the sampling event, the representative samples with documented masses are relinquished by the licensee’s signatory, and the field samplers assume custody of the product for secure transport to the designated laboratory.
pon arrival at the laboratory, samples are immediately examined to document integrity. This intake process ensures the sample has not experienced tampering or adverse conditions during transport. Typically, temperature minimum/maximum is documented by a device that travelled with the samples, and sample packages are scrutinized to verify the tamper-evident seals have not been broken, altered, or replaced, and no spillage, leakage, or other mishandling has occurred. Staff accepting the samples verify that the recorded mass or number of units, and matrix type, exactly match the CoC paperwork. Once samples are deemed acceptable, custody is transferred to the laboratory by signature of the field sampler and sample acceptor. Samples are registered in the laboratory information management system (LIMS), assigned a unique internal laboratory ID, and staged for visual inspection and further sub-sample allocation to the various assays.
Visual inspection is specifically defined by each state’s governing body, and often includes thresholds for debris such as dirt, cinders, hair, insect parts, animal excrement, and mold. Typically, a lab uses a device to magnify an image of the sample during inspection, such as a standard stereomicroscope or modern handheld digital USB mini-scope. Either option gives ample visual magnification to conduct visual inspection. This examination is generally carried out prior to sample homogenization, in order to identify debris before it would otherwise be non-recognizable, mixed in with the botanical matrix.
ample preparation varies according to the analytes being measured. In general, the entire representative sample is mechanically homogenized (after visual inspection is complete). The homogenization process ought to be conducted in a sterile manner when microbiological testing will be conducted downstream. Sub-samples are then weighed into appropriate vessels, and an extraction liquid is added to mobilize the product constituents, and potentially contaminants, into the liquid media (solvent, acid, or buffer). Typically, this extract is further diluted into a test aliquot for analysis.
annabis is tested to provide a measure of quality to the supply chain and ultimately the end-user. Regulatory testing generally requires potency measurements so the product can be labelled to inform the consumer, and also requires screening for residual contaminants such as pesticides, heavy metals, processing chemicals, and microbes or microbial by-products, according to public-health protection criteria.
esticide residuals on harvested cannabis plant material is a result of human application or plant uptake from the environment. Mycotoxins are generally present when particularly nefarious species of molds are present during cultivation, harvest, curing or storing phases of production. Nevertheless, these both of these types of small molecules are typically tested by utilizing methodology carried out by liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LCMS/MS). Gas chromatography tandem mass spectrometry is also applicable in states with pesticide analytes not amenable to LCMS/MS. These highly sophisticated, incredibly sensitive instruments are necessary due to the extremely low quantities required for detection limits by many states.
hen raw cannabis plant material is extracted, concentrated, or otherwise processed into oil, the process often utilizes butane, propane, ethanol or other chemical solvents as the carrier for the target cannabinoids and terpenes. To determine if residual processing chemicals are present in excess of the state action limits, test aliquots are partitioned into headspace vials and run on (GC) instrumentation. Along with the extraction constituents such as butane, this assay also screens for minute levels of contaminants such as benzene, chloroform, toluene, and xylenes.
pon completion of all required laboratory testing, the product data are evaluated against the action limit criteria. Test samples with no detections over any of the contamination limits, and within potency claim margins, are deemed to pass and released in the seed-to-sale tracking system for distribution. If a sample encountered a detection above any action limit, it fails the primary round of testing and may be eligible for a remediation pathway according to individual state regulations. Results are often communicated to the licensee directly by email, and also by means of a laboratory client portal where all historical product CoAs are available. Additionally, results must be reported via the state database. The potency values issued on the CoA are used to label the product and serve as the primary conduit for communication of product constituents to the consumer.