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A Conversation with the Founders of Veda Scientific: Part Two

By Aaron G. Biros
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This is the second piece in a two-part conversation with the founders of Veda Scientific, CEO Leo Welder and CSO Aldwin M. Anterola, PhD. To read part one, click here.

In part one, we chatted about their backgrounds, their approach to cannabis testing, their role in the greater industry and how they came into the cannabis industry.

In part two, we’re going down a few cannabis chemistry rabbit holes and realizing that what we don’t know is a lot more than what we do know. Join us as we delve into the world of volatile compounds, winemaking, the tastes and smells of cannabis, chicken adobo and much more.

Aaron: Alright so you mentioned the GCxGC/MS and your more advanced terpene analysis. How do you envision that instrument and that data helping your customers and/or the industry? 

Leo: Some of the things that we envision will help is a better understanding of what compounds and what ratios will lead to desirable outcomes, things like better effects, aroma and flavor. By better understanding these things it’ll help the industry create better products.

I have a personal connection to this. My wife has some insomnia and she’s always had to take various forms of OTC pharmaceuticals to help with sleep. She tried using a 1:1 vape pen and it was a miracle worker for her for several months. The local dispensary had a sale on it, and she bought some extra. Unfortunately, even though she used it the same way as before, she got very serious anxiety, which obviously didn’t help her sleep. Every time she used the vapes from this same batch, she felt the same extreme anxiety. Sadly, she now had a lot of this product that she couldn’t use because it kept her awake rather than helping her sleep, so she went back to trying other OTC solutions. That’s a problem for both consumers and the industry at large. If people find something that works and provides a desired effect, they need to be able to rely on that consistency every time they purchase the product, leading to similar outcomes and not exaggerating the problem. That’s why I think consistency is so important. We’re taking two steps forward and one back when we have inconsistent products. How do we really grow and expand the availability of cannabis if we lose trust from our consumer base? What a lab can do and what we can do is provide data to cultivators and manufacturers to create that consistency and ultimately allow the market to expand into other demographics that are currently wary and less tolerant of that variance.

Vials of cannabis samples being prepped for collaborative research with the CESC

On a similar note, we have been having a lot of discussions with the CESC [Clinical Endocannabinoid System Consortium] down in San Diego. They are an advanced cannabis research group that we have been working with for over a year. We’ve started looking at the idea of varietals. To be more specific, because I’m not a wine connoisseur, varietals are the pinot noirs, the cabernets and sauvignon blancs of the industry. In the cannabis industry, consumers have indica and sativa, though we still argue over what that concept really means, if anything. But for the sake of argument, let’s say we have this dichotomy to use as a foundational decision tool for consumers- call it the red and white wine of the cannabis industry. How inaccessible would wine be if we just had red or white? Imagine if you went to a dinner party, really liked the wine you were drinking, and the host could only tell you that it was a red wine. You can’t go to a wine store and expect to find something similar to that wine if the only information you have is “red.” At a minimum, you need a category. So that’s what varietals are, the categories. The data that we can produce could help people in the industry who identify and establish the varietals based on their expertise as connoisseurs and product experts to find what those differences are chemically. Similarly, we’re also looking at appellation designations in California. So, we want to help provide tools for farmers to identify unique characteristics in their flower that would give them ability to claim and prove appellation designation.

Aldwin: The GCxGC/MS allows us to find more things besides the typical terpene profile with 20 or 40 terpenes. It allows us to go beyond those terpenes. The issue sometimes is that with a typical one-dimensional GC method, sure you could probably separate and find more terpenes, but the one dimension is not enough to separate everything that coelutes. And it’s not just terpenes. Some terpenes coelute with one another and that’s why people can see this inconsistency. Especially if you use a detector like an FID, we can see the compound limonene on the chromatogram, but there’s another terpene in there that is unknown that coelutes with limonene. So, this instrument is helping us get past the coeluting issue and solve it so that we know what peaks represent what terpenes.

The other bonus with our GCxGC/MS is that the coeluting compounds that were masked behind other terpenes are now revealed. There is a second dimension in the chromatogram where we can now detect some compounds in cannabis that would be hiding behind these large peaks if it were just a one-dimensional GC. Besides terpenes, we’ve found esters, alkanes, fatty acids, ketones, alcohols and aldehydes, as well as thiols. The terpenes are so plentiful in cannabis that these other compounds present at lower levels cannot be seen with just one-dimensional GC. There are just so many compounds in cannabis that the ones in small amounts are often masked. My analogy to highlight the importance of these minor compounds is like a dish; I am from the Philippines and I like chicken adobo. My father does it differently from my mom and someone else will do it differently in a different region. The base of the sauce is vinegar and soy sauce, but some people will do it differently and maybe add some bay leaf, garlic, pepper, or a touch of another spice. It’s still chicken adobo, but it tastes differently. Just like in cannabis, where yes, you have the same amount of THC in two different plants, but it’s still giving you a different experience. Some people say it’s because of terpenes, which is true in a lot of cases, but there are a lot of other volatile compounds that would explain better why certain dishes taste different.

2-D chromatogram showing four peaks separated by the GCxGC. With a traditional 1-D chromatogram, these peaks would coelute and not separate.

Leo: There’s been some recent developments too here that show it’s very significant. It’s like the difference between bland and spicy. And it could be the thiol. We identified a thiol in cannabis at the same time as other scientists reported an article that just came out on this subject.

Aldwin: Thiols are sulfur containing compounds that produce very powerful odors, giving cannabis the skunky smell. Skunks also produce thiols. It is very potent; you only need a little bit. It turns out that yes, that paper described thiols and we also saw them in our GCxGC/MS. These are the kinds of things that the GCxGC can show you. Those very tiny amounts of compounds that can have a very powerful impact. That’s one that we know for sure is important because it’s not just us that’s finding out that GCxGC can detect this.

Not everything is about THC or the high amount of the compounds in the flower. This paper and our concurrent findings indicated that the skunkier smelling strains contained very small amounts of thiols and you can recognize their presence quite readily. It’s not a terpene, but it’s producing a distinct flavor and a powerful smell.

Aaron: Okay, so why is this useful? Why is it so important?

