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Overcome the growing pains of cannabis testing: 3 reasons to bring your testing in-house

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Author: Paul Winkler

With more countries across the globe and states in the US legalizing medicinal and recreational marijuana and hemp, the industry continues to bloom. But with this, there are many gray areas. Whether it’s regulations or simple safety measures, in the field, I’ve seen a lot of blank expressions. Regulators are moving to introduce regulations to ensure cannabis product safety and quality, and this is where things can get complex.

For instance, the European Union classifies a product as hemp when the roots and seeds have no THC, dried stem material contains 0.3% or less and the lower leaves contain less than 1% of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). For the US, each state has its own protocols that include varying pesticide and potency limits for marijuana. Hemp contamination testing regulations are still be developed. Given the absence of federal guidance, accredited labs have had to develop and validate their own methods of measuring THC and cannabidiol (CBD). Because of molecular similarities, positive identification and accurate quantitation between these cannabinoids, and others, for that matter can be challenging.

And the risk with that? Well, in the case of potency for medicinal marijuana, doctors need to ensure patients have the right treatment. What’s more, inaccurate concentrations in a product could also have legal implications. For example, in the US, the federal 2018 Farm Bill states the production and marketing of industrial hemp products and derivatives are permitted as long as they contain no more than 0.3% of THC on a dry-weight basis. Anything higher is considered marijuana and the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) still considers marijuana illegal.

Clearly, industry consensus on quality and safety standards varies widely, which can lead to concerns as independent labs are free to develop in-house methods to meet regulatory requirements. So, how do farmers, growers and analytical chemists keep up? Especially when dealing in a global market, there is the question of trust in third-party laboratories using accurate, validated methods aligned to the specific market needs.

Reason 1#: End-to-end ownership

Whether it’s to monitor plant development or verify the safety and quality of raw materials, by having in-house testing, you own the end-to-end process. You have a direct impact on product output and  ensure your facility is equipped with the proper equipment and trained experts helping you effectively test your product. So, in some ways, in-house testing helps enable you to proactively protect your brand by producing a quality product while adhering to strict compliance standards. Having the ability to test on-site avoids shipping of controlled substances, skips lengthy application permits and, more importantly, offloads security costs that come with outsourcing your testing. If that’s not convincing enough, in-house testing can also give you more control of your research and development (R&D), such as making decisions on effective approaches to cultivate different strains to produce desired results.

Reason #2: Speed of results

Since samples no longer need to be sent to an external lab, starting your sample prep immediately can get you faster results. The faster you test and collect data, the quicker you can take proper corrective action or make further improvements. With in-house testing, you can help ensure smoother day-to-day operations and minimize any changes in product output to deliver consistent and reliable results. Why wait days or weeks to get the high-quality results, when you can get answers in minutes?

Reason #3: Flexibility          

Customization is key. As more states and countries legalize marijuana and hemp, guidelines and regulations will evolve. This means testing requirements will change along with it. With in-house testing, your lab can more quickly adapt to these updates to ensure product compliance.

In a nutshell: why should you care? 

Brand reputation associated with a quality product is of paramount importance for the recreational and medical cannabis markets. Consumers are savvier than ever in leveraging available channels to find a reputable supplier. Help protect your brand and increase your return on investment (ROI), get faster results and control the production process with increased flexibility by bringing testing in-house. 

If you’re just starting out, check out one of my previous blogs that looks at instrumentation for cannabis analysis. You can also talk to our team to understand how we can help you bring your testing in-house or drop me an email at paul.winkler@sciex.com. I’m happy to help!


About the author, Paul Winkler
I play an active role in supporting cannabis (marijuana and hemp) applications at SCIEX. I have more than 30 years of experience owning and operating contract labs in the environmental and bioanalytical markets. I’ve been part of the SCIEX family since 2011. I started as a field application chemist, and today I’m a market development manager for the North America team. Helping customers like you with your analytical challenges and educating the market on the many possibilities of LC-MS/MS systems, is my passion.

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