Cannabis testing is vital for people who want to buy cannabis products. By correctly determining the potency and composition of these products, consumers can make smart choices on what they purchase. This is especially relevant for medical cannabis patients who need specific therapeutic effects, but it’s also crucial for adult-use consumers because the strength of products can differ significantly – resulting in varied experiences.
There are a number of ways to test cannabis for safety, quality, and potency information to customers. While the precise testing criteria vary by state, several prominent testing processes exist across the sector. THC and CBD levels in cannabis products are especially crucial when it comes to potency data; as a result, they encourage analysis companies to provide information on these components.
Understanding cannabis potency
The potency of cannabis is continually increasing owing to two primary reasons: growing methods and genetics.
If you have seen or heard about strains with THC levels as high as 30%, you may wonder why it can’t be higher. The answer is that there are genetic limits. However, by crossbreeding, cultivators can raise this amount. For example, if we crossbred one high-THC strain with another high-THC strain, the result would be the most potent strain possible.
Growing techniques, with a concentration on suitable lighting and soil circumstances, aid the blossoms of the most potent cannabis strains to reach their maximum potential in terms of THC. (That said, THC content in strains varies from harvest to harvest, so even more powerful strains may not always rank among those with the greatest THC content.)
How do genetics and growing techniques work together to produce high THC strains?
If you’re looking to get the most THC possible out of your plant, there are certain methods you can use during its growth.
To produce high THC strains, you must combine them with cultivation approaches. Something else that’s fascinating about cannabinoids is the way they form. Unlike other plants, marijuana doesn’t create THC and CBD while it’s growing. Instead, it makes tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) and cannabidiolic acid (CBDA). But with some heat treatment—a process called decarboxylation—these can be turned into THC and CBD. That’s why understanding how to properly decarb marijuana flower is so vital!
Other variables that impact THC potency include:
- pH Levels
- Carbon Dioxide levels
- Lighting factors
- Plant age/maturity
Please remember that the THC percentages stated below may only be an estimate of the overall THC/CBD within the product. To get more accurate numbers, check the product labels at your local dispensary.
Testing Cannabis Products for THC and CBD Levels
The levels of cannabinoids present in cannabis products is referred to as potency data. Producers are required by law to test for THC and CBD levels, which will largely dictate the effects of the product. For example, some medical patients may want a strains with very low THC content, while adult recreational users might request a higher ratio.
THC and CBD potency tests can be done for additional chemicals such as minor cannabinoids and terpenes, in addition to THC and CBD.
How Do Labs Measure THC and CBD Levels?
The most commonly used way to measure THC and CBD levels is High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC). HPLC works by separates and identifying chemicals in a liquid solution.
High-pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC) is a process in which cannabis flower samples are first mixed with a solvent, such as ethanol. The solution is then pumped under high pressure through a tube that contains materials that attract certain molecules in the sample based on their chemical properties. Finally, there is a detector at the end of column; compounds which are attracted to the material inside will travel more slowly and reach it later than others.
HPLC detectors are used to analyze THCV’s light absorbing capacity. These instruments can be linked to specific chemicals and calculate light absorption using an optical density scale (OD). When the chemicals reach the detector, their proportion is determined. Because various cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD, travel at varying speeds through the column, they will be recognized at varying intervals.
After the cannabis sample is introduced into the system and cannabinoids enter the column, they flow through it. The speed at which a cannabinoid interacts with a material in the column varies based on its potency. The amount of each type of cannabinoid detected by the detector is proportional to how long it takes to be discovered.
Lab results are used to determine the THC and CBD contents on cannabis packages. Because these values are immediately recognized by customers for product information, accurate potency testing is required.
To do this chromatography experiment at home, you will need a strip of white construction paper, a black marker, and a glass of water. Place the paper strip upright in a glass of water with the marker line just above the surface, and make a parallel black line across it using a black marker.
After waiting a few minutes, the water will travel up the paper towel and colors from the marker will separate.
Terpenes are more volatile than cannabinoids and thus require chromatography. Volatility implies that terpenes evaporate readily and are generally in a gaseous form, while cannabinoids are stable in liquid solution. The evaporation of terpenes necessitates the use of a distinct lab technique.
Cannabis Testing Standardization
The most popular method for measuring cannabinoids, according to Washington state-certified laboratory Confidence Analytics, is HPLC. However, they also report that ‘there are no strong regulations in place about how cannabis chemicals are measured.’ It’s worth noting that in other sectors, particular testing protocols and conditions for laboratory equipment have been defined. This raises the question: why not establish comparable criteria for evaluating cannabis effectiveness?
Lack of regulation in the cannabis industry means that potency data can vary and cannabinoid content may be inaccurate. States are working to standardize cannabis testing so that potency values are comparable across laboratories. In Washington state, a group of I-502 licensed labs is conducting a “round robin,” measuring the strength of an unknown marijuana sample and comparing findings with those from other laboratories. If each laboratory follows proper testing methods, reported potency statistics should be consistent among all labs involved.
To ensure both product transparency and consumer safety, various cannabis product tests should be performed for quality control. Terpenes, contamination, and residual solvent levels are all measured using distinct techniques in order to collect data.
In recent years, the potency testing methods for cannabis have been questioned and criticized. Some worry that THC concentration is being over-inflated which has caused requirements for testing procedures to vary greatly from state to state. This lack of standardization makes it difficult to ensure accurate potency reporting. To fix this issue, those in the sector need to advocate nationally for a quality assurance standard in cannabis testing.