Leo: I would say two things in particular that we know of that are issues currently, both related to scents. We mentioned this earlier. We do know that farmers with breeding programs are trying to target particularly popular or attractive scent profiles, whether it be a gas or fruity aroma. Right now, when they get the flower tested and review the terpene profile, it isn’t enough information to help them identify what makes them chemically distinct. We hear time and again that farmers will say their terpene profile is not helpful in identifying specific scents and characteristics. They are looking for a fingerprint. They want to be able to identify a group of plants that have a similar smell and they want a fingerprint of that plant to test for. Otherwise, you have to sniff every plant and smell the ones that are most characteristic of what they’re targeting. For larger operations, walking through and smelling thousands of plants isn’t feasible.

Once we can identify that fingerprint, and we know which compounds in which ratios are creating the targeted aroma, we can run tests to help them find the best plants for breeding purposes. It’s about reproducibility and scalability.

Another value is helping people who are trying to categorize oils and strains into particular odor categories, similar to the varietals concept we’ve been talking about. Currently, we know that when manufacturers send multiple samples of oils with the same or similar scent to be tested, the results are coming back with significantly different terpene profiles. There is not enough data for them to chemically categorize products. It’s not that their categories are wrong, it’s just that the data is not available to help them find those boundaries.

Those are two issues that we know from conversations with customers that this particular piece of equipment can address.

Aldwin: Let’s start from what we find, meaning if you are using the GCxGC/MS, we are finding more terpenes that nobody else would be looking at. We have data that shows, for example, that certain standards are accounting for 60% or so of total terpene content. So a large percent is accounted for, but there is still quite a bit missing. For some strains there are terpenes that are not in common reference standards. Being able to know that and identify the reason why we have different terpenes in here unaccounted for is big. There are other things there beyond the standard terpenes.

Dr. Anterola working with the GCxGC/MS

What excites me sometimes is that I see some terpenes that are known to have some properties, either medical or antibacterial, etc. If you find that terpene looking beyond the list, you’ll find terpenes that are found in things like hardwood or perfumes, things that we don’t necessarily associate with the common cannabis terpenes. If you’re just looking for the limited number of terpenes, you are missing some things that you might discover or some things that might help explain results.

Leo: It’s also absolutely necessary for the medical side of things. Because of the federal limitations, cannabis hasn’t been researched nearly enough. We’re missing a lot of data on all of the active compounds in cannabis. We are finally starting to move into an era where that will soon be addressed. In order for certain medical studies to be successful, we need to have data showing what compounds are in what plants.

Drs. John Abrams and Jean Talleyrand of the CESC launched the Dosing Project in 2016. They have been studying the impact of cannabis flower for indications such as pain mitigation and sleep improvement, and now more recently mood, and appetite modulation. They categorize the THC & CBD content as well as flower aroma into 3 cannabinoid and 3 odor profiles. They are able to acquire quite a bit of data about how odor correlates with the outcomes. Because they were initially limited in terms of underlying natural product content data, they contacted us when they found out we acquired this equipment in 2020, and have stated that they are certain the data we will now be producing will take their research to the next level of understanding.

Aldwin: For quality control you are looking at specific things that would reflect properties in cannabis. There should be a 1:1 correspondence between properties observed and what we are measuring. The current assumption is that the terpenes we are looking at will tell us everything about how people would like it, with regards to flavor and smell preference. But we know for a fact that the limited terpenes most labs are measuring do not encapsulate everything. So, it is important for QC purposes to know for this particular strain or product, which everyone liked, what is it in there that makes everybody like it? If you just look at the typical terpene profile, you’ll find something close, but not exact. The GCxGC/MS shows us that maybe there’s something else that gives it a preferred property or a particular smell that we can explain and track. In one batch of flower, the consumer experiences it a certain way, and for another batch people experience it another way. We’d like to be able to understand what those differences are batch to batch so we can replicate the experience and figure out what’s in it that people like. That’s what I mean by consistency and quality control; the more you can measure, the more you can see.

Aldwin: Speaking to authenticity as well, in a breeding example, some growers will have this strain that they grew, or at least this is what they claim it to be, but what are the components that make those strains unique? The more analytes you can detect, the more you can authenticate the plant. Is this really OG Kush? Is this the same OG Kush that I’ve had before? Using the GCxGC/MS and comparing analytes, we can find authenticity in strains by finding all of the metabolites and analytes and comparing two strains. Of course, there is also adulteration- Some people will claim they have one strain that smells like blueberries, but we find a compound in it that comes from outside of cannabis, such as added terpenes. Proving that your cannabis is actually pure cannabis or proving that something has added terpenes is possible because we can see things in there that don’t come from cannabis. The GCxGC/MS can be used as a tool for proving authenticity or proving adulteration as well.  If you want to trademark a particular strain, we can help with claiming intellectual property. For example, if you want to trademark, register or patent a new product, it will be good to have more data. More data allows for better description of your product and the ability to prove that it is yours.

Leo: One thing that I think is a very interesting use case is proving the appellations. It is our understanding that California rolled out a procedure for growers to claim an appellation, but with strict rules around it. Within those rules, they need to prove uniqueness of growing products in specific regions. The GCxGC/MS can help in proving uniqueness by growing two different strains in two different regions, mapping out the differences and seeing what makes a region’s cannabis unique. It’s valuable for growers in California, Oregon, Colorado to be able to prove how unique their products are. To prove the differences between cannabis grown in Northern California versus plants grown along the Central Coast. And of course, for people across the world to be able to really tell a story and prove what makes their cannabis different and special. To be able to authenticate and understand, we need to have more comprehensive data about properties in those strains. It could be terpenes, it could be esters or thiols. That’s what we’re excited about.

Aaron: From your perspective, what are some of the biggest challenges and opportunities ahead for the cannabis industry?

Aldwin: Getting ready for federal legalization is both a challenge and opportunity. A challenge because when it is federally legal, there will be more regulations and more regulators. It is also a challenge because there will be more businesses, more competition, that might get into the industry. It is opening up to other players, much bigger players. Big tobacco, mega labs and massive diagnostic testing companies might participate, which will be a challenge for us.

