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AOAC Opens Call for Toxin Screening Methods in Cannabis Materials

By Alexander Beadle

Published: Mar 31, 2021   
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AOAC International is now inviting submissions from cannabis laboratories with unique methods for mycotoxin screening and for the detection of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli in cannabis plant materials and derivatives.

The independent laboratory standards organization is seeking new methods to evaluate for AOAC “First Action Official Methods of Analysis” status, which, if accepted, will see the method become an official AOAC reference standard for cannabis testing.

AOAC International has also published a call for comment on two draft standard method performance requirements (SMPRs) for total yeast and mold enumeration and quantitative mycotoxin analysis.


Screening methods submitted for the mycotoxin-related call must be able to detect all mycotoxins currently listed by the AOAC in its SMPR 2020.013, the SMPR for mycotoxin screening in cannabis plant material and derivatives. Similarly, methods submitted for E. coli detection should meet the requirements of SMPR 2020.012, which covers the detection of E. coli. In meeting these requirements, eligible methods are able to demonstrate they are both reliable and reproducible.

Method authors are encouraged to submit methods for review using the AOAC Official Methods of Analysis (OMA) program. Authors with “with rapid commercial and proprietary methods” are invited to submit via the Performance Tested Methods℠ (PTM) program, the OMA program, or the PTM program followed by the OMA program.

There are currently no deadlines in place for either call. Submissions require the applicant to provide their name and organization, as well as their method’s applicability, materials, reagents, and calculations.

Mycotoxins and Shiga toxin in cannabis screening

The cultivation conditions needed for cannabis also happen to provide an ideal environment for the growth of molds and fungi. If allowed to proliferate, these can begin to produce various harmful mycotoxins that can contaminate the cannabis crop.

Such mycotoxins have been linked to kidney and liver damage, reproductive disorders, and immune suppression. Aflatoxins, a subtype of mycotoxins produced by some aspergillus fungi species, are particularly dangerous as they are known to be potent carcinogens. For the most part, mycotoxin testing regulations in the United States will require cannabis testing labs to screen for aflatoxins B1, B2, G1, G2, and ochratoxin A.

“Exposure to high levels of mycotoxins can be extremely dangerous, especially if the exposure is long-term,” Amanda Horodyski, microbiology lab manager at Atlantic Test Labs, previously told Analytical Cannabis.

“The mycotoxins relevant to cannabis, aflatoxin and ochratoxin, have been shown to be carcinogenic,” Horodyski continued. “Consumption or inhalation of high levels aflatoxin B1, B2, G1, and, G2 have been shown to cause liver damage. Ochratoxin A has also been demonstrated to be an immune suppressor and can cause kidney damage.”

Shiga toxin presents its own health risks, as it is known to cause potentially fatal hemorrhagic colitis and hemolytic uremic syndrome in humans.

Clearly then, having a standard method describing the screening for mycotoxins in cannabis would be a boon to the sector.

Calls for comment on two proposed SMPRs

AOAC International has also opened a comment period for two draft SMPRs, relating to viable total yeast and mold count enumeration and the quantitative analysis of mycotoxins in cannabis biomass.

SMPRs, as utilized by AOAC International, are voluntary consensus standards that have been developed using input from relevant stakeholders. The SMPR for a particular process will describe the minimum analytical performance requirements that are considered necessary for that process to be sufficient. These SMPRs can then be used as guidelines to evaluate proposed standard methods of analysis.

The comment period on the two newly proposed draft SMPRs will run until April 30, 2021. Editorial comments to provide additional clarification, content-related comments on technical clarity and comprehensiveness, and general comments on the overall state of the draft SMPRs are all being welcomed. Comments can be submitted using this online form, with the full-text of the draft SMPR for viable total yeast and mold count enumeration available here, and the SMPR for the quantitative analysis of mycotoxins in cannabis biomass, here.


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