The Best Cannabis Testing Labs and Why Your Business Must Utilize ThemIn this article, we cover why laboratory product testing is crucial to the cannabis industry, and how to find a lab you can trust.
An essential link in the seed-to-sale chain, cannabis testing labs ensure medical and recreational cannabis users know exactly what’s in the products they’re buying, and can trust the labeled potency. Proper testing is also crucial for CBD, delta-8 THC, and industrial hemp products, which must comply with strict THC content limits. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about cannabis and hemp testing labs, including how to select a trustworthy testing lab and get the most accurate analysis of your company’s cannabis and hemp products.
What Are Cannabis Testing Labs?
Lab testing is essential in the hemp and legal cannabis industries to ensure consumer safety, consistent product quality, and legal compliance. Cannabis testing labs serve an essential purpose as neutral third parties, giving an accurate, thorough, and unbiased analysis of all types of cannabis and hemp-derived products before they reach retail shelves. In addition to measuring the exact levels of THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids, cannabis testing labs assess product samples for the presence of pesticides, pathogens, heavy metals, and other contaminants.
Certificate of Analysis
Once a cannabis product makes it through the testing process, the testing lab issues a document called a certificate of analysis (COA), which is a detailed presentation of its findings. The industry standard is for reputable cannabis and hemp companies to make these COAs available to their potential customers (typically shared on their websites). COAs also provide required information for accurate and compliant record-keeping.
Who Should Utilize Cannabis Testing Labs?
It is an absolute must that any company cultivating, processing, or manufacturing cannabis, hemp, CBD, or other cannabinoid-based products utilize lab testing services. Different countries and states have their own specific testing requirements for legal compliance – some more stringent than others. For example, the US state of Massachusetts requires cannabis and hemp products to be completely free of pesticides (even organic ones) and California requires the absence of 66 specific pesticides, while other states only require testing for a select few.
Even if your company operates in a jurisdiction with fewer testing requirements, it’s still worth subjecting your products to additional assessment for pesticides, metals, moisture, mold, or other potential contaminants. Not only will this ensure the safety of your customers and the quality and integrity of your products, but it also can reduce the risk of costly product recalls down the road.
What Do Cannabis Labs Test For?
Potency and Cannabinoid Content
Potency and cannabinoid testing are essential to ensure the homogeneity and advertised potency of cannabis-derived products – and to ensure hemp-derived products meet strict legal THC content limits. Cannabinoid content can be measured in ratios (i.e. THC:CBD), total cannabinoid content, or cannabinoid-per-weight percentage. The two most commonly used THC potency testing methods are HPLC analysis and NMR testing.
The most accurate THC potency testing method is high-performance liquid cartographic (HPLC) analysis. HPLC analysis involves grinding sample material and placing it into a solvent, prompting cannabinoids and other compounds to separate as the sample material dissolves into the liquid. Next, the liquid is placed inside a tube and put under high pressure, causing heavier molecules to sink and lighter ones to rise. These compounds are then viewed under a special UV light detector, which is used to measure the density of different cannabinoids based on their ability to absorb UV light. Once all of a sample’s chemical compounds have been analyzed, lab technicians can accurately measure the sample’s cannabinoid concentration.
In nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR) testing, a sample is placed within a magnetic field and subjected to radio waves. Changes within the magnetic field then indicate which cannabinoid compounds are present. NMR has the benefit of being a simpler and less expensive cannabis potency testing option than HPLC, but it is not quite as precise.
Terpenes, the aromatic compounds that give each strain its distinct smell and flavor, contribute greatly to the effectiveness and unique properties of any full or broad-spectrum cannabis or CBD product. Liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (LCMS) and gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GCMS) are typical assessment methods for terpene content. These methods involve placing sample material in either a liquid or gas solution to separate its chemical compounds. Next, the sample is subjected to a flame ionization detector (FID), causing each terpene present to produce an electrical signal, the strength of which indicates how much of that particular terpene the sample contains.
