Implementation-Ready Cannabis Testing

Analyzing cannabis can be challenging — from setting up laboratories and developing methods to ensuring the maximum throughput of samples and preserving data integrity. Partnering with a solutions provider that understands the industry, drives analytical standards, and commits to ensuring your laboratory has the maximum uptime is the key to success. For the past four years PerkinElmer has worked with cannabis laboratories — from government to contract — to develop industry-leading methods, technology, and investment return in the market.

Our cannabis analytical solutions offer:
  • Assurance: Our solutions are able to tackle all the major analytical regulations including potency, pesticides, mycotoxins, residual solvents, terpenes, and heavy metals
  • Lab Efficiencies: We deliver instrumentation and software empowered with built-in methods and enabled to test for multiple regulations in one run on one instrument
  • Cost Savings: Reduce the number of instruments necessary to power your laboratory and consolidate testing, and you’ll save floor space, reduce labor fees, and minimize the cost of initial investment
  • Laboratory Uptime: Each instrument has been designed to be a workhorse in your laboratory, requiring minimum maintenance and downtime to ensure you maximize the number of samples processed every day

Common cannabis analyses for meeting regional regulations:

Naturally occurring cannabinoids, the main biologically active components of the cannabis plant, form a complex group of closely related compounds, of which 70 are known and well described. Of these, the primary focus has been on Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), as the primary active ingredient, due to its pharmacological and toxicological characteristics, upon which strict legal limits have been enforced. However, processing labs must also focus on Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THC-A), as it is the naturally occurring precursor to THC and is readily decarboxylated to THC via the drying and/or heating of cannabis.

Clean, safe cannabis is in high demand. As with many other agricultural products, chemicals like pesticides and antifungals, as well as performance enhancement reagents, have been applied to cannabis to increase yields and reduce attacks from insects and mold. Many of these chemicals and reagents may have harmful effects on humans. In addition, highly complex mixtures of compounds can be generated from smoking, which can interact with the chemicals present in the initial product to form more toxic materials.

Pesticide Testing
Although gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC/MS) has been used for pesticide analysis in cannabis samples, it is not suitable for ionic and polar compounds, especially for compounds that are thermal labile in the GC injection port.

LC/MS/MS is the Technology of Choice
Liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC/MS/MS) has become the method of choice for pesticide analysis due to its high selectivity and sensitivity, as well as its suitability for a wide range of compounds in different sample matrices.

A Method for All Regulated Pesticides
A version of the QuEChERS extraction method provides a simple routine sample preparation procedure. The complete list of regulated pesticides from states like California and Oregon

Mycotoxins are secondary metabolites produced by certain types of mold. These molecules are highly toxic to all animal organisms, which have harmful effects even at very low doses. Contamination can occur in the field, but also during the subsequent phases of transportation, storage, or processing. Environmental conditions, temperature, and humidity can affect the development of fungal spores naturally present in the environment. The classes of mycotoxins frequently found in cannabis are: aflatoxins, ochratoxins, fumonisins, trichothecenes, and zearalenone.

UHPLC with MS Detector
The use of a universal detector such as the MS/MS detector allows the development of a single analytical method without resorting to any system of derivatization. The MS detector identifies molecules exploiting the ions generated by them when subjected to a process of ionization. This results, generally, in the determination of their molecular ions or adducts dependent on their chemical nature and the composition of the mobile phase. Each toxin is analyzed in the most appropriate ionization method: ESI + or ESI -.

Residual Solvents
Cannabis resins can be chemically extracted with a solvent to produce a cannabinoid rich oil (hash oil) or resin. Extracted concentrates of cannabis are formulated into edibles, vapor inhalants, topical creams, trans-dermal patches, and other products. For safety purposes, solvent must be removed from the final product before consumption.

Residual solvents are measured by headspace with gas chromatography and flame ionization detection (HS-GC-FID). Without specific methods of regulation from the individual states, procedures follow the ICH guidelines (International Council of Harmonization) for residual solvents in botanical preparations.

Testing Process
Cannabinoid extraction takes place in any of several solvent types such as carbon dioxide, butane, propane and ethanol. States have added additional solvents that may be used in the process such as hexanes, isopropanol and acetone as well as possible banned chemicals for production, such as benzene toluene and methanol. Typically 20 mg of the “extract” is placed in a headspace vial and analyzed.

Since the GC/MS instrumentation and GC column are identical to the ones used for the Terpene analysis, both of these analyses can be run at the same time.

Terpenes are found in the oils of a plant and are often responsible for its flavors and fragrances. Terpenes are strain-dependent. Therefore, the combination of terpene ratios and cannabinoid ratios can be used to identify a strain of cannabis for future comparison.

Terpene Analysis
Terpene analysis is run on a Headspace and GC/MS. With GC/MS you get identification and better separation analysis due to unique qualifier ions and NIST library searching. Sample prep is quite simple, just place a portion of your sample in a headspace vial and analyze. Because Cannabinoids are much higher in molecular weight, they remain behind in the HS vial and do not contaminate the GC system of column.

Heavy Metals
Toxic elements can leach into cannabis plants primarily through uptake from soil, water, and fertilizer. Concentrations are comparatively trace — in the parts per billion or parts per trillion — but can still be harmful to end-consumers. Therefore, it is important to measure both the nutritional and toxic elemental content of plants and plant materials.

Several challenges arise in the elemental analysis of plants. First, because both toxic and nutritional elements must be measured, a wide dynamic range is required. Plants are complex biological entities that require sample preparation, usually consisting of homogenization followed by digestion in order to break down the complex matrix and extract the elements. Despite these steps, matrix-induced spectral interferences still persist which could cause false readings, especially for the toxic elements. Therefore, Collision or Reaction Cell technology has to be used to remove the interferences.

Microwave Digestion and ICP-MS Makes Sampling Easy and Efficient
The NexION ICP-MS combined with a Titan MPS microwave system can effectively analyze cannabis for both nutritional and toxic elements. Analyses are accomplished in both Collision and Standard modes and require only 100 seconds per sample.
PerkinElmer products and solutions are intended to be used for analytical testing of cannabis in laboratories where such use is permitted under state and/or country law. PerkinElmer does not support or promote the use of its products or solutions in connection with illegal use. Further, PerkinElmer is not condoning the use of recreational or medical marijuana.

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