Unveiling Potency and Purity: Need For Comprehensive Cannabis Testing

The extracts of the plant Cannabis sativa represent a class of psychoactive and non-psychoactive compositions that have been used for both recreational and therapeutic purposes. The primary psychoactive component of the plant, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), has been identified to possess substantial therapeutic effects, treating nausea, vomiting, and inflammatory symptoms associated with advanced stages of certain illnesses, including AIDS and cancer. However, unsupervised consumption of low-quality cannabis may compromise consumer safety, necessitating the awareness among users about the potential chances of psychosis and addiction related to the prolonged use of the plant. Along with the safety concerns associated with the drug, the dynamics of the growing demand for medical-grade cannabis have presented unique challenges in producing high-quality cannabis products and testing. Over time, a number of players offering portfolio of testing services, robust instrumentation, software and consumables have entered this domain. The global cannabis testing market was valued at USD 1.72 billion in 2023 and is anticipated to grow at a CAGR of 22.8% during the forecast period 2023-2035, according to Roots Analysis. With rise in demand for safe and compliant cannabis-infused products, the cannabis testing market is anticipated to witness steady growth during the forecast period, offering various testing solutions to a number of end-users, including cultivators, product manufacturers, and research institutes.

Cannabis as a Medicinal Plant

The therapeutic potential of cannabis and its derivatives has been recently recognized by scientists and doctors, moreover, medical cannabis is also gaining substantial traction in healthcare. In fact, owing to the various therapeutic applications, pharmaceutical compositions containing cannabis have been made legal for medical use. Further, the advancements in the field of various analytical techniques led to the identification of the primary active component of the plant, which is known as a cannabinoid. Cannabinoids, upon interaction with specific receptors in the body, have proven to provide relief from severe chronic pain associated with various medical conditions. Although the plant holds a significant therapeutic potential, detrimental effects of cannabis including impaired motor functions, psychosis and addiction still pose substantial safety challenges to consumers. Therefore, the unsupervised consumption and prescription of cannabis is not legalized.

Existing Therapeutic Effects of Cannabis include:

§  Treatment of nausea and vomiting caused by various chemotherapies.

§  Treatment of appetite loss and cachexia in HIV or cancer patients.

§  Treatment of neuropathic and chronic pain.

Existing Side Effects of Cannabis include:

§  Chances of psychoactive effects on overdosing.

§  Disordered perception, memory impairment, and reduction in motor functions.

§  Chances of schizophrenic psychosis in vulnerable individuals.

Cannabis Components

1.     Cannabinoids

Cannabinoids belong to a class of chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant. The genus cannabis contains more than 480 unique chemical components, over 70 of which are classified as cannabinoids. Cannabis indicaCannabis sativa, and Cannabis ruderalis are the main species that contain cannabinoids. Cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are the well-known cannabinoids present in the cannabis plant, primarily incorporated in cannabis-infused products. THC is the primary psychoactive cannabinoid, whereas CBD is the main non-psychoactive cannabinoid, which constitutes the majority of the cannabinoids found in the plant. Naturally occurring strains of cannabis contain 4-6% of THC in the overall composition of the plant. However, owing to the growing legalization of cannabis for recreational purposes, cultivators are developing novel strains with up to 20% of THC in their cannabinoid profiles utilizing crossbreeding applications.

2.     Terpenes:

Terpenes are a class of aromatic compounds, constituting the bulk of essential oils produced by certain plant species. The anti-plasmodial activity of terpenes is amongst the prime focus areas for researchers. Terpenes such as pinene and humulene are known to have anti-depressant, anti-cancer as well as stress-alleviating properties. Cannabis contains over 140 different types of terpenes that are believed to bolster its therapeutic effects via a process known as entourage effect. The entourage effect is a synergistic phenomenon between terpenes and cannabinoids; when used together, the compounds elicit a more potent response as compared to their solitary applications.

Legalization of Cannabis

The legalization of cannabis for medical and recreational applications has led to profound growth of this market across the globe. Presently, more than 70 countries worldwide have legalized medicinal use of cannabis, while 10 such countries have also approved recreational use of the plant. The US, in particular, has witnessed substantial developments in the field of cannabis applications. Following the growing demand of cannabis, both for therapeutic as well as recreational purposes, the state legislatures in the US, along with many other nations, are being strongly persuaded to legalize the plant.

The increase in legalization of cannabis across the globe can be attributed to the public’s perception of cannabis as a relatively benign recreational drug. However, any product made from cannabis for recreational and therapeutic applications needs to be properly tested and regulated. The FDA’s stringent approval protocols ensure that these regulatory standards for cannabis products are maintained and ensure public health.