Pesticides, Herbicides, Fungicides, and Fertilizer Testing
While they may be effective at keeping pests away and helping plants grow quickly, most commercial pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and fertilizers have hazardous effects on the humans who inadvertently consume them. To maintain consumer safety and product quality, testing for pesticides and similar agricultural chemicals is critically important. Cannabis testing labs use liquid and gas chromatography mass spectrometry (LCMS/GCMS) to assess cannabis and hemp samples for the presence of these dangerous chemicals.
Heavy Metal Testing
Cannabis and hemp plants are bio-accumulators, meaning they easily absorb heavy metals from the soil and water they’re grown in. These metals, including mercury, lead, cadmium, and arsenic, can be extremely dangerous to consumers, contributing to a host of severe and sometimes fatal health conditions. Even if you are careful to cultivate cannabis crops in soil free of heavy metals, contamination can still occur via contact with processing equipment or even some types of product packaging.
A particularly effective way to test for the presence of heavy metals is inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS). ICP-MS involves the creation of a plasma, into which a sample is inserted and then atomized into ionic fragments, making it possible to detect every individual element present, including toxic heavy metals.
Residual Solvents Testing
Solvents are an effective way to extract cannabinoids from plant material for the creation of isolates or extract-based products, however, residual solvent material can be toxic when consumed. While there has been an industry-wide shift away from using solvents in the cannabinoid extraction process, it is still possible for residual solvents from equipment-cleaning products to sneak into cannabis and hemp products. Gas chromatography with flame ionization detector (GC-FID) is the most commonly used method for detecting the presence of harmful solvents, including acetone, butane, chemical-grade ethanol, hexane, and propane.
Unwanted microbes making their homes inside cannabis products can cause serious and sometimes fatal health issues for consumers. These tiny organisms present an even greater risk to those with compromised immune systems and other underlying health conditions – afflictions affecting a huge percentage of medical marijuana and CBD users.
Microbial tests reveal the presence of any harmful bacteria (such as salmonella and E. Coli), pathogens, mold, yeast, and even foreign matter or “filth” contamination such as feces, eggs, hair, parasites, or other insect or animal parts. Microbial contamination can be assessed via culture and surface sampling, or through polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, a relatively quick and inexpensive DNA analysis method.
Mycotoxins (including aflatoxins B1, B2, G1, G2, and ochratoxin) are naturally-occurring substances created by fungi and mold that can be highly toxic to humans, especially those who are immunocompromised. Mycotoxin contamination of cannabis or hemp plant material can result from exposure to humidity, environmental stress, insects, or mold exposure during growth and/or processing. Mycotoxins in cannabis can be detected via liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (LCMS) testing or via fluorometry, a method involving stimulation of a sample with ultraviolet light, causing all present chemical compounds (including mycotoxins) to emit varying amounts of light.
Moisture Content Testing
Excessive moisture within cannabis plant material increases the risk of contamination by bacteria, pathogens, fungi, yeast, mildew, or mold. Moisture levels over 12% leave cannabis and hemp material vulnerable to these contaminants (and also create a more hospitable environment for insects), making safe storage practices crucial.
Loss-on-drying, a process involving the heating of a sample in an oven and recording its pre-and post-drying weights, is the most common moisture content testing method. Alternatively, The Karl Fischer Method (KFM) can be used. KFM is an ultra-precise analysis method involving the dissolution of the sample in a solvent and the addition of a reagent to pinpoint its exact moisture content.
Lipid Content Testing
Lipids are a type of fatty acid naturally present in many types of plants, including cannabis and hemp. Lipids aren’t a bad thing in edible cannabis products, as they contribute to effective cannabinoid absorption. However, the presence of lipids in concentrates, vape cartridges, or other inhalable cannabis products is downright dangerous. Chemically derived lipids, such as vitamin E acetate, vegetable glycerol, and propylene glycol, have been known to aid in shelf-stability, viscosity, and as condensing agents for e-liquids.
However, these lipids are believed to remain in the lungs long after inhalation and have been shown to upset the natural function of surfactants in the lungs. Lipid accumulation in the lungs can also lead to fatal cases of pneumonia. Vitamin E acetate is the most notorious of these now-disallowed lipids, as it’s been connected to multiple deaths associated with vaping. Lipid content can be assessed via liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (LCMS).
