Cannabis Vapor Testing Expected to Begin Imminently in Colorado
January 1 was meant to be the start of a new era for cannabis labs in Colorado. The state cannabis regulator had mandated that, from the start of this year, all cannabis vape emissions must be tested for metal contamination. Yet, as it became clear that not one lab would be able to develop and demonstrate an effective testing method in time, the regulators were forced to delay the implementation of this rule.
Now, Colorado’s Kaycha Labs is reporting that it is on the verge of having a vapor testing method certified by the state, and expects some volume of cannabis vape testing within the state to begin imminently.
Vapor tests will be ready in “weeks, not months”
While cannabis vape oils are usually tested for metal contaminants, the actual vapor they produce isn’t. To address this oversight, Coloradan regulators decided that the vapor emissions should also be tested for the presence of heavy metals.
But this is no small feat; there is no standardized method for cannabis vapor testing. So Colorado’s labs were largely left to develop and validate their own testing methodologies.
“We submitted our procedure to this state public health department two weeks ago, they reviewed it last week, and they’re coming on site next Monday to see it, we’re training them on it,” Stephen Goldman, Kaycha Labs’ chief science officer, told Analytical Cannabis.
If this method is approved by state regulators, it may not be long before Colorado consumers are buying the first wave of emissions-tested cannabis vape products. Indeed, in its notice addressing the delayed implementation of vapor testing, Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) stated that this requirement will come into force “when one or more Testing Facilities become certified to perform this test,” and that it could be rolled out in phases. This could mean testing one in every ten production batches, Goldman suggested, and then scaling up as more labs begin to offer vapor testing.
“Historically, they [the MED] have waited for more than one lab to be accredited and certified for this type of testing,” Goldman said. “This time, I do not think they will wait for more than one, I think when we’re ready, they will start to open it up.”
“I do think that it will be weeks, not months, until that happens,” he added. “And I do think that we will be the first.”
Overcoming the challenges of vapor testing
While vape emissions tests do already exist for e-cigarettes, these are largely not transferable to the cannabis space. For example, the time between puffs and the volume of vapor inhaled into the lungs can differ significantly between e-cigarette and cannabis vape smokers.
The oily nature of the cannabinoids in aerosol also presents an additional problem for testing labs.
“The standard way to collect gaseous molecules is to bubble [the gas] through impingers. These impingers are little glass tubes with frayed glass at the end, to make very small bubbles,” Amber Wise, scientific director at Medicine Creek Analytics and CANN member, told Analytical Cannabis last year.
“[But for cannabis vapors] these impingers would just get clogged up with cannabis oil as it condenses back down to these oily droplets,” Wise explained. “There’s just a bunch of logistical things that aren’t the case for e-cigarettes.”
To overcome this clogging issue, Kaycha Labs’ vapor testing method uses a two-impinger system with organic and aqueous solvents, and the lab is already evaluating how this method can be improved upon in the future.
“We use impingers, and the impingers are all custom glass – so very expensive. You don’t want to be handling them a lot. And unfortunately, after each vape pen use, you have to wash them really well, which makes workflow slow,” Goldman said.
“One thing that we are evaluating are disposables, so that none of that problem presents itself. You can kind of use them 5-10 times and then once they get contaminated, throw them away, put a new one in. Work flows fast, and my staff is not wasting time washing,” he said.
“A decision like that is an environmental and financial one, but it’s something that we’re evaluating right now.”
Requirements are likely to expand again during 2022
One criticism of the vapor testing regime is that it will initially only cover a narrow range of metal contaminants, namely arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury. These metals are all known to be absorbed by cannabis from the earth as the plants grow, but are typically not seen in any great amounts in vape device hardware.
“If we’re putting these things in nickel and chromium-plated hardware, then isn’t it logical that we would expect nickel and chromium to be in the vapor?” Goldman commented. “I think the actual list of analytes needs to be expanded, as soon as this testing program is opened up.”
Other important regulation changes in Colorado are already on the horizon for 2022. Effective July 1, all cannabis vape devices and metered dose inhalers will be required to list an expiration date on their packaging. In preparation, Kaycha Labs have also been working to establish stability testing capabilities ahead of the change.
“How to do it is the same way the pharmaceutical industry does it, by doing accelerated stability studies. So we take these products, and we store them in environmental chambers that are at elevated temperature and elevated relative humidity in order to degrade them faster,” Goldman explained.
“Once we get to a point where that product has degraded more than 15 percent from its ‘day zero’ concentration, that product technically now fails the state of Colorado’s potency variation [limit], which is plus or minus 15 percent.”
From this point, the lab can mathematically calculate how long the product would be expected to keep at normal room temperature and humidity and produce an accurate expiration date for that batch of products.