Over the last five years, there has been a fantastic rise in cannabis cultivation. Not only are people in more states able to grow cannabis legally, but hemp cultivation has also boomed. With the cannabis market hitting the mainstream, there has been general concern among the public and members of industry over the need to standardize methods for cannabis testing. But did you know that standard methods for cannabis testing already exist?
Cannabis Lab Testing Overview
- AOAC (Association of Official Agricultural Chemists), ANSI (American National Standards Institute), and ASTM International offer standardized cannabis testing methods and validations.
- Even standardized test methods must be validated in each lab that uses them.
- Hemp must be tested for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) at a lab that is DEA certified by December 2022.
- Labs should follow US Food & Drug Administration Good Laboratory Practices (GLP) regulations and have ISO certification.
Standardized cannabis test methods and method validations are offered by AOAC, ANSI, and ASTM International. These three bodies historically provide test methods, validation, and certification of methods and practices that are generally accepted by government regulators. In everything from government contract manufacturing to food processing, these standards are used to ensure laboratories are testing materials correctly.
However, just using a standardized test method is not enough! Methods need to be validated to demonstrate proof that they are acceptable for use in a particular facility with particular equipment and specific materials. This helps eliminate and control variables such as the notorious problems with sample preparation that lead to different labs getting different results from the same product.
ASTM standard practices for cannabis, AOAC official methods, and ANSI cannabis lab standards and accreditation are not free, and when updates come out you must purchase the new standards and re-validate your processes. While this might sound like a large financial burden, it is standard practice in every laboratory and FDA-regulated manufacturing facility (in the US and internationally). In order to properly implement them, you should have an established quality assurance team and a quality manual that has standard operating procedures (SOPs) detailing how the principles in the manual are implemented. Cannabis is no exception to these rules, and industry members will need to accept that meeting these standards is a normal expectation in the laboratory industry.
If you are a cannabis grower or manufacturer, it can be tempting to do your testing at labs that are not accredited and offer cheaper pricing. That would be a mistake though. Regulators can come in and look back at your practices and fine you or force a product recall if they are not satisfied with the testing you have performed in the past. The best option is to use a laboratory that is listed with the DEA (for hemp), holds ISO certification, and utilizes AOAC, ASTM, or ANSI standards. If a DEA-registered lab is not available, be sure to ask to see proof like method validation results and their quality manual. This ensures that the lab is not just using standardized cannabis testing methods, but is also using the methods correctly!