But it’s also an opportunity for us to serve more customers, to be more established at the federal level, to move to interstate commerce. The opportunity is to be ready here and now while other people are not here yet.

Another challenge and opportunity is education. Educating consumers and non-consumers. We have to realize and accept that cannabis is not for everybody, but everyone is a stakeholder, because they are our neighbors, parents or part of the medical establishment. It would be a disservice not to educate the non-consumers.

The medical establishment, they don’t have to be consumers but they need to know about cannabis. They don’t know as much as they should about cannabis and they need to know more, like how it could affect their patients for better or for worse, so they know how to help their patients better. There could be drug interactions that could affect the potency of other drugs. They need to know these things. Educating them about cannabis is a challenge. It’s also an opportunity for us to now come in and say that cannabis is here to stay and be consumed by more and more people, so we better know how to deal with it from a medical perspective.“This bucking bronco of a growth style will throw a lot of people off. We need to figure out what we can grab on to and ride out these waves.”

Law enforcement needs to be educated too. What THC level in the blood indicates impairment? It is still a challenge because we’re not there yet, we don’t have that answer quite yet. And it’s an opportunity to help educate and to find more answers for these stakeholders, so we can have regulations that make sense.

Leo: To Aldwin’s point, the biggest opportunity comes along with federal legalization as well as expanding the customer base beyond the traditional market. Since adult use was legalized in CA, we haven’t yet seen the significant expansion of the consumer population. We’re primarily seeing a legal serving of the market that already existed before legalization.

The reality is cannabis can be used in different ways than what we think of. We know it has medical benefits and we know it is enjoyed recreationally by people looking for high THC content and the highest high. But there is also this middle ground, much like the difference between drinking moonshine and having a glass of wine at dinner. The wine at dinner industry is much bigger than the mason jar moonshine industry. That’s really where the opportunity is. What’s the appeal to the broader market? That will be a big challenge, but it’s inevitable. It comes from everything we’ve talked about today, consistency in products, educating people about cannabis, normalizing it to a certain degree, varietals and appellations.

As an entrepreneur, I’m looking at this from a business perspective. Everyone talks about the hockey stick growth chart, but it is a very wavy hockey stick. I expect to see very significant growth in the industry for a while, but it will have a lot of peaks and valleys. It’ll essentially be whiplash. We are seeing this in California right now, with sky high prices in flower last year down to bottom of the barrel prices this year. We have to all figure out how to hang on. This bucking bronco of a growth style will throw a lot of people off. We need to figure out what we can grab on to and ride out these waves. The good ones will be fun and the bad ones will be painful and we know they are coming again and again and again. That’s the biggest challenge. People say ‘expect tomorrow to look a lot like today,’ but you really can’t expect tomorrow to look anything like today in the cannabis industry. Tomorrow will be totally different from today. We need to figure out, within all this chaos, what can we hang on to and keep riding the upward trajectory without getting thrown off the bronco.

Connecticut Seeks to Change Microbial Testing Regulations

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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As of now, there are only two cannabis testing labs in Connecticut. Last year, regulators in the state approved a request from AltaSci Labs to raise the testing limits for yeast and mold at their lab from 10,000 colony forming units per gram (cfu/g) up to 1 million. The other lab, Northeast Laboratories, has kept their limits at 10,000 cfu/g.

Connecticut state flag

According to CTInsider.com, that request was approved privately and unannounced and patients were notified via email of the change. Ginny Monk at CTInsider says patients enrolled in Connecticut’s medical cannabis program have been outspoken over safety concerns, a lack of transparency and little voice in the decision-making process.

Connecticut has a small medical cannabis market with roughly 54,000 patients in the program and they are in the midst of readying the launch of their adult-use market.

A yeast and mold test showing colony forming units

Following public outcry regarding the change at the recent Social Equity Council meeting, state regulators have proposed a change to microbial testing regulations. The new rule will set the limit at 100,000 cfu/g for yeast and mold and requires testing for specific forms of Aspergillus, a more harmful type of mold.

Kaitlyn Kraddelt, spokeswoman for Connecticut’s Department of Consumer Protection, the agency in charge of testing regulations for the state’s cannabis program, told CTInsider.com that they involved several microbiologists to develop the new rule. “These new standards, which were drafted in consultation with several microbiologists, will prohibit specific types of yeast and mold in cannabis flower that may cause injury when inhaled and allow 10^5 cfu/g of colony forming units that have no demonstrated injurious impact on human health,” says Krasselt.

The rule change is now undergoing a public comment period, after which the Attorney General’s office will get a review period. If approved, it’ll head to the legislature, where a committee has 45 days to act on it.

A Conversation with the Founders of Veda Scientific: Part One

By Aaron G. Biros
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Leo Welder, CEO of Veda Scientific, founded the business with Aldwin M. Anterola, PhD in July of 2019. A serial entrepreneur with experience in a variety of markets, he came to the industry with an intrigue for cannabis testing and analysis. After teaming up with Dr. Anterola, co-founder and chief science officer at Veda Scientific, they came together with the purpose of unlocking possibilities in cannabis. From the beginning, they set out with a heavy scientific interest in furthering the industry from a perspective of innovation and research.

Through discussing their clients’ needs and understanding their complex problems, the two realized they wanted to start a lab that goes well beyond the normal regulatory compliance testing. Innovation in cannabis looks like a lot of things: new formulations for infused products, better designs for vaping technology or new blends of genetics creating unique strains, to name a few. For the folks at Veda Scientific, innovation is about rigorous and concentrated research and development testing.

With the help of some very sophisticated analytical chemistry instruments, their team is working on better understanding how volatile compounds play a part in the chemometrics of cannabis. From varietals and appellations to skunky smells, their research in the chemistry of cannabis is astounding – and they’ve only begun to scratch the surface.

In this two-part series, we discuss their approach to cannabis testing, their role in the greater industry as a whole and we go down a few cannabis chemistry rabbit holes and find out that what we don’t know is a lot more than what we do know. In part one, we get into their backgrounds, how they came into the cannabis industry and how they are carving out their niche. Stay tuned for part two next week where we delve deep into the world of volatile compounds, winemaking, the tastes and smells of cannabis and chicken adobo.

