Tag Archives: Standardization

Moving Towards Greater Competency in Cannabis Testing

By Ravi Kanipayor
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While legalization of recreational cannabis remains in a fluid state in the United States, the medical application of cannabis is gaining popularity. As such, the  diversification of  pharmaceutical and edible cannabis products will inevitably lead to increased third party testing, in accordance with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandates. Laboratories entering into cannabis testing, in addition to knowing the respective state mandates for testing procedures, should be aligned with Federal regulations in the food and pharmaceutical industries.

In 2010, the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA)1 established a cannabis committee with the primary objective of addressing issues related to the practices and safe use of legally-marketed cannabis and cannabis-related products. The committee issued a set of recommendations, outlining best practices for the cultivation, processing, testing and distribution of cannabis and cannabis products. The recommendations for laboratory operations sets some basic principles for those performing analysis of cannabis products. These principles, complementary to existing good laboratory practices and international standards, focus on the personnel, security, sample handling/disposal, data management and test reporting unique to laboratories analyzing cannabis samples.

As local and federal regulations continue to dictate medical and recreational cannabis use, many will venture into the business of laboratory testing to meet the demands of this industry. Thus, it is not surprising that cannabis producers, distributors and dispensaries will need competent testing facilities to provide reliable and accurate results. In addition, our understanding of cannabis from an analytical science perspective will derive from test reports received from these laboratories. Incorrect or falsified results can be costly to their business and can even lead to lawsuits when dealing with consumer products. Examples of fines and/or suspensions related to incorrect/false reporting of results have already gained coverage in news media. This sets up the need for the cannabis industry to establish standardized protocols for laboratory competency.

The international standard, ISO 17025 – ‘General requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories’ – plays an important role in providing standard protocols to distinguish labs with proven quality, reliability and competency. The industry needs to rely not only on the initial accreditation received, but also on the ongoing assessment of the labs to ensure continuous competency.

Receiving accreditation involves an assessment by an International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) recognized accrediting body, which ensures that laboratories have the competency, resources, personnel and have successfully implemented a sound quality management system that complies with the international standard ISO/IEC 17025:2017. This ISO standard is voluntary, but recognized and adopted globally by many industries for lab services. Cannabis companies can ensure that the test services they receive from accredited laboratories will meet the requirements of the industry, as well as the state and federal regulatory agencies. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is an independent, non-governmental organization with over 160 memberships of national standards bodies, and all with a unified focus on developing world-class standards for services, systems, products, testing to ensure quality, safety, efficiency and economic benefits.

ILAC is a non-profit organization made up of accreditation bodies (ABs) from various global economies. The member bodies that are signatories to the ILAC Mutual Recognition Arrangement (ILAC MRA) have been peer evaluated to demonstrate their competence. The ILAC MRA signatories, in turn, assess testing labs against the international standard, ISO/IEC 17025 and award accreditation. Accreditation is the independent evaluation of conformity assessment in accordance with the standard and related government regulations to ensure the lab carry out specific activities (called the ‘Scope’) impartially and competently. Through this process, cannabis industry stakeholders and end users can have confidence in the test results they receive from the labs.

Understanding the principles of accreditation and conformity to ISO standards is the beginning of the ISO 17025 accreditation process. Similar to other areas of testing, accreditation gives cannabis testing labs global recognition such that their practices meet the highest standards in providing continuous consistency, reliability and accuracy.

Many government agencies (state and federal) in the US and around the world are mandating cannabis testing laboratories to seek accreditation to ISO/IEC 17025:2017, in an effort to standardize their practice and provide the industry with needed assurance. Conformance with the standard enables labs to demonstrate their competency in generating reliable results, thereby providing assurance to those who hire their services.

Testing of cannabis can be very demanding and challenging given that state and federal regulations require that the performance and quality of the testing activities must provide consistent, reliable and accurate results. Hence, labs deciding to set up cannabis testing will have to take extra care in setting up a laboratory facility, acquiring all necessary and appropriate testing equipment, hiring qualified and experience staff and developing and implementing test methods to ensure the process, sample throughput, data integrity and generated output are continuously reliable, accurate and meet the need of the clients and requirements of the regulatory bodies. This demands the lab to establish and implement very sound quality assurance program, good laboratory practices and a quality management system (QMS).