Cannabis and hemp plants are only as good as their genes, and the true genetic makeup of your crop is critical knowledge for all breeders, growers, and processors. Cannabis genetic sequencing provides a clear and detailed look at the plant’s genotype (inherited genetic makeup and blueprint of its growth potential) and phenotype (observable traits such as smell, taste, color, and resin) – essential information for determining potency, agricultural yield, medicinal properties and more.
Stability testing allows lab technicians to determine an accurate expiration date for cannabis or hemp-derived products, ensuring medical and recreational cannabis users are getting the correct potency for their specific needs. Over time, cannabinoids naturally begin to break down, decreasing their potency. This process is accelerated by exposure to light, air, or heat. Hemp and cannabis stability testing involves the placement of samples in real-time and accelerated test chambers, simulating the projected product quality in various storage conditions and over varying periods of time.
How to Find a Good Cannabis Testing Lab
The rapidly-expanding legal cannabis markets throughout the world have led to a huge demand for product testing – and a huge number of labs popping up to fill the need. But not all cannabis testing labs are highly-qualified or even trustworthy.
Because higher THC content is a major selling point for retail cannabis, some growers and processors have taken to shopping samples from the same batch around to different marijuana testing labs in an attempt to secure the highest potency numbers possible. And some unscrupulous labs have resorted to altering test results in order to secure reputations as resources for the highest potency numbers. But even when no unethical foul play is involved, inconsistency is a problem that’s plagued the cannabis testing industry since its beginning.
So how can you ensure the testing lab you trust with your products will deliver accurate and dependable results? Here’s what to look for when hiring a cannabis, CBD, or hemp testing lab:
- Accreditation – Only entrust your products to labs that have met all of the accreditation standards for the country and/or state they are located in, ensuring they meet standards of competence, cleanliness, and accurate reporting for the specific type of testing your business requires.
- Highly-Trained Staff – Incorrectly executed testing can produce false positives, resulting in massive product and profit loss. Look for labs staffed only by highly-trained professionals who are adept at executing highly-sensitive testing protocols and accurately assessing the results.
- Reputation – Be sure to research the qualifications of any testing lab before agreeing to work with them. The best cannabis testing labs will come highly rated, with plenty of positive reviews from satisfied clients. Don’t be afraid to ask around in your canna-business network for recommendations. Our list of trusted and recommended cannabis, hemp, and CBD testing labs is a great place to start your search.
Our Recommended Cannabis Testing Labs
One of the top accredited medical marijuana, CBD, and hemp testing labs in the United States, ACS Laboratory offers an impressive array of medical-grade testing services, executed by a team of expert technicians. From industry-standard screenings including cannabinoid, terpene, solvent, mycotoxin, heavy metal, and moisture content assessments as well as highly-specialized testing options tailored to specific niche markets (from edibles and e-liquid to beverages and transdermal patches), ACS offers quick turnaround time, competitive rates, and the most accurate results. ACS Laboratory is located in Sun City Center, Florida, and provides free nationwide UPS pick-up of hemp and CBD product samples.
Pioneering global experts in hemp testing and creators of the first globally-recognized AOAC testing method for hemp potency, Eurofins is one of the US and Canada’s most highly-accredited hemp and CBD testing labs. With a dedication to top-quality customer service, Eurofins treats its clients as partners, devising testing solutions tailored to each company’s individual needs, including assessments for pesticides, heavy metals, mycotoxins, cannabinoid content, and more. Eurofins has labs located throughout the US and in Ontario, Canada.
Highgrade Labs is a multi-state cannabis and hemp testing lab currently operational in four states: Oklahoma, Arizona, Maryland, and New Jersey, with plans for future expansion. Proudly veteran-owned and operated in each of these states, Highgrade Labs draws upon its founders’ passion for cannabis as a medicine and its team’s extensive laboratory expertise to bring producers and patients alike the most efficient testing experience and most accurate COAs possible. Highgrade uses only the best and newest Agilent analysis instrumentation to provide testing services including cannabinoid potency, presence of mycotoxins, heavy metals, residual solvents, microbials, pesticides, and more, as well as one of the most in-depth terpene profiling analyses in the US.