Aaron G. Biros: Tell me about how you and your team came to launch Veda, how you entered the cannabis space and what Veda’s approach is to the role of testing labs in the broader cannabis industry. 

Leo Welder, CEO of Veda Scientific

Leo Welder: I’m an entrepreneur. This is my third significant venture in the last fifteen years or so. So, I was intrigued by cannabis legalization broadly, because it is such a unique time in our history. I was always interested in participating in the industry in some way, but I didn’t see where would be a good fit for me. I used to meet monthly with a group of friends and fellow entrepreneurs for dinner and discussions and one member started working on the software side of the industry. He mentioned the testing element of cannabis in one of our meetings. I latched on to that and was intrigued by the concept of testing cannabis. I began to research it and found the role that testing plays in the cannabis industry is really significant. I found out that regulators rely pretty heavily on labs to make sure that products are safe, labels are accurate and that consumers have some protections. So, I thought that this is a space that I thought I could really find a calling in.

So, from that point I knew I needed to find a subject matter expert, because I am not one. I have business skills and experience in some technical fields but I am not a cannabis testing expert by any means. So, with that I started to look at a few different markets that I thought may have opportunity for a new lab, and I came across Aldwin’s business; he had a cannabis testing lab in Illinois at that time. I reached out to him, talked to him about my vision for the space and his thoughts and his vision and we really started to come together. From there, we researched various markets and ultimately chose to approach Santa Barbara County as our first foray together into the cannabis testing market.

Aldwin M. Anterola: As Leo mentioned, he was looking for a subject matter expert and I am very much interested in plant biochemistry. Which means I like to study how plants make these compounds that are very useful to us. For my PhD [in plant physiology], I was studying how cell cultures of loblolly pine produce lignin. Our lab was interested in how pine trees produce lignin, which is what makes up wood. Wood comes from phenolic compounds. You’ve probably heard of antioxidants and flavonoids – those are phenolic compounds. After my PhD, I wanted to do something different so I decided to work with terpenes.

I picked a very important terpene in our field, an anti-cancer compound called Taxol, produced from the bark of the yew tree. You have to cut trees to harvest it. We have ways of synthesizing it now. But at that time, we were trying to figure out how the tree produces that terpene. Of course, I’m interested in any compound that plants make. My interest in terpenes led me to cannabinoids which turn out to be terpenophenolics, thus combining the two interests in my professional field.

Aldwin M. Anterola, PhD, Co-Founder and Chief Science Officer at Veda Scientific,

So that’s the scientific and intellectual side of why I became interested in cannabis, but practically speaking I got into cannabis because of a consulting offer. A company was applying for a cultivation license, wanted to have a laboratory component of their business in their application, and hired me to write that part of their application. I was very familiar with HPLC, and had a GC/MS in the lab. I also have a background in microbiology and molecular biology so I can cover every test required at that time, and I knew I could research the other analytical techniques if necessary.

So, they did not get the license, but I figured I’d take what I wrote, once I received permission, and set up an independent laboratory together. But it’s hard to run a lab and be a professor at the same time. Also, the busines side of running a lab is something that I am not an expert in. Fortunately, Leo found me. Before that, I really got excited about this new industry. The concept of cannabis being now accessible to more people is so interesting to me because of how new everything is. I wanted to be involved in an industry like this and help in making it safe while satisfying my curiosity in this new field of research. As a scientist, those are the things that excite us: the things we didn’t have access to, we can now do. It opens up a whole new room that we want to unlock. It was my intellectual curiosity that really drove me. This opened up new research avenues for me as well as other ventures if you will. How can I be more involved? I thought to myself.

SIU boasts an impressive cannabis program, thanks largely to Dr. Anterola’s work there.

Back in 2014, I introduced cannabis research to our university [Southern Illinois University] and set up an industrial hemp program, which was DEA-licensed I gathered faculty that would be interested in studying hemp and cannabis and we now have a whole cannabis science center at the university. I teach a course in cannabis biology and because I also teach medical botany to undergraduate students, I was able to introduce [premed] students to the endocannabinoid system. Anyway, I can go on and on.

Outside of that I became involved with the AOAC and ASTM, and became a qualified assessor for ISO 17025:2017. I have been a member of the American Chemical Society since 2000 but there were no cannabis related activities there yet until relatively recently. But when they had the new cannabis chemistry subdivision, I am happy to participate in there as well . There are many avenues that I took to begin dabbling with cannabis, be it research, nonprofits, teaching, testing and more. Cannabis has basically infiltrated all areas of what I do as an academic.

Leo: I read his resume and I was like this is the guy! So back to your question, what’s Veda’s role as a testing lab in this space? What are we trying to build? We spent a lot of time trying to figure out what we wanted to be in this space. We came to understand that labs are not the tip of the spear for the market; that would be the growers, the retailers and the processors. We are a support, a service. We see ourselves as a humble, but competent guide. We provide the data for the tip of the spear, the people pushing the industry forward with support, data and the services to make sure they have the tools they need to build these great companies and great products with good cultivation practices and more, leading everyone to the next level of the cannabis industry. Our job is to support innovation, to provide quality compliance testing, to of course ensure safety, while also providing great R&D to these innovative companies.

Aldwin: I’d like to add a bit to that thought. Okay so that’s who we are, but what are we not? Because as Leo said I had a testing lab before we met [Advanced Herbal Analytics]. From there, I approach it as safety testing, making sure that before it gets to the end consumer, we are sort of like gate keepers keeping consumers safe. That’s one side to it, but we are not the people who are trying to make sure that none of the products get to the market. For some, that’s how we’re treated as.

People often look at testing labs like the police. We are not the people trying to limit products to market. Our approach is not to find faults. There is another way of being a testing lab that is less about finding faults in products and more about finding uniqueness. What makes your product different? With this new approach, we are much more focused on helping the best products make it to the shelves.

Aaron: Given that all state licensed labs have to provide the same tests as the other labs in that state, how does Veda differentiate itself?

