Mass Spectrometry in Cannabis Testing Labs

mass spectrometry
Written by Cara Wietstock

At the moment every laboratory uses slightly varying methods for testing cannabis, some labs are not using mass spectrometry to fine tune their abilities.

This analytical technique is used in many laboratories and uses three essential functions. Mass Spectrometry (MS) lets a lab analyst measure the characteristics of individual molecules by converting them to ions. When converted to ions the molecules can be manipulated by external electric and magnetic fields.

The three essential functions of Mass Spectrometry are:

mass spectrometry

Schematics of a simple mass spectrometer with sector type mass analyzer

  1. The Ion Source: a sample is ionized.
  2. The Mass Analyzer: ions are sorted and separated by mass and charge.
  3. The Detector: separated ions are measured and results are made into a chart.


When it comes to the typical mass spectrometry procedure a sample is ionized. The sample can be solid, liquid, or gas and is bombarded with electrons. Typically the ions are accelerated and subjected to an electric and magnetic field. Through this process, ions are separated according to their mass-to-charge ratio. Next, the ions are detected by a mechanism like an electron multiplier that can detect charged particles. Results are displayed according to the abundance of the mass-to-charge ratio. A characteristic fragmentation pattern or correlating known masses can be used to identify the sample.

In the cannabis industry mass spectrometry is the best way to locate pesticides and other hard to find compounds in the plant or infused products. Mass spectrometry is used in tons of aside from cannabis lab testing. It is commonly used in Pharmacokinetics, trace gas analysis, and even space exploration. These many applications are due to the fact that mass spectrometry has qualitative and quantitative uses. As more and more testing labs are able to afford this machinery we’re finding replicable ways to detect unwanted compounds like pesticides or mold in cannabis matrices.

Read more about these testing practices and methods in our second issue, available now in the Google Play and Apple stores. In one of the features, we spoke to Dr. Jeffrey Raber of The Werc Shop and the Association for Commercial Cannabis Laboratories about the role mass spectrometry is playing in the pesticide issue.

mass spectrometry
The best way to be safe is to only buy cannabis from a state licensed dispensary that has been lab tested.

About the author

Cara Wietstock

Cara began working in the retail cannabis industry of San Francisco, CA in 2011 and continued in that sector for years. In 2015 she dedicated herself to writing full-time. Her passion for the written word and deep respect for the healing properties of the plant have brought her to Terpenes and Testing magazine. She now helps keep us on the cutting edge of scientific cannabis discovery as the Editor-in-Chief of the print publication.

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