Oregon-based EVIO Labs has established itself as a true leader in cannabis, hemp, and CBD testing throughout the US and Canada. Staffed by some of the industry’s most experienced lab technicians, EVIO Labs services cannabis clients in California, Oregon, and Canada and CBD and hemp clients nationwide, offering a full suite of testing options, including cannabinoid and terpene profiles, genomics pathogen testing, water activity, homogeneity studies, presence of toxins (including mycotoxins, pesticides, heavy metals, residual solvents, microbes, and vitamin E acetate), alongside many other specialized analyses. EVIO Labs’s client-focused approach includes quick turnaround times, an online portal allowing easy access to test results and order records, and upholding the highest standards of service and accuracy in testing.
Think20 is known throughout the industry as a very transparent laboratory, dedicated to helping its clients better understand their craft and striving to push the industry forward. Staffed by a team of highly-trained technicians, Think20 employs top-of-the-line testing methods to provide the most accurate compliance/R&D testing of cannabis and hemp products as well as soil, water, and plant tissue testing. Analyses provided include potency, terpenes, pesticides, heavy metals, mycotoxins, microbials, water activity, and more. Think20’s T20 Partner Pak Program involves a simple submission process with guaranteed rapid turnaround times and highly competitive pricing. An online portal allows visibility of sample status throughout the entire testing process in real-time, with COA QR codes and top-quality social media content provided for clients to share with their customers. Think20 Labs operates from two US locations, Irvine, California, and Columbia, Maryland.
California Cannabis Testing Labs
A true industry leader since its founding in 2011, CannaSafe was the world’s very first International Organization for Standardization (ISO) accredited cannabis testing lab! Today, this fully-accredited and award-winning lab continues to offer California’s most accurate and reliable analysis of cannabis, hemp, and CBD edibles, topicals, flower, pre-rolls, trim, and concentrates. Full-panel California Compliance and R&D testing packages are available, as well as individual and custom testing options, including potency and terpene analysis, screening for pathogens, metals, and other toxins, nutrient/plant tissue analysis, stability testing, and many others. CannaSafe’s turnaround time is quick, typically within three days, with expedited service available. Samples may be dropped off at CannaSafe’s lab in Van Nuys (or mailed if under .03% THC). Courier pick-up is also available throughout California.
Encore Labs utilizes the most cutting-edge laboratory technology and equipment to deliver precise analyses of any and all products containing cannabinoids. Encore’s client-focused, premier quality testing services include dedicated account managers, quick turnaround time, competitive prices, and a real-time online dashboard portal with access to your company’s entire testing history. Analyses offered include cannabinoid and terpene profiling, moisture content, presence of pesticides, mycotoxins, heavy metals, residual solvents, and more. Clients may opt to first run samples through Quality Assurance/R&D Testing, which is not reported to the Bureau of Cannabis Control, prior to California Compliance Testing, which is directly reported to BCC. Samples can be dropped off at the lab in Pasadena, or courier pick-up can be scheduled (required for California Compliance Testing).
California Hemp Testing Labs
Alkemist Labs is a botanical plant testing lab with the rare and impressive ISO/IEC 170125 accreditation to test all types of plants and has been involved with the responsible development of the legal cannabis industry since 2010. USDA and DEA-registered for hemp testing, Alkemist Labs runs detailed cannabinoid and terpene profiles, with easy-to-interpret COAs and a quick, three-day turnaround time. Alkemist Labs also provides sampling and testing services for California Compliance Testing. In addition to providing precise botanical analyses, Alkemist Labs is committed to ensuring its employees’ quality of life and giving back to those in need in the community. Alkemist Labs, founded in 1997 and independently owned and run, is located in Garden Grove, California.
