The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is in the midst of developing a measurement services program for hemp and cannabis labs to help ensure that analysis within the cannabis industry is of the highest quality.
For over five decades, cannabis and its intoxicating compound, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), have been classified as Schedule I controlled substances and are therefore illegal on a federal level. Any cannabis seized by authorities is tested in forensic labs to identify the plant and verify whether THC is present as well as the exact THC levels.
A qualitative confirmation of THC presence (any amount) had been enough to show possession of an illegal substance. Despite cannabis and THC having been legalized in many states across the US, THC remains on the Drug Enforcement Agency’s controlled substances list. Hemp was removed from the controlled substances list thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill which defined the plant as cannabis containing no more than 0.3% THC.
This was a major change and required labs across the country to execute specific analytical methods to distinguish between intoxicating cannabis or hemp plants. The Chemical Sciences Division at NIST is currently developing a program that involves measurement services of cannabis to ensure that forensic labs are able to accurately and confidently distinguish between cannabis and hemp in seized cannabis samples. NIST’s mission is to promote innovation in the US by improving standards and technology.
Cannabis Quality Assurance Program (CannaQAP)
CannaQAP was developed to demonstrate measurement comparability. The peer-reviewed results from QAP studies will be made available to the public. Beneficiaries include forensic labs that distinguish between cannabis and hemp, labs that test cannabis for quality control, regulators that evaluate product compliance, and researchers that conduct clinical trials on cannabinoid efficacy. Participating labs completed cannabinoid testing and are in the process of testing for heavy metals and moisture on prescribed samples.
Cannabis Reference Materials (RMs)
Reference materials (RMs) are used as laboratory quality control materials to both validate current methods and come up with new analytical methods. Right now, the cannabis community does not have a robust critical measurement service, and RMs will play an important role in developing one to ensure compliance with legislation, accuracy in labeling, and optimal manufacturing. With the help of third-party labs, NIST intends to develop RMs by analyzing hemp plants and oils for cannabinoids, moisture, and contaminants including mycotoxins and pesticides.
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