The cannabis industry is not just comprised of start-up companies making a go of it in a nascent market, or companies spun off from a parent company that was skeptical about advertising their interest in diversifying their revenue streams. The analytical instrumentation industry is really no different, as there are companies of both types marketing their tools for acquiring chemical knowledge about cannabis and its various products. Sometimes, you just have to go old school, though, and look towards a vendor, not just because they have entered into the cannabis ring, but because the company has spent time cultivating their reputation through application-specific support.
PerkinElmer has provided its clients with analytical instrumentation since 1937. Since its initial foundation stemming from optical design and consulting, PerkinElmer has evolved into a global entity that provides spectroscopic and chromatographic instruments, as well as consumables, software, application support and accessories for those instruments. The company provides tools and reagents needed for processes like isolating and analyzing deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), and technology for imaging biological matrices like tissues, cells, or in vivo samples.
Unlike scores of companies that dipped a quick toe in the cannabis waters, PerkinElmer jumped in and hasn’t really looked back. The water was fine. And over time, they’ve expanded upon their initial products marketed towards the cannabis/hemp market. I spoke with Toby Astill, Ph.D., Senior Business Development Leaderfor Cannabis & Hemp Markets and avid Terpenes and Testing Magazine reader, regarding solutions PerkinElmer offers to the cannabis industry. “The company’s mission is to innovate for a healthier world, and thus, we’ve always supported laboratories, providing the analytical tools needed to ensure safe products, wherever cannabis is legally consumed,” Toby commented. “We’ve specifically worked with cannabis at forensic and toxicology labs for decades. With regards to the more recent legal industry, I’ve been impressed at the appetite in this new market for analytical instrumentation to be used as a differentiator for product branding and reputation. And, oh yes,” Toby added. “I’ve been reading Terpenes and Testing since its inception.” (Editor’s Note: Sorry. I just couldn’t resist reprinting this quote.)
Like many global life science companies, PerkinElmer has been dedicating significant resources towards the advance of cannabis science. As mentioned above, many of the products PerkinElmer carries that are relevant to the cannabis industry revolve around either chromatographic (gas/liquid) or spectroscopic (mass spectrometry; inductively coupled plasma; infrared) platforms. At the recent MJ Biz Conference in Las Vegas, PerkinElmer unveiled their latest technology for measuring cannabis flowers and products. Called the QSight 400 Series, the instrument provides a turnkey solution for those looking to quantify pesticides in cannabis flowers and their extracts.
“Each state has a different pesticide list,” Toby commented. “California has one of the longer lists. And Health Canada recently confirmed 96 pesticides on their list, all of which are required to be at much lower levels than in California. So, simple, yet effective, solutions for pesticide detection are increasingly relevant.”
While many companies can and will market the applicability of their respective turn-key solution, some perhaps nothing more than a cool gadget, bringing the ability to measure pesticides into other cannabis businesses besides laboratories is significant. “Extraction companies want to qualify incoming material by analyzing the trim/starting feedstock, since they know they will concentrate contaminants if it’s not clean,” Toby explained. “We put forward a massive effort to make this instrument as simple to use as possible.”
This includes providing detailed instructions regarding how to prepare the samples, how to run the instrument, and how to report and understand the data. PerkinElmer provides user support through training. “Ideally, we would like more users to have some experience in a routine chemistry lab, but it is not essential,” Toby added. “The client’s training begins during installation. And we leave them running their sample to the provided standard operating procedure (SOP) to get the data they need.”
Part of the allure of the QSight400 Series stems from the ability to measure all pesticides simultaneously. “We are one of few vendors that provides two different ionization techniques in our mass spectrometer,” Toby discussed. “This means that all pesticides can be run in one method. Without this, often two sets of samples, consumables, etc., are needed, increasing user costs.”
The two ionization techniques are called ESI, for electrospray ionization, and APCI, for atmospheric pressure chemical ionization. APCI works best for low- to medium-polarity species, whereas ESI works best for ionic molecules. Thus, the ionization method enables polar and non-polar species to be measured as part of one experiment.
The QSight400 Series can detect pesticide levels whether in California or Canada. “If the regulations require lower detection limits, users will have more flexibility with the QSight400 Series,” Toby advised. “There is three to seven times more sensitivity. Thus, California users have room to get down to potentially lower mandated detection thresholds. Or, users can dilute their samples even further to allow even longer uptimes due to less matrix being introduced into the mass spectrometer.”
By diluting the samples to lower concentrations than might have been previously possible, the analytical sensitivity (its ability to measure lower levels) of the QSight 400 Series has the added benefit of running significantly longer between any scheduled cleaning and allows the strongest return on investment to the laboratory operator. “We use hot surface ionized desolvation technology, which minimizes buildup from sticky cannabis samples.” Called HSID for short, this method uses heated surfaces instead of charged optics to better prevent debris from depositing and building up on the inner surfaces of the instrument.
One of the really neat aspects of vending instrumentation in the cannabis industry that Toby discussed almost harkens to winning a proverbial street fight. Prove yourself here, and others may take notice. “We chose cannabis and hemp since they are challenging products, they are multi-matrix and have wide concentration ranges of each class of chemistry in one sample. To prove a solution in this market allows us to leverage the instrumentation in other industries like food and nutraceuticals.”