Cannabis sativa is a flowering plant originating from Central Asia. Today, derivatives of cannabis plants are being used to treat medical conditions such as pain and muscle spasms related to multiple sclerosis, some severe forms of epilepsy, anxiety, schizophrenia and heart problems. Cannabis contains hundreds of different compounds known as cannabinoids. One of these cannabinoids, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), has psychoactive effects. Another cannabinoid, Cannabidiol (CBD), is not psychoactive and is used in medical applications. CBD is typically derived from cannabis varieties known as industrial hemp, which contain no more than 0.3% THC. CBD and medical cannabis products are most commonly prepared and used in the form of an oil. CBD may also be delivered by other methods such as inhalation of smoke or vapor, tinctures, gel capsules, edible products, and creams or patches applied directly on the skin.
CBD Testing: Quality Control of Medical Cannabis – Tests and Analytical Methods
CBD and medical cannabis products go through rigorous quality control testing to ensure safety and efficacy for consumers. Some of the most common tests are outlined below.
Pesticide residues that remain in medical cannabis products present a risk to the health of the consumers.
- Identify and quantify pesticide residues
- Precise solutions
- Highest accuracy with gravimetric liquid dosing
Heavy metals, such as lead, mercury, arsenic and cadmium, can be absorbed by cannabis plants from the soil and can be harmful to human health.
- Determine the presence of heavy and trace metals
- Accurate samples and solutions
- Avoid hidden errors by eliminating electrostatic charges
Moisture in cannabis may encourage the growth of naturally occurring bacteria, yeasts and mold, creating microbiological contamination.
- Perform microbial enumeration tests
- Culture media
- Accurate formulation in just one container
When cannabis moisture levels are too high, microbial growth occurs, raw materials behave differently during processing, and product shelf life is affected.
- Manage moisture from start to finish
- Accurate sample preparation
- Using a Moisture Analyzer for fast results
Mycotoxins are by-products of fungi like yeasts and molds which can be harmful to people and animals.
- Determine mycotoxin contamination
- Homogeneous samples
- Accurate sample preparation
Cannabinoid potency must be declared to enable consumers to correctly manage the amount of medical cannabis administered.
- Measure potency accurately
- Precise samples and solutions
- High accuracy with gravimetric liquid dosing
Solvent residues remaining from cannabinoid extraction processes can cause headaches, nausea, allergic reactions and more.
- Confirm solvents are removed
- Precise samples and solutions
- Flexible weighing and accurate concentrations
Terpenes are aromatic compounds that are responsible for a plant's smell and even flavor (e.g. rosemary).
- Identify the cannabis plant strain
- Accurate standard solutions
- Semi-automated reference standard preparation
FAQ – Medical Cannabis and CBD
Frequently Asked Questions on Cannabis, Cannabinoids and CBD Products
Select your question:
- Cannabis, cannabinoid, CBD, hemp and marihuana are all widely used terms, but what is the difference?
- Where are medical cannabis products legal?
- What are the regulations regarding testing CBD products?
- What is a certificate of analysis (COA) for cannabis or hemp CBD products?
- What are the rules regarding selling CBD products to consumers?
- How can I be sure that my balance meets the accuracy requirements of my CBD tests?
- How can CBD test data be handled more efficiently?
1. Cannabis, cannabinoid, CBD, hemp and marihuana are all widely used terms, but what is the difference?
The cannabis glossary below will help provide some clarification on the various terms used:
Cannabis is a flowering plant originating from Central Asia and belongs to the Cannabaceae family of plants. There are three main varieties that are used for the manufacturing of recreational and medical goods: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica and Cannabis ruderalis.
Cannabinoids are substances that occur naturally in the cannabis and hemp plants. There are over 100 different types of cannabinoids, the most notable of which are:
Cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive cannabinoid
Tetrahydrocannabidiol (THC), the cannabinoid known for cannabis's psychoactive properties
Hemp, otherwise known as industrial cannabis, is a variety of cannabis that contains less than 0.3% of THC (by dry weight). Hemp is used in the manufacturing of medical cannabis due to its lack of psychoactive properties.
- Industrial Cannabis / Hemp Products
Industrial cannabis (CBD) products are made from hemp. Hemp plants are also grown for their fibrous stalks that are used in the making of textiles, clothing, paper, building materials, paint, insulation, body care products etc.
