22 Jun, 2020 7 Critical Best-Practices to Look for in a Cannabis Testing Lab
Also in May, a sample from a processor failed the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (OMMA) test for myclobutanil, a pesticide that can create toxic gases when heated. The processor was also forced to issue a recall. Testing labs have been called “the cannabis industry’s dirty secret” by the Green Market Report. The problem cited: “The labs themselves aren’t inspected or graded by any agencies and customers have no idea whether or not products were tested at a reputable lab.” This disconnect puts both cultivators and manufacturers in a bind. Before going to market every cannabis product must undergo testing regulated by the state where it’s being sold, but testing labs are not all created equal. A recall can badly damage a business’ reputation, something few can afford in an industry struggling to gain legitimacy and to distance itself from unsafe or illegal products. So what should businesses look for in a cannabis testing lab? There are seven critical best-practices that indicate the quality of a testing lab.
1. Method Validation.
In California, the industry is regulated by the Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC). The BCC has set standards for testing methodology but not all BCC-licensed labs have performed this important step yet, which ensures that their testing methods are accurate and reproducible. As the recall stories above show, a product that passes a lab’s test may fail a state lab’s test if the testing methods are not validated and repeatable. Different products require different methods and labs should document methodologies for each including flower, concentrates, gummies, chocolates, beverages, and different types of topicals. Finally ,the lab should be accredited to the ISO 17025 standard. ISO 17025 accreditation is the international gold-standard that demonstrates that laboratories operate competently and generate valid results.
A testing lab should be eager to provide documentation that shows its testing validation data as well as its quality control procedures. Producers should be able to physically tour the lab to see how processes are carried out, and the levels of sterility and practices that ensure test integrity. Are processes in place to ensure samples are properly identified and tracked? Does the facility look and operate like a scientific laboratory? Any hesitation to offer access to facilities and documentation should be a cause for concern.
Testing is only as accurate as the equipment and technology used. Equipment needs to be maintained and calibrated. The lab should be able to provide a maintenance history for all equipment, as well as up-time history for equipment as machines that fail can cause delays or inaccuracies.
4. Consumer-friendly Certificates of Analysis (COA).
The COA is the end product of the testing process and it needs to be concise but full of information. The front page should communicate the most important and relevant information organized in a way that is easy for consumers to understand. This is the producer’s promise to its customers that its products are safe and effective.
A test result alone is a snapshot of a specific product at a specific time. Cannabis easily absorbs elements from the environment. A product that passes a test could be at risk of future failures by state regulators due to the margin by which it passes and its exposure to other environmental elements post-test. A testing lab can be a partner in product quality, giving guidance about how to create better products that have more consistent, reliable effects. Is the lab eager to offer expert scientific guidance, advice, and recommendations for improvement? Is it expert enough to provide custom research projects and product development?
6. Customer Service.
The lab representatives should ask a lot of questions about products, manufacturing processes, even business plans. The lab should respond quickly via telephone or email. If a lab does not seem interested in a client beyond obtaining a sample and issuing results, proceed with caution.
Most labs are run by either scientists or lawyers. Scientists want to discover the truth. Lawyers tend to want to complete transactions and remove liability. Aim for the truth.
California’s testing regulations have caused concern in the industry because of the costs they add, which can put licensed producers at a disadvantage to unlicensed producers. Some labs will cut corners to shave costs. For businesses looking to build trusted brands, it is important to be able to deliver to customers (and state testing labs) exactly what is promised. A recall or illness to consumers caused by faulty products can be financially devastating.
While the COA is the output of a passed test, it should not be the only outcome of a producer’s relationship with a testing lab. A good testing lab can make a positive contribution to the cultivators, manufacturers and researchers that engage it by helping them to hone in on the practices that will help them reach their business and product goals, and to develop products with long shelf-lives that deliver the benefits promised to their customers.
In such a nascent industry, testing labs and their customers can be partners in the mission to advance the understanding of medicinal and recreational cannabis, and can work together to help develop better products. This requires research, not just testing. This also means gaining insight with every test and using that insight to make products safer and more effective, and to raise the credibility and reputation of this industry.