Achieving Standardization in Cannabinoid & Terpene Testing

Achieving Standardization in Cannabinoid & Terpene Testing Labs Using LIMS

July 15, 2021

When doctors prescribe cannabis products to their patients, they expect to achieve the desired therapeutic outcome. Recreational users are interested to know if the desired type and intensity of high will be reached; they often prefer specific flavor and aroma profiles. None of these users want to experience undesired effects caused by an inadequate psychoactive-compound profile.

Although many countries have legalized the use of cannabis products, the industry is still in its infancy. In part because of this, industry-wide standards for the reliable and accurate identification and quantification of cannabinoids and terpenes—the primary psychoactive compounds—are still missing.

Cannabinoids and terpenes are two classes of natural compounds together containing a large number of compounds with diverse polarities, volatilities, and concentrations. As different compounds may have different physiological and sensory effects, it is not uncommon for analytical laboratories to target a large number of cannabinoids and terpenes. Adding to this compound diversity, commercial cannabis products are extremely diverse, including among others: raw products, extracts, capsules, tinctures, balms, and edibles from cookies to pumpkin pie.

As a result of this complexity, different sample preparation methods can lead to vastly different results, as can differences in technique and instrument of analysis. Hence, various studies have reported large inaccuracies in the reported potency, and even more so with the most complex cannabis products.

In many jurisdictions, public and private organizations have been pushing for standardization. Many regulations now require that licensed cannabis testing laboratories be ISO/IEC 17025 certified. Nevertheless, even accredited laboratories are sometimes found to deliver different results for identical samples.

Some organizations have been carrying out proficiency testing for a few years already, involving hundreds of laboratories. While these do not directly enforce standardization, they will slowly but surely help the emergence of industry-wide procedures, by incentivizing laboratories to identify and adopt those methods that offer the highest degree of reproducibility and accuracy.

Stricter standards will inevitably increase the costs of analysis and could constitute a strong barrier to entry for newcomers. Some professionals in California have already started lobbying for relaxed regulations, citing the current technical limitations as evidence that regulations are unrealistically stringent. However, looser standards could damage the trust in the industry as a whole, notably by providing an incentive for laboratories to skew results so as to deliver what the growers and manufacturers want, else they might bring their business to another laboratory.

Organizations related to medicinal cannabis use will likely support comprehensive and accurate testing methods, and so will consumers willing to pay a premium for products with a well-defined profile; this will also be encouraged by established growers and manufacturers as a means to differentiate themselves from new, smaller, and perhaps less reliable companies, and stay ahead of the competition.

In an environment where both the industry and the state organizations that support it are still seeking respectability, the long-term evolution will likely be towards standardization with stringent and costly analytical processes. This might spur a consolidation phase across the industry; all stakeholders involved should start preparing for it.

Role of a Cannabis LIMS Software in Achieving Standardization in Cannabis Testing

Cannabis testing laboratories can easily meet regulatory compliance by ensuring the quality and safety of cannabis products. Laboratories need to follow standard procedures for testing and meet compliance, such as ISO/IEC 17025, GLP, for assuring high-quality test results. Human errors are the most common challenges faced by laboratories and compromise the accuracy and validity of test results. Automation of laboratory workflows eliminates manual errors, reduces turnaround time, and enhances efficiency.

A cannabis testing laboratory can automate its workflows, streamline quality control processes, and meet regulatory compliance by implementing a cannabis LIMS.

Some of the benefits offered by a cannabis LIMS software are as follows:

  • Validates test results to ensure accuracy
  • Identifies analytical errors by comparing the test results of QC samples with the test samples
  • Supports instrument integration and ensures timely calibration of all instruments
  • Manages documents such as Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and provides access only to authorized personnel to maintain confidentiality
  • Manages training of laboratory personnel
  • Helps follow ISO/IEC 17025:2017, 21 CFR part 11, GLP, audit trail, state and local regulations
  • Generates personalized Certificates of Analysis (CoA) that includes sample, client, and test details
  • Tracks deviations from standard workflows for the initiation of corrective actions on time

Conclusion

Proper testing is important to assure the integrity, safety, and authenticity of cannabis products. Cannabis and terpene testing laboratories face various challenges due to the nature of the compounds. Also, a diverse range of instruments and methods used for testing introduces several challenges. To overcome these challenges, there is a need for better-defined standardized methodologies for testing. However, new and strict standards can lead to an increase in the costs of analysis and create hurdles for newcomers in the industry.

A cannabis testing laboratory can easily meet compliance and consistently deliver high-quality results by deploying and leveraging the benefits offered by a cannabis LIMS software. A LIMS can be pre-configured according to the needs of a laboratory and can help achieve standardization by automating laboratory processes.


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