Some expected challenges are:

  1. Standardization of test methods and protocols
    1. Since there is no federal guidance in standardization of test methods and protocols for cannabis testing in US, it is challenging for laboratories to research and validate other similar, established methods and gain approval from the local and state authorities.
  2. Facility
    1. Cannabis testing activities must be physically isolated from other testing activities for those labs conducting business in other areas of testing such as environment, food, mining, etc.
    2. Microbiological testing requires additional physical isolation within the testing facility, maintaining sterility of the environment, test area and test equipment.
  3. Equipment
    1. The test equipment such as Chromatographs (GC/LC), Spectrometers (ICP-MS, ICP-OES, UV-Vis), and other essential analytical instruments must meet the specifications required to detect and quantify and statistically justify the test parameters at the stipulated concentration levels. That means the limit of detection and limit of quantitation of each parameter must be well below the regulatory limits and the results are statistically sound.
    2. Calibration, maintenance and operation of analytical equipment must be appropriate to produce results traceable to international standards such as International System of Units and National Institute of Standards and Technology (SI and NIST).
  4. Staff
    1. The qualification and experience of the staff should ensure standard test methods are implemented and verified to meet the specifications.
    2. They should have a sound understanding of the QA/QC protocols and effective implementation of a quality management system which conforms to ISO/IEC 17025:2017 standard.
    3. Staff should be properly trained in all standard operating procedures (SOPs) and receiving schedule re-training as needed. Training should be accurately documented.
  5. QMS
    1. The QMS should not only meet the requirements of ISO 17025, but also be appropriate to the scope of the laboratory activities. Such a system must be planned, implemented, verified and continuously improved to ensure effectiveness.

Finally, stakeholders should seek expert advice in establishing a cannabis testing lab prior to initiating the accreditation. This can be achieved through a cyclic PLAN-DO-CHECK-ACT process. Labs that are properly established can attain the accreditation process in as little as 3-5 months. An initial ‘Gap Analysis’ can be extremely helpful in this matter.

IAS, an ILAC MRA signatory and international accrediting body based in California is one such organization that provides training programs for those interested in attaining accreditation to ISO/IEC 17025:2017. It is a nonprofit, public-benefit corporation that has been providing accreditation services since 1975. IAS accredits a wide range of companies and organizations including governmental entities, commercial businesses, and professional associations worldwide. IAS accreditation programs are based on recognized national and international standards that ensure domestic and/or global acceptance of its accreditations.2


References

  1. American Herbal Products Association , 8630 Fenton Street, Suite 918 , Silver Spring, MD 20910 , ahpa.org.
  2. International Accreditation Services, iasonline.org.
Steven Burton

Standardization: A Guide Through the Minefield

By Steven Burton
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Steven Burton

Now that cannabis edibles have been legalized nationally in Canada, many existing and aspiring license holders have been surprised to discover that they must comply with food safety regulations. This became crystal clear when Health Canada published their Good Production Practices Guide For Cannabis in August 2019.

With this development, it should be obvious to everyone that Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) certifications are simply not enough.

Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) based preventative control programs are now the absolute minimum and higher levels of certification (GFSI) should be on everyone’s wish list.

HACCP is a methodology that is all about identifying biological, chemical and physical hazards and determining how they will be controlled to mitigate the risk of injury to humans. Recently, bio-terrorism and food fraud hazards have been added to the list and it is a good idea to address quality hazards as well.

The process of developing a HACCP program involves identifying these hazards with respect to ingredients, materials, packaging, processes and cross-contamination points (explicitly required in Canada only). However, it is a specific ingredient hazard that I’d like to talk about here.

HACCPAs this market has emerged, I’ve met with many cannabis companies as the onerous levels of knowledge and effort required to build and maintain an effective HACCP program manually has dawned upon the industry. Many are looking for technological solutions to quickly solve this problem. During these discussions, a curious fact has emerged that set off the food safety alarm klaxons around here.

Most people alive today are too young to remember this but, with few exceptions, the standardization of ingredients is a relatively modern phenomenon. It used to be that the fat content of your milk varied from season to season and cow to cow. Over time, the food industry standardized so that, amazingly, you can now choose between milks with either 1% or 2% fat, a level of precision that would border on miraculous to someone born in the early 20th century.

The standardization of ingredients is important in terms of both quality and safety. Take alcohol for example. We know that a shot of spirits generally contains 40% alcohol. Different products may vary from this standard but, if I pour a shot of my favourite Bowmore No.1 single malt in Canada or Tasmania, this year or 10 years from now, I can expect a consistent effect from the 40% alcohol content of the quantity I’ve imbibed.

Imagine a world in which this was not the case, where one shot would be 40% but the next might be 80%. Things could get out of control quite easily at the 80% level so, to avoid this, distillers monitor and blend their product to ensure they achieve the 40% target, which is called the “standardization marker”.

With respect to cannabis, the obvious standardization marker is THC. During the manufacturing process, edibles manufacturers do not normally add cannabis flower directly into their products but instead add a THC concentrate produced during previous production steps. However, we’ve found that the wisdom of standardizing these concentrates has not yet dawned upon many in the industry, which is alarming at best and dangerous at worst.

The reason for this is that, since cannabis is inherently a heterogeneous plant, one cannot precisely achieve a particular marker value so the outcome of the concentration process is variable. The food industry long ago overcame this problem by blending or diluting to achieve a consistent marker concentration, but the cannabis industry has not yet adopted this advance.

The cannabis edibles industry is still immature and it will take time to bring all the necessary risk mitigation processes into place but one excellent place to start is to seriously consider standardizing concentrates to a THC marker.Instead, manufacturers simply keep track of the strength of each batch of concentrate and then adjust the quantity added to their recipes to achieve the desired THC content. This seems logical on the surface but presents a serious risk from the HACCP perspective, namely a chemical hazard, “Excessive psychoactive compound concentrations due to human error at levels that may be injurious to human health”.

