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Canada’s Focus on Cannabis Quality and Safety Intensifies

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The Second in a Three-Part Series

Welcome to the second in a series of blogs from the cannabis team at SCIEX, designed to bring you up to speed and put you in the lead of the recently legalized cannabis market in Canada.

In the first blog, we introduced the Cannabis Act and what it means for the industry. Here we explore product safety and the related analytical testing requirements by answering your common questions.

Why Is Safety up There as a Top Priority?
‘Protecting public health and safety by allowing adults access to legal cannabis’ is one of three top priorities of the Act. Regulation aims to ensure that cannabis is safe by eliminating potentially dangerous cultivation and processing practices. Strict rules and standards for producers cover, amongst other things, the types of cannabis products allowed for sale, packaging and labeling requirements, prohibiting the use of certain ingredients and good production practices.

How Will These Safety and Quality Standards Be Monitored?
The short answer is through testing. There are strict rules throughout the supply chain from cultivation to sale, and rigorous testing has been federally mandated by Health Canada before cannabis products are made available to the public. In other words, legal cannabis products must meet the grade.

What Tests Need to Be Done and Why?
Relative to other industries, safety and regulatory standards for cannabis testing are in their infancy. In Canada, there are already rules for testing in place for medical marijuana, but these are expected to become more comprehensive and stringent.

Laboratories certified for analytical testing must conduct all tests using validated methods on every lot or batch of cannabis to ensure requirements are met. Testing depends on the cannabis product class, but will typically include potency, purity, and safety.

  • Potency – A class of approximately 100 chemical compounds, called Cannabinoids, are responsible for cannabis psychoactive and therapeutic effects. The most significant are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the high, and cannabidiol (CBD) – the medical properties. Legalization requires products to be labeled with the THC and CBD percentages.
  • Terpenes – Terpenes are the aromatic compounds found in cannabis plants and emit its unique aroma. Terpene analysis is crucial for identifying the strain of cannabis as well as the effects.
  • Pesticides – Harmful pesticides, fungicides, and plant-growth regulators can have very nasty health risks if consumed. There are currently 22 approved pest control products under Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR). The prohibited list is extensive, and the stakes are high – if discovered the entire batch must be recalled and destroyed.
  • Contaminants – These can adversely compromise product quality and can have detrimental health effects if ingested or inhaled. Potentially dangerous contaminants include heavy metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium and arsenic; residual solvent chemicals used in extraction and processing; and mycotoxins which are toxic byproducts of microbiological contaminants such as fungus or molds.

Different provinces and territories will set acceptable limits through localized cannabis regulation.

How Can Testing Help Improve Supply?
As cannabis sales shift to licensed outlets and more producers receive their federal stamp of approval, the demand for testing services is expected to rocket. Commercial cannabis testing is very competitive, and legalization will put pressure on the scientific community – who need the right instruments and methods to stay ahead of the curve and ahead of demand.

Using liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS), SCIEX has pioneered standardized testing methods to analyze potency, terpene, pesticides, and contaminants to Health Canada regulations.

To find out how LC-MS/MS helps analytical testing labs, regulatory laboratories, and licensed producers to clear the bottlenecks and supply safe, legal cannabis products to the Canadian market, check out the next blog in our series.

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