Leo: Location was the first thing. We picked Santa Barbara County intentionally. We knew that some of the biggest operators, some of the most forward-thinking innovators were setting up shop here. Looking down the road, not just this year or next year but very long term, we wanted to start building a great, sustainable company. We wanted to build a brand that those kinds of companies would be receptive to. Building better and greater products. There’s one other lab in the county and that’s it. Whereas there are clusters of labs in other parts of the state. Part of the draw to Santa Barbara for us was that it is such a small, tight-knit community. We have worked very hard to build relationships in our community and to understand their challenges, helping them however we can.

Location and relationships. Getting to know the challenges that different size customers face, be it our greenhouse customers versus outdoor customers, or large-scale operations versus smaller manufacturing operations, the challenges are all different. Some people care about turnaround times, some more about R&D. If we understand our client’s problems, then we can provide better service. We see ourselves as problem solvers. We lean heavily on our technical team members like Aldwin, who not only have tremendous amounts of experience and education, but also great networks to utilize when a customer needs help, even when it falls outside of our local expertise.

The GCxGC/MS instrument, used for Veda’s advanced R&D testing

Last but certainly not least is the advanced R&D testing that we do. When we first started, we started talking to farmers and manufacturers trying to understand their challenges. What data were they not getting? How would a testing lab better serve them? So, we started investing strategically in certain instruments that would allow us to better serve them. We’ll get into this later as well, but we invested in a GCxGC/MS, which allows us to get more visibility into things beyond the typical panels, like more terpenes and other volatile compounds including thiols and esters. We did that because we knew there is value in that. The data our customers were getting prior just wasn’t enough to put together really great breeding programs or to manufacture really consistent products, you know, to move toward that next level of innovation in the industry.

Aldwin: Leo mentioned advanced R&D and it’s basically the same approach that I mentioned before. It’s not just telling you what you can and cannot do. It’s about asking them what do you want to do and what do you want from a lab? If we have a problem, let’s see if we can solve it. That’s how the GCxGC/MS came into play because we knew there was a need to test for many terpenes and other volatile compounds. The common complaint we received was why two terpene profiles differ so much from each other, even from the same genetics.

This is something that would actually give the customer, the cultivator or the manufacturer: data about their product that they can actually use. For consistency, for better marketing and other reasons. We are trying to help them answer the questions of ‘how can I make my product better?’

You know, for example, clients would tell us they want something that has a specific taste or smells a certain way. Nobody is telling them what makes the flavor or smell. There is a need there that we can fill. We are trying to provide data that they, the customers, need so that they can improve their breeding programs or their formulations. Data they can use, not just data they need in order to comply with regulations. They would ask us what we can do. We listen to our customers and we try and help as best we can. We don’t know every answer. We are discovering there is a lot more to terpenes than what you can find on a traditional one dimensional gas chromatogram. Some of the terpene data that our clients had previously is not really actionable data, which is where the GCxGC/MS is helping us.


In part two, we delve deep into the world of volatile compounds, winemaking, the tastes and smells of cannabis and chicken adobo. Click here to read part two. 

Detecting Microbial Contamination in Cannabis

By Mike Clark
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Increasing cannabis use across the US has come with increased scrutiny of its health effects. Regulators and healthcare providers are not just concerned about the direct effects of inhaling or consuming cannabinoids, however, but also about another health risk: microbial contamination in cannabis products. Like any other crop, cannabis is susceptible to contamination by harmful pathogens at several points throughout the supply chain, from cultivation and harvesting to distribution. Many state regulators have set limits for microbial populations in cannabis products. Consequently, testing labs must adopt efficient screening protocols to help companies remain compliant and keep their customers safe.

Some of the pathogens common to cannabis flower include Aspergillus fungus species such as A. flavus, A. fumigatus, A. niger and A. terreus. Cannabis might also harbor harmful E. coli and Salmonella species, including Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC). Regulations vary by state, but most have set specific thresholds for how many colony forming units (CFUs) of particular species can be present in a sellable product.

The gold standard method for detecting microbes is running cultures.

Growers and testing labs need to develop a streamlined approach to remain viable. Current methods, including running cultures on every sample, can be expensive and time-consuming, but by introducing a PCR-based screening step first, which identifies the presence of microbial DNA – and therefore the potential for contamination – laboratories can reduce the number of cultures they need to run, saving money and time.

The Risk of Aspergillus Contamination

Contamination from Aspergillus species can bring harm to cannabis growers and their customers. The state of Michigan is currently undergoing the largest cannabis recall in its history from Aspergillus contamination.

If contamination grows out of control, the pathogen can damage the cannabis plant itself and lead to financial losses. Aspergillus can also cause serious illness in consumers, especially those that are immunocompromised. If an immunocompromised person inhales Aspergillus, they can develop aspergillosis, a lung condition with a poor prognosis.

A Two-Step Screening Process

The gold standard method for detecting microbes is running cultures. This technique takes weeks to deliver results and can yield inaccurate CFU counts, making it difficult for growers to satisfy regulators and create a safe product in a timely manner. The use of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) can greatly shorten the time to results and increase sensitivity by determining whether the sample has target DNA.

Using PCR can be expensive, particularly to screen for multiple species at the same time, but a qPCR-based Aspergillus detection assay could lead to significant cost savings. Since the average presumptive positive rate for Aspergillus contamination is low (between 5-10%), this assay can be used to negatively screen large volumes of cannabis samples. It serves as an optional tool to further speciate only those samples that screened positive to comply with state regulations.

Conclusion

Overall, screening protocols have become a necessary part of cannabis production, and to reduce costs, testing labs must optimize methods to become as efficient as possible. With tools such as PCR technology and a method that allows for initial mass screening followed by speciation only when necessary, laboratories can release more samples faster with fewer unnecessary analyses and more success for cannabis producers in the marketplace.

2021 Cannabis Labs Virtual Conference: December Program

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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2021 Cannabis Labs Virtual Conference: December Program

Sponsored by ANAB, Hardy Diagnostics and MilliporeSigma.

