There are plenty of sectors within the cannabis industry that require varying degrees of expertise. If you want to launch a cannabis edible company but have no experience working in confections, you can learn this craft. If you’ve never grown cannabis but are interested in cultivation, you can try your hand at gardening and learn how to cultivate with time. But to expertly test and analyze in a laboratory setting, you need a science-based background (typically chemistry) to qualify you to work in a cannabis testing lab.
If you are a licensed cannabis operator, securing a partnership with an excellent lab is critical for building your business. But, with so many labs competing for your business, how do you know what to look for? Let’s explore what cannabis testing labs do and how you can ask the right questions to find your perfect lab partner.
What Does a Cannabis Testing Lab Do?
Cannabis testing labs are an important compliance partner for cannabis producers, processors, and manufacturers. Testing compliance is achieved when the raw cannabis or its byproducts undergoes (and passes) the tests set forth by the state in which it is grown, processed, and sold. When a cannabis product meets its state requirements, it is legal for sale and distribution. Generally, states have similar standards for compliance, so cannabis testing labs are often analyzing the following categories.
Potency is the most widely distributed information coming from the cannabis testing lab. The potency must be within the state’s limits for serving size, and this information is prominently displayed on all product packaging. Marijuana, even when analyzing the same strain, has varying potencies. Even an edible product—where the goal is to be as consistent as possible with dosing—may slightly vary from batch to batch.
Potency tests tell you cannabinoids by volume (percentage), the total amount of cannabinoids (by milligram/gram), and sometimes a ratio of THC to CBD or other notable cannabinoids. The primary compound labs are looking for is the amount of THC. This percentage is significant to maintain compliance with state laws. For example, a recreational dose of THC in California is 10 mg, yet only 5 mg in Oregon.
Cannabinoid and Terpene Profiles
A bit more in-depth than potency testing, these profiles give a comprehensive view of every cannabinoid and terpene found in the sample. Although not often required, it can be an excellent selling point for companies wanting to offer a more effect-based product. THC is the only state-regulated cannabinoid, but many more have therapeutic and medicinal properties.
CBD, CBN, CBC, and CBG are often found in small quantities and add to the overall cannabinoid percentage and product effects. In addition, terpenes such as myrcene, linalool, limonene, pinene, and humulene are found abundantly and add not only flavor and aroma but lend to the plant’s specific mental and physical effects.
Together, cannabinoids and terpenes create what is commonly called the “entourage effect”. However, it is more aptly referred to as the “ensemble effect” since the naturally occurring cannabinoids and terpenes work together synergistically to provide the maximum benefits the cannabis plant can provide.
Contaminants are a broad category and include foreign matter, microbial, and chemical contaminants. Foreign matter includes physical contaminants like hair, dust, or dirt that may have collected on the product during manufacturing or packaging. It also includes dead bugs and fecal matter that can cling to cannabis at the grow site.
Mold, mildew, and fungi pose serious health threats if ingested, and unfortunately, these are common issues growers face. Cannabis in butter or food-grade oil may be exposed to bacteria like salmonella and E. coli when combined with other ingredients in a kitchen. The equipment in cannabis testing labs can trace even the most minute amount of these contaminants.
Chemical contaminants include pesticides used to grow the plants, and residual solvents from extraction. During hydrocarbon extraction, the purging process should remove all remaining hydrocarbon gasses, like butane and propane, but if done incorrectly, may leave behind some residual solvents. These gasses are dangerous to inhale, especially for anyone with a lung disorder or weakened immune system.
Another sneaky contaminant is heavy metals. While no grower is intentionally adding mercury or lead to their soil, they are often found in natural soils and nutrients and the plants will soak them up through their roots. Since heavy metals cannot be broken down or digested by the plant, they end up in the harvest flowers and extracts.
Questions to Ask a Cannabis Testing Lab
Cannabis testing labs do not run the same business as each of their competitors. Several things set them apart, so it’s important to ask specific questions to help you find the right partner.
