Challenges and Innovations in Cannabis Testing Labs During Sample Preparation
Jessica Spinney, owner of Clear Brew Technologies and winner of our moisture analyzer MA160, talked to us about some of the challenges she faces and innovations she has seen in cannabis testing labs during sample preparation. Read her responses below!
What do you see as general challenges in the cannabis industry?
1) Ensuring consistency in product quality
Replicating results from a particular product becomes more difficult for growers and suppliers because of the constant development of new seed strains. However, maintaining repeat business and developing a positive reputation in the market depends on consistent results, especially for the smaller wholesalers looking to grow their footprint in the industry.
2) Lack of transparency about and standardization of testing methods and protocols
According to Jessica, labs like hers are looking forward to the standardization of testing methods and protocols. The challenge here is that though testing methods are still under development, those in the industry are often reluctant to share information on testing methods and protocols due to their concerns about maintaining an edge against competitors in the industry.
Current banking laws that restrict capital movement and result in high taxation rates for those on the wholesale side (growers, extractors, distillers) exacerbate this reluctance to share testing methods. Producers seek flexibility on costs for lab testing and consultation from testing labs, and therefore, testing labs seek more flexible purchasing options like package deals, leasing, and so on from suppliers like Sartorius.
3) Producers may have limited background and experience in analytical science
According to Jessica, many of the people entering the industry built up their expertise in other businesses before deciding to get into the cannabis/hemp market. Therefore, many producers (growers, extractors, and wholesalers) in the industry have little to no background in science. These producers need education about analytical tests and assistance performing them.
„With standardization around testing methodology, that is one less thing to have to worry about.”
What do you see as challenges in cannabis testing, especially with regard to lab methods and products?
The primary sample matrices cannabis testing labs currently analyze include:
- Dry leaf/bud
- Flavored edible samples (ex. honey-based)
- Salves (containing CBD/THC)
- CBD oils
Challenges Jessica’s lab faces (mostly as it relates to sample prep for GC for THC/CBD analysis):
1. Separating the THC/CBD from the honey in honey-based samples
Jessica’s lab eventually found a way to do this using tea. Then, they separated the remaining material with acetone for analysis in the GC.
2. Methods for grinding the leaf to optimize GC analysis
Methods for grinding--such as fineness of the particles and how long to let the powder rest before extraction—effect how much material is available for testing and how effective the GC analysis will be. The sample size and matrix effects impact the results and how much sample they require to perform the testing.
3. Required sample sizes for other tests
Most suppliers (wholesalers) provide enough sample for testing; however, more study is needed to determine optimal sample amounts for moisture content analysis and to prevent the loss of terpenes (based on optimizing sample testing temperatures and profiles used). This is a potential area of study that CBT has agreed to work on with us.
CBT currently has their license to analyze and test for CBD content. They are waiting on approval for their THC license.
What role does moisture analysis play in a cannabis testing lab?
Moisture content determines expiration date
Every cannabis product, whether finished edibles or raw materials, must be labelled with an expiration date, which is based on the microbiological contamination findings. Moisture content in the starting raw material and finished product determines the rate at which microbes grow.
To sell their products, licensed wholesalers must perform microbiological tests. CBT works closely with their clients on improving the sterility of their operations, so they improve the quality of the finished cannabis/hemp products.
“The importance of expiration dates and bioburden testing ensures knowing that you are able to provide the freshest possible product to your customers – easing stress levels and providing piece of mind to those using the products – especially for medicinal purposes.”
“If the (grower) is not using sterile conditions, there is more chance for microbial growth and contamination if the moisture content is not correctly maintained throughout the process.”
Background on Jessica and Clear Brew Technology (CBT)
Jessica is the owner of Clear Brew Technologies (CBT). Jessica’s academic background is in microbiology and her professional background is in local restaurants and bars. She works closely with CBT’s lab director, Lauren Russel. Jessica’s goal was to develop a business that would allow her to support the local growth of dispensaries, breweries, pubs, distilleries, and restaurants, while continuing to live in the Bozeman area full time.
The company: Clear Brew Technologies (CBT)
CBT is a recently formed, small, independent testing facility with the goal of giving their customer’s knowledge about their products and peace-of-mind that they are selling and providing the best, most consistent products. CBT offers a wide variety of testing, including microorganism testing and identification of beer spoiling bacteria and native yeast identification. Their toxicology unit offers CLIA-waived testing and convenient after-hours sampling times.
For a full company description, see the company’s website:
Learn more about CBT