Cannabis Quality Control Testing
Noel Palmer, Ph.D., Chief Scientist, CBx Sciences/Evolab
In Colorado’s Medical and Recreational cannabis markets, third party testing is mandated for all cannabis flower, concentrates and infused products. The mandated third party testing encompasses potency of the cannabinoids as well as potential contamination (e.g. residual solvents, pesticides, and microbiological). This testing is not cheap, and there is typically a few days delay between when test samples have been submitted to the labs – and when the results are delivered. In order for a sample to ‘pass’ third party testing, the potency has to be within 15% of the value on the labels – and the sample cannot produce any results above the tolerance levels set by the state. Many cannabis companies will also use these third party labs as ‘process control’ – meaning, when product development occurs – laboratory testing is necessary to validate that certain goals are being achieved such as consistent dosing.
Because of the added costs and time required in third party testing, it is fairly common that companies perform the minimum required frequency in order to save money, effort and product. However, it’s important to keep in mind that we are working with a herbal product – and there can be significant heterogeneity in laboratory results because of the different testing methods, varied potencies of plant and oils, and non-uniformity. A single test result may or may not be representative of the entire batch of product being tested. Most of the test results you see on labels come from a single test in a third party lab, rather than an average of many single tests.
At Evolab, we have taken a different approach to process and quality control. While we comply with all the required third party testing for products to be released to the market, we have also established an internal ‘process control’ laboratory that allows us to perform statistically appropriate number of tests on all our material and products. We have hired qualified chemists to run the lab, testing all incoming material – in-process products, and final products. Among other equipment, we are equipped with a High Performance Liquid Chromatography – Diode Array Detector (HPLC-DAD) for potency of our cannabinoids, and a Gas Chromatography - Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS) to perform terpene testing and contaminant testing.
HPLC-DAD is a machine that’s found in most cannabis laboratories for potency analysis of cannabis utilizing chromatography. Chromatography is the science of separating complex mixtures into their individual populations (regarding chemical structure) and determining the amount of each population in the original mixture, allowing us to validate important things like cannabinoid content.
GC/MS in principal is similar to HPLC – but it is a different set of solutions that are designed to test different chemicals. For cannabis, GC can be useful when looking into at terpenes, neutral cannabinoids (e.g. THC, CBD, CBN, CBC), residual solvents and some pesticides.
At Evolab, we continue to invest in new technologies to ensure that our analytical and product development capabilities are unrivaled, helping us create the most unique, potent and consistent products.