Colorado Cannabis Testing Labs
Dedicated to ensuring public health and safety while furthering and advocating for the legal cannabis and hemp industries, Aurum Labs employs Green Chemistry best practices, cutting-edge lab technology, and industry-leading expertise in analyzing raw plant material and any type of hemp or cannabis-derived or infused product imaginable. Testing packages include potency, terpenes, microbial, heavy metals, pesticides, residual solvents, mycotoxins, and water activity, with rapid turnaround times (within 2-4 days, with expedited service available) and detailed analytical reports. Aurum Labs also offers one of the industry’s best online client portals, allowing direct communication with the lab, access to COA QR codes, sample status updates, and more. Samples may be dropped off at the laboratory in Durango, or pick-up can be arranged anywhere in Colorado.
Colorado’s longest-running licensed cannabis testing lab, AgriScience Laboratories has ultized the industry’s most cutting-edge technology to deliver accurate and compliant hemp and cannabis testing services since 2014. AgriScience’s expertise includes a range of assessments including potency and homogeneity, terpene profiling, and the presence of heavy metals, mycotoxins, residual solvents, pesticides, and microbials. AgriScience also offers testing for hop-latent viroid (HLVd), a pathogen that’s difficult to detect yet potentially devastating to cannabis plants. An easy-to-use online portal makes every step of the testing and METRC reporting process seamless, including messaging access (with rapid response times) to AgriScience’s highly-rated client service team. Turnaround times are quick, and samples can either be dropped off at AgriScience’s lab in Denver, or picked up within Colorado.
Florida Cannabis Testing Labs
A fully-accredited cannabis and hemp testing lab, Method Testing Labs operates as a true business partner, utilizing advanced technology and applying a customer-focused approach to not only ensure product safety and quality, but also help clients streamline and grow their businesses. Method Testing Labs is staffed by a team of rigorously-trained experts, including chemists, pharmaceutical scientists, and trailblazing cannabis industry leaders. Every client gets their own dedicated customer service representative and 24/7 access to a customizable data portal. MTL is headquartered in Tampa and offers Florida Full-Panel Packages, R&D, and individual tests with a guaranteed quick turnaround time, as well as an overnight delivery service for hemp clients nationwide.
Michigan Cannabis Testing Labs
Michigan’s inaugural and most esteemed recreational and medical marijuana testing lab, PSI Labs draws on its extensive expertise, experience, and dedication to data transparency to provide cannabis cultivators, growers, licensed processors, patients, and caregivers with thorough examinations and clear breakdowns of their cannabis’s content. PSI’s testing capabilities extend to all types of cannabis products, and include screenings for cannabinoid and terpene content, moisture content, mycotoxins, heavy metals, pesticides, residual solvents, and foreign matter, as well as in-depth consultations and additional specialized screening services. PSI Labs is headquartered in Ann Arbor, Michigan and has expanded its operations to include a second lab in Monrovia, California.
Washington Cannabis Testing Labs
Confidence Analytics is a premier Washington hemp, CBD, and recreational cannabis testing lab, offering detailed analysis of flower, concentrates, oils, and edibles (including beverages) with rapid turnaround times. Confidence Analytics utilizes HPLC and mass spectrometry testing to detect residual solvents, heavy metals, mycotoxins, terpenes, bacteria, fungi, pesticides, and cannabinoid content. Testing services are available as packages (from basic compliance to the full suite) or a la carte, with significant discounts available for high-volume orders. Most clients are able to access test results on Confidence Analytics’s secure website within just 2 days, and expedited testing is available. Samples may be dropped off at the lab, or clients throughout the state may utilize Confidence Analytics’s free pickup service.
European Hemp Testing Labs
Cannalabs, EkotechLAB’s dedicated hemp and cannabinoid testing lab, draws on 10 years of experience and use of the highest-grade equipment to provide accurate and confidential analysis of all forms of hemp products. Cannalabs’s services include cannabinoid and terpene profiles, pesticide, solvent, and heavy metal testing, microbiological tests, and more – with competitive pricing and fast turnaround time (5 days standard, 48 hours expedited). Additionally, Cannalabs engages in education and other interesting initiatives, including the GoldenCannabis Project for hemp producers and anonymous safe bag testing for consumers. Cannalabs is located in Gdańsk, Poland, and provides testing services to over 1,000 producers, farmers, and companies from all over the world.