You may have already heard the buzz about new cannabis testing laboratories opening around the state. With the Michigan legislature having certain language in HB 4209 that would mandate lab testing of the cannabis available through provision centers, it seems like the timing is ripe for business opportunities in the area cannabis science and laboratories. One of the newest labs coming onto the scene is PSI Labs based in Ann Arbor. I was invited to meet with PSI founders, Ben Rosman and Lev Spivak-Birndorf, and to take a tour of PSI Labs, which is currently open to caregivers, patients, and dispensaries.
I was curious about what prompted Ben to get into the cannabis testing business. “I never thought to use cannabis to treat my epilepsy. That changed a year ago when my neurologist recommended Cannatonic 4 (a high-CBD, low-THC strain) to help me reduce my seizure medications. I got off more than half of my meds and truly enjoyed the high-CBD strain. The problem was, sometimes the supposedly non-psychoactive Cannatonic 4 got me really high – at work. It made me wonder: what was in some of the tinctures and medibles I took? Was I really getting what I paid for? Was there more? Less? Something totally different?”
PSI labs utilizes both GC/MS (gas chromatography/mass spectrometry) and HPLC/MS (high pressure liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry) methods for testing cannabis samples and currently offers two types of testing; a cannabinoid profile test, also known as potency testing, and a terpene profile test which measures up to 23 terpene levels. Each of the tests individually cost $35, but if you get both cannabinoid and terpene profiles, the price drops to $55 total. Edible potency testing is $45 per single test.
As greater awareness develops about terpenes in cannabis, lab testing of these profiles is proving to be a valuable resource for patients. Likened to the “chemical fingerprints” of cannabis strains, terpene profiles are responsible for the plant’s entourage effect and plays a critical role in the way cannabis affects the body.
Now I’m not the one who is going to tell you which lab to choose, or even that you must test your marijuana. With that said, I have utilized cannabis testing laboratories in Michigan ever since they were established and will continue to do so. I would suggest using a lab that uses HPLC testing, as both the United Nations and the American Herbal Products Association have declared HPLC to be the preferred method of analysis for quantitatively determining cannabinoid concentration. Right now, cannabis testing is not regulated for standardized methodologies or equipment. There could be one lab that uses HPLC and another that uses Near-Infrared Reflective (NIR) equipment. The Spott, a cannabis testing lab located in Kalamazoo, has chosen to go even beyond HPLC to UPLC (ultra performance liquid chromatography): the newest development in liquid chromatography.
The more I investigate cannabis lab testing, the more questions I have myself. It seems that every answer I find leaves me with two more questions. Not only what type of equipment should be used, but what is the best handling practice, sample preparation, and collection process?
In California, where medical marijuana has been around since 1996, there are many cannabis testing labs. Nearly 30 California labs participated in the first nationwide ILC/PT (Intra-Laboratory Comparison/Proficiency Test) for the cannabis industry called the Emerald Test. I spoke with Ken Snoke of Emerald Scientific, a leading supplier of high quality reagents, supplies, equipment, and services to the cannabis industry, and also was the facilitator of the Emerald Test (www.emeraldtest.com). It found an average difference of 12% on THC potency tests from lab to lab, leaving many to wonder which lab is accurate. To put this number in perspective: if you have a cannabis sample that tests at 20% THC potency with a 10% difference (instead of 12% for math’s sake), the accurate potency would actually range from 18% THC to 22% THC. Snoke suggests to keep in mind that you’re not buying the tested sample, you’re getting a representative sample of what was tested.
Just months ago, I performed an experiment which determined that there was a 4% range in THC potency from buds on the same plant. Look at our ponderings, “What is the difference in THC content between the top ‘crown’ bud and the bottom ‘runt’ bud?” This is just another example of why batch testing and an accurate collection process are critical in determining the most precise measurement.
Yet, potency testing is just one of the tests that can be done and arguably not the most important. Several pertinent safety issues can be tested by lab analysis such as the presence of mycotoxins (toxins that are a byproduct of mold infestation), residual solvents, pesticides, heavy metals, and microbiological contaminants. Michigan’s availability for these types of tests is still expanding, though a national standardization of all cannabis testing may be on the horizon. The American Oil Chemists’ Society (AOCS) has already been researching the benefits and challenges facing the industry and is likely going to be the body that develops a standard practice in testing cannabis nationwide. One of the biggest challenges in testing, according to AOCS, is that the scheduling of marijuana makes it difficult to develop a reference solution that is undiluted enough to provide the most accuracy.
Iron Laboratories, located in Walled Lake, is the longest running cannabis testing lab in Michigan and the first to receive ISO 17025:2005 lab accreditation. I reached out to Howard Lutz, CEO of Iron Labs, and asked him how it feels to be the first accredited cannabis testing laboratory in Michigan. “It feels great because we were committed from day one to making sure we backed up our methods. And now the proof is in the pudding.” On that note, I’ll leave you thinking about cannabis infused pudding.
Remember that you, the patients, are the heartbeat of the market. If you demand certain testing, it will come.