- Marihuana / Marijuana
In contrast to hemp, marihuana contains more than 0.3% THC (by dry weight). In fact, marihuana typically contains up to 25-30% THC. Marihuana is used recreationally for the psychoactive and euphoric effects it can have on the consumer. Marihuana plants are shorter and bushier than hemp plants, with most of the THC being found in the cannabis flowers.
- Medical Cannabis Products
Medical cannabis products are cannabis and cannabinoids that are prescribed by physicians for their patients. They are plant-based medicine products from the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica species with three major active compounds: THC, CBD, and CBN. Dosage forms of medical cannabis products include oils, tinctures, powders, tablets, gel capsules, edible products including baked goods and sweets/candy, creams, patches, pastes and more.
2. Where are medical cannabis products legal?
In many countries around the world, cannabis is illegal, whereas medical cannabis is legal. However, the laws vary and are constantly changing. The laws are complex and industrial cannabis used for making CBD products can only be grown by licensed producers. Laws also apply to manufacturers and retailers of CBD products. Further advice can be found on the following Wikipedia page. However, consumers should learn about legality prior to the purchase or consumption of CBD or cannabis products by checking local regulations from appropriate official sources.
3. What are the regulations regarding testing CBD products?
With its legalization gradually expanding, use of medical cannabis is becoming more and more widespread. While consumers want to be assured of the safety and efficacy of the products they are consuming, there is currently no "gold standard" for the analysis of medical cannabis. However, the following can be referred to for more guidance:
- American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP): "Cannabis Inflorescence Monograph" (2014)
- AOAC International: "Standard Method Performance Requirements for Quantitation of Cannabinoids in Dried Plant Materials" (2017)
- FDA: "Regulation of Cannabis and Cannabis-Derived Products, Including Cannabidiol (CBD)" (2020)
4. What is a certificate of analysis (COA) for cannabis or hemp CBD products?
Once a laboratory has completed tests on a cannabis sample, it details all the results in a certificate of analysis (COA). This will include the chemical make-up and potency of the cannabis sample as well as its safety, ascertained via tests such as those mentioned above. The COA can also be used to verify that the CBD product is advertised correctly. Any reputable CBD manufacturer will have their products tested by an accredited laboratory as a way of verifying product quality, and end consumers should look out for confirmation that rigorous testing has been undertaken.
5. What are the rules regarding selling CBD products to consumers?
As previously mentioned, consumers should learn about legality prior to the purchase or consumption of CBD or medical cannabis products by checking local regulations from appropriate official sources. Consumers should look for evidence on the product packaging that the CBD or medical cannabis product has been rigorously tested. Furthermore, for direct sales to consumers of CBD and medical cannabis products based on weight, retailers must use a balance certified as 'Legal for Trade'. Legal for Trade balances are sealed at the manufacturer's site. The seal provides proof that the workings of the balance have not been tampered with so the consumer can be assured of receiving an accurate amount of the CBD product. The seal can only be removed and replaced by officials during balance calibration. METTLER TOLEDO's JET and JE balances are available as legal for trade instruments.
6. How can I be sure that my balance meets the accuracy requirements of my CBD tests?
It is important to be aware of the performance of your balance in relation to your CBD applications to understand if it meets your accuracy requirements, meaning a balance may be suitable for one application but not for another. To ensure your results are accurate, you must always be sure to weigh within the 'safe weighing range' of the balance. The upper limit of the safe weighing range is the capacity of your balance, so you need to ensure that the maximum weight you want to weigh is lower than the capacity. The lower limit of the safe weighing range is determined through a combination of the balance minimum weight, your process tolerances and the application of a safety factor. (The minimum weight of a balance is determined at point of use by a service technician and the safety factor varies according to the criticality of your application). The smallest weight you want to weigh must not be less than the lower limit of the safe weighing range. For more information on the safe weighing range, download our free guide "Safe Weighing Range Ensures Accurate Results".
7. How can CBD test data be handled more efficiently?
METTLER TOLEDO's proprietary laboratory software, LabX, offers comprehensive data management. LabX automatically saves all weighing results and takes care of all calculations. Not only does this save you a considerable amount of time, manual recording of weighing results is no longer required and transcription errors are completely eliminated. All data is saved in a secure centralized database, hence ensuring the traceability of your CBD weighing results. Results are easily accessible for further analysis and for transferring to other laboratory instruments and systems. Customized reports can be generated at any time. LabX offers centralized management of users, tasks, and up to 30 connected METTLER TOLEDO instruments.