What Kind of Equipment Do You Use?
To perform the analysis mentioned above, cannabis testing labs need specialized machinery. Therefore, when inquiring about their capabilities, ask if they have the following equipment:
High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC): HPLC is the workhouse of the cannabis testing lab and is considered the gold standard for potency and cannabinoid profile testing.
Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectronomy (GC-MS): The GC-MS is pretty standard in cannabis testing labs because it tests for residual solvents and terpenes. It gets used with almost every sample. The lab will also need a headspace autosampler to test for residual solvents.
Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS): ICP-MS measures the levels of heavy metals like lead, arsenic, and mercury that may have leached into the cannabis through fertilizer and soils. Although not required in every state, heavy metal testing is essential for thorough analysis.
Liquid Chromatography-Mass Spectronomy (LC-MS): LC-MS is suitable for detecting most pesticides, but some pesticides (especially in tiny concentrations) are best seen by GC-MS. The cannabis testing lab will need a triple quadrupole mass spectrometer to detect super low concentrations.
Quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction (qPCR): For mold, bacteria, and other microbial contaminant tests are done using qPCR. Microbial contaminants are a severe threat to the end consumer and a standard for cannabis testing nationwide.
What Is Your Turnaround Time?
A cannabis testing lab should be able to provide you with an exact timeframe in which they’ll be able to complete your lab tests. Of course, there are always factors that might slow down a test result, but if they repeatedly produce slow results, you can lose out on sales or be limited in what you can produce while you wait for compliance testing.
Another factor to consider is who will be picking up the product. Generally, a lab representative will travel to your location to acquire all samples and document the transfer of ownership. Sometimes this occurs on a concrete schedule, and other times it varies based on the fluctuation of their business. This can greatly affect your turnaround time if they do not have a routine schedule.
How Do You Structure Pricing?
Cannabis testing fees factor into your overall product cost, so what you pay matters when looking at your bottom line. Be sure to ask about the cost of each test, and ask if there are any price breaks for volume. Usually, you can save a little money if you have more items to test per pick up or commit to a certain amount of tests each month.
Who Performs the Testing?
Cannabis lab testing is still fairly new, and some labs employ new staff instead of seasoned scientists with plenty of experience in a laboratory setting. Mistakes can be easily made with inexperienced personnel, so it’s crucial to ask about the staff and who performs your testing. Compliance is a critical part of your business, and you want your products tested by knowledgeable and experienced scientists.
How Will Our Teams Communicate?
When you start sending out test samples and diving into the complex world of seed-to-sale tracking, the amount of paperwork can be overwhelming. Knowing how the lab communicates can help you organize your documents and ensure accurate inventory tracking. Ask if there is one lab representative who will be managing your account or several.
How do they share your lab reports? Will everything land in your inbox or lab portal with a unique login to monitor the progress of your samples? How will they invoice you, and what kind of payments or terms do they accept? These questions help you know what to expect and determine if the lab is well organized with operational efficiencies in place.
Consolidate Your Cannabis Testing Lab Criteria
Cannabis testing labs are unique within the cannecht platform because they are considered both licensed cannabis operators and cannabis service providers.
As licensed cannabis operators, labs can use the cannecht platform to find cannabis industry professionals to help them grow their business. For example, cannabis tax attorneys, specialized marijuana lawyers, or marketing agencies and PR firms.
As a cannabis service provider, labs can create service offerings to detail their availability, turn-around time, pricing, and other valuable criteria that cannabis operators are looking for. Then, when licensed operators like producers and manufacturers are shopping for lab services, cannecht will match their criteria to service offerings and quickly pair perfectly matched partners.
With cannecht, you save valuable time and money otherwise wasted on cold calls, internet searches, and endless emails. Sign up today and join this first-of-its-kind network designed to bring new business partners together where they can quickly launch new projects together.
To learn more about cannecht and how we can help you find your perfect lab partner, reach out. We’d love to hear from you.