The purpose of a cannabis laboratory is to provide a certificate of analysis for distributors. The lab provides a place where you can test your cannabis for levels of heavy metals, pesticides, residual solvents, and conduct microbial analysis. All of this is essential to understand your product and provide distributors with the information required to sell your product on the market with the correct safety measures in place. Below are the lab instruments and techniques required for comprehensive cannabis testing.
HPLC is an acronym for High-Performance Lipid Chromatography (previously High- Pressure). It is a chromatographic technique that relies on a pumping mechanism to pass a pressurized liquid solvent containing the sample mixture through a column filled with a solid adsorbent material. The absorbent material causes the different components in the mixture to behave differently based on their properties. For example, different components will have different flow rates, causing them to be separated out soon or later than other components.
A HPLC lab instrument will allow you to determine the potency of your cannabis. The potency of cannabis is normally looked at in terms of the quantity of the major cannabinoids within the sample, including THCA, THC, CBD, and CBN.
ICP-MS or Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectronomy is a type of mass spectrometry which is capable of detecting metals and several non-metals at concentrations as low as one part in 1015(part per quadrillion, ppq). ICP-MS lab instruments will help determine the levels of heavy metals present within the sample.
Metals and pesticides can be found in varying quantities within the soil and fertilizer that the cannabis plant grows in. As the plant grows, it takes the metals, or pesticide compounds from the soil and stores them within the cannabis plant. Some metals are only safe in extremely low concentrations, meaning you have to ensure your levels are below the threshold. Metals that are considered toxic are lead, arsenic, mercury, and cadmium. These are the heavy metals most commonly captured within regulations around cannabis. ICP-MS lab instruments are highly sensitive and will display the concentrations of these metals present.
Research conducted by Steep Hill’s Lab in Berkeley, California, found that 41 out of the 44 cannabis samples they tested had pesticide levels above the allowable limit. With 93% of samples above the allowable limit for pesticides, it’s essential that adequate tests are performed. Not all areas have regulations on pesticide levels in cannabis, but most that don’t are considering regulating it in the near future.
There are other types of analysis that can be conducted to determine heavy metal concentrations, for example, ICP-OES, and AAS. ICP-OES or inductively coupled plasma-optical emission spectroscopy uses argon plasma to atomize the sample, allowing for the analysis of more than 70 elements within the cannabis. ICP-MS also uses argon and works in a similar fashion, however, ICP-MS is considered to have much higher sensitivity and therefore has a higher cost to match.
AAS, or Atomic absorption Spectroscopy, involves burning a sample at a high temperature and measuring different wavelengths of light as they pass through the resulting gas. This works because atoms absorb different wavelengths. AAS has the lowest cost but also has a low sample throughput and so it is not suitable for lab environments that will need to test a significant amount of samples.
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