Click here to watch the recording

Agenda

Cannabis Laboratory Accreditation Panel

  • Tracy Szerszen, President & Operations Manager, PJLA
  • Mohan Sabaratnam, Vice President, IAS
  • Kathy Nucifora, COO, COLA
  • Chris Gunning, General Manager for Accreditation Services, A2LA
  • Aaron Biros, Editor, CannabisIndustryJournal.com

In this session, the panel answers attendee questions related to ISO 17025:2017 accreditation for cannabis testing labs. Learn some of the common challenges labs face when seeking accreditation and learn about sampling protocols, security issues, statements of conformance, calibration and much more.

TechTalk: ANAB

  • Melanie Ross, Technical Products Developer, ANSI National Accreditation Board

R & D Lab Testing: Ensuring Success with Results

  • Mark Carter, president of MC Squared Enterprises

Learn how R&D lab testing can help you, prepare for compliance batches, successfully launch new products and amp up your quality control.

TechTalk: MilliporeSigma

 

USDA’s Hemp Testing Rules Have Changed: Accelerate Your Lab’s Preparedness

  • Arun Apte, CEO, CloudLIMS

This presentation takes a deep dive into understanding the requirements for USDA hemp testing, the operational changes hemp testing laboratories need to make to comply with the new hemp testing rules and the regulatory compliance framework and quality standards the testing labs need to meet.

TechTalk: Hardy Diagnostics

  • Jessa Youngblood, Food & Beverage Market Coordinator, Hardy Diagnostics

Bringing a National Hemp Testing Panel to Market

  • Josh Wurzer, Co-Founder & President, SC Laboratories

Without clear direction from the FDA, states are filling the void by developing their own quality standards and testing requirements for hemp derived CBD products. Unlike their THC based counterparts, hemp derived CBD products are being sold across state lines raising the demand for a single testing panel that will be compliant in every state. Attendees will learn:

  • The current state of regulations nationally
  • The issues that hemp product manufacturers need to be educated on to ensure compliance,
  • The challenges labs face in offering customers a truly comprehensive panel.

Click here to watch the recording

Nonprofits Focus Lens on Delta-8-THC

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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On December 2, ASTM International, released a whitepaper called “Delta-8-Tetrahydrocannabinol and the Need to Develop Standards to Protect Safety of Consumers.” On the same day, the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) launched an expert panel, drafting commentary and providing recommendations to protect public health. The two organizations are working in tandem to better educate the public as well as regulators on the science behind the risks that delta-8-THC products pose to the public.

The chemical structure of Delta 8 THC.

ASTM has been working in the cannabis industry through their D37 committee since March of 2017. Soon after the D37 committee launched, they began crafting cannabis standards and have grown their membership and subcommittees considerably over the past few years. USP has also been involved in the cannabis space for quite some time, developing reference standards and offering guidance for the cannabis testing market.

The ASTM whitepaper details the current landscape for hemp-based products that contain delta-8-thc derived from CBD. It includes information on what the cannabinoid is, how it’s produced, the emergence of delta-8-thc in hemp markets and the need for better safety and performance standards.

David Vaillencourt, frequent CIJ contributor and ASTM International member, says they want to identify how we can maintain public safety when it comes to delta-8-THC. “Products containing delta-8-THC are widely available to consumers despite the known and unknown risks to consumer health and safety,” says Vaillencourt. “The topic is much deeper than simply the presence of delta-8-THC. Rather it is about defining how to label products containing potentially intoxicating cannabinoids and identifying what safeguards need to be in place to minimize the risk of impurities that can further impact consumer health.”

In addition to the technical information provided, ASTM’s whitepaper also discusses the risks of synthetic cannabinoids to public health and the regulatory landscape surrounding delta-8-THC. USP’s whitepaper discusses the chemical process that creates delta-8-THC, the unregulated market and offers guidance on how to regulate the cannabinoid with labeling and testing rules.

Dr. Ikhlas Khan, chairman of USP’s expert panel on cannabis, says we need a lot more research.  “The fact of the matter is that little is known about the products labeled as containing delta-8, so much so that the FDA and CDC have both released advisories about the products,” says Khan. “Depending on how the products are produced, unknown impurities may be introduced, including minor and synthetic cannabinoid compounds that are not naturally occurring in cannabis.”

Delta-8-THC is not inherently unsafe, says Dr. Nandakumara Sarma, Director of Dietary Supplements and Herbal Medicines for USP. But as we’ve covered this before, the methods that manufacturers use to produce delta-8-THC could have harmful byproducts present in final products. “Synthetically derived cannabinoids are not necessarily inherently unsafe if they are quality controlled and shown to be safe,” says Dr. Sarma. “By using public quality standards, we can help in controlling the quality of the products and set appropriate limits for impurities.”

The folks at USP and ASTM will host a presentation on the two papers during ASTM’s 2nd Global Workshop on Advancing the Field of Cannabis through Standardization, to be held virtually Dec. 14, 2021. Click here to register.

steep-hill-labs-logo

Steep Hill Expands to Illinois with New Lab

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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steep-hill-labs-logo

Last week, Steep Hill announced their expansion into Illinois with a new cannabis testing lab partner licensed in Ottawa, IL. Illinois became the eleventh state to legalize adult use cannabis back in 2019. It’s also the eleventh market that Steep Hill has opened a laboratory in.

Co-founders Nick Etten, John Tinsley and Matt Grabowski will lead the new Steep Hill venture. Etten will lead the team as SVP of external affairs, who comes from Acreage holdings and the Veterans Cannabis Project. Tinsley comes from a consulting background at EY-Parthenon and Grabowski comes from a background in finance.

According to the press release, the new Steep Hill location in Ottawa is “within a 90-minute drive of the largest MSOs in Illinois.” The lab will provide full regulatory compliance testing panels in addition to R&D testing, according to Tinsley. “We are currently building out the lab,” says Tinsley. “We will also provide research and development testing services for cultivators and processors; supporting our partners in the development of new products and supporting their growth.”

Steep Hill is often touted as the first cannabis testing lab in the United States, with its headquarters in Berkeley, California. The company has been testing cannabis for thirteen years now.