Need for Cannabis Testing
The illicit cannabis products in the market lacking quality, continues to be the primary source of medicinal cannabis for the consumers. In fact, the dispensaries providing medical grade cannabis often have poor quality and improper composition for the cannabinoid-infused products, consumption of which poses a risk to the consumer’s health. Further, cannabis used to treat different medical conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease is sometimes associated with the risk of addiction and other adverse side effects, leading to additional challenges in the legal use of the plant. In addition, contaminants, including microbes, pesticides, residual solvents and heavy metals are other safety concerns. In order to deal with these challenges, cannabis testing labs and service providers have emerged to aid the product manufacturers complying with the standards for quality, safety and labeling.

Cannabis Testing

Cannabis testing service providers combine different analytical techniques in order to quantify the analytes present in a sample. Kaycha Labs, a US-based cannabis testing provider that specializes in cannabis compliance testing services owns nine laboratories for hemp and cannabis testing.

Workflow of different analysis in cannabis testing is briefly listed below:

1.      Sample Preparation: This involves homogenization, followed by solvent-based extraction to separate out the analytes from the bulk material / product.

2.      Standardization and Calibration: Testing equipment is calibrated using chemical standards, improving the testing outcomes and reducing interference due to impurities.

3.      Analysis: The test results are analyzed against set chemical standards to identify the quantitative / qualitative nature of the sample.

4.      Measurement and Results: Test results are further measured against set industry requirements. Based on these measurements, quantitative results are determined.

Analytical testing procedures

1.      HPLC Analysis in Cannabis Testing

High pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC) methods can be used for accurate quantitative and qualitative measurement of cannabinoids. HPLC-based quantitative methods can be effectively used to identify the compounds of interest, and the results are substantially better than other quantitative techniques. This is due to the fact that the method allows the analysis of the neutral (THC and CBD) as well as the acidic (THCa and CBDa) forms of cannabinoids simultaneously.

Features of HPLC Analysis:

§  Proper analysis of neutral and acidic forms of cannabinoids

§  No conversion of acidic forms to neutral analogs

§  Can be coupled with UV diodes to increase accuracy of the analysis

§  Faster and accurate analysis of data

§  Consistent potency testing outputs

2.      GC Analysis in Cannabis Testing

Several gas chromatography (GC)-based techniques can be used for the analysis of cannabis components. Amongst different GC techniques, two-dimensional (2D) GC-MS (Mass Spectroscopy) and GC-MS/MS have emerged to become popular; these techniques provide accurate data for the identification and quantification of cannabinoids in different matrices. GC-based analytical techniques have also been identified to be in the analysis of pesticides as well as terpenes in product samples containing cannabis.

Features of GC Analysis:

§  GC-MS methods deliver extensive structural information

§  Simultaneous quantification of cannabinoids and terpenes

§  Higher sensitivity as compared to LC-MS methods

§  Analytes with low polarity can also be determined

§  Fingerprinting of cannabinoid-containing plant extracts

Applications of Cannabis Testing

The increased consumption of cannabis and cannabis-infused products over the last few years has intensified safety-related concerns for the consumers. Therefore, in order to ensure consumer safety as well as product quality, all cannabis-infused products manufactured by a licensed facility should be subjected to stringent compliance testing applications. Cannabis testing applications primarily include:

§  Cannabis Potency Testing

§  Microbial Analysis

§  Heavy Metals Testing

§  Residual Solvents Testing

§  Terpenes Testing

§  Mycotoxins Testing

§  Vitamin E Acetate Testing

§  DNA Genotyping

§  Flavonoids Testing

These testing applications maintain the regulatory standards of the manufactured goods, complying with the law. Hence, it can be concluded that the cannabis testing market has now become an integral part of various domains including healthcare, cosmetics and food industries. Furthermore, considering the various active initiatives being undertaken by players based in this domain coupled with increasing legalization of the plant for medical use, we anticipate that the opportunity for stakeholders in this industry is likely to grow at an exponential pace in the foreseen future.

About Roots Analysis

Roots Analysis is a global leader in the pharma / biotech market research. Having worked with over 750 clients worldwide, including Fortune 500 companies, start-ups, academia, venture capitalists and strategic investors for more than a decade, we offer a highly analytical / data-driven perspective to a network of over 450,000 senior industry stakeholders looking for credible market insights. All reports provided by us are structured in a way that enables the reader to develop a thorough perspective on the given subject. Apart from writing reports on identified areas, we provide bespoke research / consulting services dedicated to serve our clients in the best possible way.

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