The reality is that workers make mistakes, which is why it is imperative to mitigate the risk of human error insomuch as possible. One of the best ways to do this is to standardize to avoid the scenario where a worker, faced with a row of identical containers that are differentiated only by a tiny bit of text, accidentally grabs the wrong bottle. The error isn’t caught until the product has been shipped, consumed, and reports of hospital visits start coming in after the authorities trace the problem back to you. You must bear the costs of the recall, your reputation has been decimated and your company is floundering on the financial rocks.

US-based Drip More, LP recently found this out the hard way after consumers complained that their product tasted bad, bitter and/or harsh. An investigation determined that excessive nicotine content was the source of the problem and a voluntary recall was initiated. Affected product that had already been sold in 26 states. The costs of this recall have not been tallied but they will be staggering.

The cannabis edibles industry is still immature and it will take time to bring all the necessary risk mitigation processes into place but one excellent place to start is to seriously consider standardizing concentrates to a THC marker. This strategy is cheap, easy and you’ll never be sorry.

2nd Annual Cannabis Labs Virtual Conference Announced

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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The 2ndAnnual Cannabis Labs Virtual Conference is set to take place on Tuesday, April 2, 2019, starting at 12:00 Noon and concluding at 4:00 PM EDT. This complimentary series of webinars will take a deep dive into a variety of subjects related to cannabis testing and the laboratory industry.

The virtual event will help attendees better understand some of the more technical aspects of starting and operating a laboratory. Topics discussed will include pesticide testing, cannabinoid and terpene testing, the new ISO 17025:2017 accreditation and a lesson in starting a laboratory in a new market.

Attendees registering for this complimentary series of webinars will get access to four veterans of the cannabis lab testing industry, who are available for Q&A after each presentation. In addition to getting the opportunity to chat with these subject matter experts on April 2, a recording of the presentations will be made available to all who register.

Charles Deibel, President & CEO – Deibel Labs, Inc.

Here is a snapshot of the agenda:

Pesticide Testing: Methods, Strategies & Sampling
Charles Deibel, President & CEO – Deibel Labs, Inc.

Pesticides represent the number one area for batch failures in the US cannabis market. These are concerns not only for consumers, but are a very big concern for cultivators and manufacturers of cannabis products. remediation of the pesticides, once they are in the product are not always feasible From the lab level, they are also the hardest test to run in the laboratory, even one equipped with state-of-the-art equipment. The best instruments on the market are very expensive and there are no standardized methods, meaning lab to lab variability has happened.

  • What are the pesticides in cannabis and are there any that are the “main concerns” or ones that stand out as particularly damaging?
  • What is a basic breakdown of the testing and methods used for pesticide testing?
  • What are the best strategies for the sampling of cannabis products?

    Chris Martinez
    Chris Martinez, Co-Founder & President, EVIO Labs FL

Building a Lab in an Emerging Market
Chris Martinez, Co-Founder & President, EVIO Labs FL

  • Will present a discussion of the genesis of EVIO Labs Florida, how to start a lab in a new market
  • Challenges in how we navigated changing regulations in a state with newly legalized cannabis
  • Expanding a lab to a second location – logistics, hiring, training, consistency.

Cannabinoid & Terpene Testing: Methods, Strategies & Standardization

Dr. Cindy Orser, Chief Science Officer, Digipath Labs

  • Appreciation of “measurement uncertainty” in cannabis testing

    Dr. Cindy Orser, Chief Science Officer, Digipath Labs
  • Standardization of testing methods is a high priority
  • Terpenes are the distinguishing chemicals in cannabis sensory perception and chemotaxonomy

Benefits of Accreditation to the ISO 17025:2017 Standard
Jane Weitzel, Independent Consultant

  • The ISO/IEC 17025:2017 standard is now being used to accredit cannabis testing laboratories. From this presentation you will learn the key new aspects of the standard. This includes risk-based thinking. Many aspects of this risk approach require the use of measurement uncertainty. This means the measurement uncertainty must be adequately evaluated. You will be introduced to evaluating and using measurement uncertainty.
  • The 2017 standard emphasizes conflict of interest and impartiality. Procedures and practices to achieve impartiality will be shown. This reduces the risk of potentially damaging leaks of information or the risk of people not working to the best interests of the laboratory and its clients.

    Jane Weitzel, Independent Consultant
  • The 2017 standard is a valuable and useful business tool that can save the laboratory resources, effort and money. Are you doing too much testing? Are you doing too little testing? When you evaluate the measurement uncertainty you can use it to learn the steps in your test method that need enhancement to reduce the risk of making mistakes. You can also use the measurement uncertainty to focus on the significant steps and stop wasting time on steps and activities that are insignificant.
  • These benefits of laboratory accreditation will be demonstrated with examples from the cannabis industry.

To learn more about this complimentary series of webinars, click here to look at the agenda and register.