Cannabis Labs Virtual Conference

Registration is now open! The Cannabis Labs Virtual Conference continues into 2022. For six years now and once a quarter, we have been hosting this complimentary collection of webinar presentations, designed to help attendees better understand some of the more technical aspects of starting and operating a laboratory. We will take a deep dive into various cannabis and hemp testing methods, laboratory accreditation, microbial testing, standards, method development and more. Attendees registering for this complimentary series of webinars will get access to veterans of the cannabis lab testing industry, who are all available for Q&A after each presentation. In addition to getting the opportunity to chat with these subject matter experts on January 25th, a recording of the presentations will be made available to all who register. Practical and educational information from experts in the cannabis lab testing industry, all on the same day and all from the comfort of your lab, home or office. Want real inside knowledge on the cannabis testing industry? Stay tuned for important updates on the agenda. Registration will be open soon.

Leaders in Cannabis Formulations: Part 4

By Aaron Green
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Natural cannabinoid distillates and isolates are hydrophobic oils and solids, meaning that they do not mix well with water and are poorly absorbed in the human body after consumption. Cannabinoid oils can be formulated into emulsions to form a fine suspension in water to improve bioavailability, stability and flavor. Vertosa is a cannabis infused ingredients company specializing in emulsion technologies. Their technology can be found in a range of CBD and THC containing beverages found on shelves today.

We spoke with Austin Stevenson, chief innovation officer at Vertosa, to learn more about emulsification technology and some of the challenges in testing cannabis infused beverages. Stevenson joined Vertosa in 2019 after spending time as a cannabis advisor at CanopyBoulder as an entrepreneur in residence. Prior to Vertosa, Stevenson ran the hemp and CBD analytical testing laboratory business unit for Eurofins.

Aaron Green: How did you get involved in the cannabis industry?

Austin Stevenson: I got involved in the cannabis industry nearly seven years ago, when I was an advisor to an accelerator in agriculture technology in Africa. I went to the MIT Innovation Laboratory, and I saw a whole bunch of farmers cultivating green leafy vegetables in the middle of the Kalahari Desert, which piqued my curiosity. I learned that it was all done via hydroponic indoor cultivation and freight containers. I got back to the US and put my detective hat on, and learned that it was really the cannabis industry that was driving innovation in terms of indoor and sustainable agriculture. At that point, I took it as an opportunity to dive in and started, again, as an advisor at an accelerator in Colorado. From there, I’ve been on the amazing cannabis journey.

Green: And how did you get involved with Vertosa?

Austin Stevenson, Chief Innovation Officer at Vertosa

Stevenson: I became an advisor at CanopyBoulder to a few software companies and got on the founding team there as well as at a few cultivation companies and other license types across the supply chain. Immediately before Vertosa, I ran the business unit for hemp and CBD testing at Eurofins, one of the world’s largest analytical chemistry laboratories, specializing in Ag Pharma. My clients were your traditional retailers: CVS, Kroger. Our team analyzed thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of SKUs of infused products.

At one point I had to tell one of my clients at Eurofins, that all of their beverage SKUs were failing potency tests. Their supplements, OTC products, some of the confections, cosmetics, were all passing, but the beverages were failing potency testing. Cannabinoid ingredients were floating to the top, sinking to the bottom, even leaching into the can liners. It just wasn’t working, so we had to tell them that those beverages could not go to market. On this same day, I happened to run into my longtime friend and business partner in the industry (now Vertosa CEO) Ben Larson at a conference in Oakland, who was running the Gateway Incubator at the time, but had met our other partner and founder, Dr. Harold Han. Ben told me, “I have this PhD chemist, a surface chemist from BioRad. He’s been experimenting with techniques, taking cannabis oils and turning them into fast acting emulsions for beverages. I’d like for you to check it out because I’m considering building a business around this.” I said, “Alright, show me the technology. Let me take it back to the lab, analyze it, verify it, and then try it. See if it works.” Lo and behold, it did. I fell in love with the product. I saw the problem firsthand at my lab and now I saw a solution, so I knew that the next part of my cannabis journey would be to join Ben and Harold in building a business together focused on being the number one technology solving the problem of stability and potency for the infused beverage market.

Green: What is the core technology of Vertosa?

Stevenson: Our focus at Vertosa is being the best delivery mechanism for cannabinoids. That means that we have a portfolio of different technologies that we’re using to take cannabis oils and turn them into fast-acting liquid emulsions, as well as powder-based APIs. When we began, we were using nano-emulsification. We are using nanotechnology in the food space, with a few different methods for creating those nano-emulsions, to infuse a diverse range of different products – everything from seltzer waters to dealcoholized wines and teas.

Green: So, it’s a portfolio of products with the basic idea of encapsulating the oil into smaller components. Can you highlight some of the challenges when you were first developing the product with testing? My assumption is that it was relatively new for testing labs. How did you support method development with them so that you are accurately reporting cannabinoid content?

Stevenson: The biggest problem that we faced at Vertosa is that there’s no one size that fits all. The chemistry of an infused seltzer water is different than the chemistry of a dealcoholized wine. The reason is because, quite literally, the ingredients are different. They’re different products. When we’re making the emulsions for these beverages, all the ingredients have to be compatible – the ingredients in the emulsion as well as the ingredients in the beverage. We’ve had to design a portfolio of different emulsions for different beverage types to ensure compatibility in any scenario, otherwise there could be instability, causing separation between the emulsion and the ingredients.

Additionally, we’ve seen challenges in the packaging type as well as the manufacturing techniques, specifically sterilization, thermal processing, chemical treatment, or the lack thereof. These three core variables (ingredients, packaging, and manufacturing technique) are where all the challenges in potency testing arise. For example, you have an infused beverage that is going to be packaged in an aluminum can. There is a polarity between cannabinoids and the can aligners that ultimately could create leaching, or an absorption type of effect.

At Eurofins, we would see beverages that were supposed to contain CBD in the can but were testing at 0 milligrams, despite manufacturers confirming that they had added the CBD. All the CBD had been absorbed into the can liner. Our teams of method development chemists and management had learned to acid rinse the can liner so that we would be able to capture the cannabinoids and identify them. That was a step that we had to learn through trial and error, and we were able to bring this over and build upon this at Vertosa.

Here at Vertosa, the biggest challenge in the lab currently is that there aren’t consistent methods for analyzing beverages. Every lab has different standards, and the instrumentation hasn’t always been calibrated. To ensure that these low dose beverages are measured properly, you have an accurate LOQ to identify the cannabinoid content. Part of the challenge is that the analytical chemistry community has only started to collaborate here recently, literally in the last few months as the AOAC made a call to action for methods for beverage.

At Vertosa, we’ve had to work together with the labs and ask if they have a method for developing beverages. It’s a three-step approach: we send a lab the oil, the emulsion, and the finished product, and ensure that the accurate cannabinoid profile is being diluted across the entire chain to make sure that each step the instrumentation has been calibrated the correct way. We want to make sure that they calibrate it into the HPLC and that the correct cannabinoid profile is always consistent in the finished product. It’s a lot of intimate hand-holding with the labs.

Green: So, you took it upon yourself to go out and get the methods validated, anticipating the need for finished goods testing with your customers and partners?

Stevenson: That’s right. From the beginning, we understood that the problems we are setting out to solve are consistent potency testing and accurate dosing. We wanted to be able to say confidently that when you work with us, you’re going to pass potency tests every time. And if you don’t, we’re going to uncover the reasons why.

For us, we have been able to provide that consistent and reliable ingredient. And yes, there’s been stumbles along the way, but those stumbles are the learnings that make us better. In the beginning, we had just one formula but the chemistries of different beverages vary too much for that to work. We also know that packaging type and manufacturing processes play a role. So, we now have a portfolio of different emulsions, such as conventional, natural, and organic, that can work with any given varibale and that have verifiable potency.

We anchor ourselves to the promise that our clients will pass potency, because that’s the biggest problem most brands have.We know the ingredients inside and out – knowing how heat plays a role, how polyphenols play a role, how oxygen plays a role, and helping the labs and our brand partners succeed while minimizing all the risk and pain that they go through with failed potency. You’d be surprised how many people are using the wrong product in formulation. A new client will come to us frustrated after adding CBD isolate powder to their beverage and seeing it fail potency tests. That’s where we’re able to come in and correct the course.

Green: Someone comes in with a magic wand. What do they solve for you?

“Efficacy research is the most interesting aspect of industry research to me.”Stevenson: If I had a magic wand, I would use it to accelerate efficacy research to validate and verify specific cannabinoids/terpene formulas for targeted effects. In other words, I’d love to have a peer-reviewed, scientifically validated cannabis formula for any desired effect, like anxiety or pain relief, aid in sleep, or increased energy, for example. At Vertosa, we’re currently investing in third party academic research to empower our clients with validated information; however, it takes a lot of time, money, and effort conducting research and clinical trials. It’s a long but essential and beneficial process!

Green: What trends are you following in the industry?

Stevenson: In the world of edibles and ingestibles, I’m extremely interested in exploring onset times and bioavailability technologies, as well as trends in ingredients. More of our clients are interested in rapid onset times so that consumers feel the effects within minutes of consumption, removing some of the stereotypical hesitation around edibles and wondering when “it’ll hit.” It’s also fascinating to explore and integrate minor cannabinoids as well as active and functional ingredients and how they interact together in an ingestible.

I’m also extremely interested in keeping up with changing regulatory policy around consumption lounges and access in recently recreational states. Open consumption lounges are a fantastic solution to further normalizing cannabis usage and decentralizing alcohol in our culture, as consumer behavior is increasingly reflecting a move away from alcohol towards more health-conscious choices.

Green: What are you most interested in learning about?

Stevenson: Efficacy research is the most interesting aspect of industry research to me. Most of us cannabis professionals are passionate about the plant, and anecdotally know how cannabis can be used to improve quality of life. However, the scientific and academic community needs to see hard evidence. As we build the industry in a post-prohibition era, there is more access to research grants to evaluate the efficacy and safety of cannabis. The National Institute of Health (NIH) has identified four (4) key areas of cannabis research eligible for grant funding: (1) cannabinoid research (2) cannabidiol research (3) endocannabinoid system, ECS research, and (4) therapeutic effects of cannabinoids. It’s the latter two, ECS and therapeutic effects, that really spark my curiosity. At VERTOSA, we’re spending a lot of time and resources with our Scientific Advisory board to help accelerate this research, and I’m personally excited about the forthcoming discoveries we make, which will help our entire industry grow and thrive!

2021 Infused Products Virtual Conference

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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2021 Infused Products Virtual Conference

Click here to watch the recording

 

Agenda

Where to Begin: Leveraging Quality Systems to Improve Operations & Growth

  • David Vaillencourt, CEO & Founder, The GMP Collective
  • Kathleen May, Founders & Owner, Triskele Quality Solutions

In this session, Vaillencourt and May define what a quality system is, how to apply it in your operation and how to create an SOP that actually works for your employees and operation, and provide key metrics to senior management. Understand the key elements of a Quality System including utilizing a Corrective Action Preventive Action (CAPA) Program to identify and prevent recurring issues that hold your operation back.

TechTalk: MilliporeSigma

  • Dr. Stephan Altmaier, Principal Scientist, MilliporeSigma

3 Steps to Create a Compliance Culture with Operational Excellence

  • Dede Perkins, CEO & Co-Founder, ProCanna

This presentation discusses how to create a set of approved and easily accessible policies and SOPs that comply with both external and internal standards, how to create an initial training system with clearly assigned roles, responsibilities, and goals and how to create an ongoing training system with clearly assigned roles, responsibilities, and goals to maintain what you’ve created.

Innovation from an Outside Perspective – For the Purpose of Building Infused & CBD Product Success

  • Jerod Martin, Chief Research & Development Officer, CannGoods

For the cannabis industry to be successful we must start with quality research enabling us to utilize quality ingredients resulting in quality products. We should look to other industries to gain knowledge for a better cannabis industry. This presentation delves into why research matters, why ingredients matter and why quality matters.

Implementing Food Safety Management Systems in Infused Products Production Facilities

  • Dr. Laurie Post, Director of Food Safety and Regulatory Affairs, Deibel Labs

Participants will be introduced to Food Safety Management Programs such as HACCP and FDA mandated Preventive Controls systems, Food Safety Hazard Assessments and how to conduct them and Preventive controls and how to use them to craft a Food Safety system

Click here to watch the recording