As owner/operator of F.A.S.T. Laboratories, an analytical testing lab for cannabis, I am receiving questions daily regarding all facets of testing cannabis for efficacy and contaminants. In this article, I want to attempt to summarize some of the most common questions using the famous 5 W’s (Who, What, When, Where, and Why).

Who is responsible for testing?

This is a fairly common question. Who is responsible for testing cannabis products? The dispensary, processor, or grower? The answer is a little more complicated than you might think, and I would answer as all three. The grower is responsible for testing their plants to ensure that they are free of contaminants and have the desired qualities that they were attempting to achieve. The processor is responsible for testing their products (both the concentrates they use and the end products) in order to make sure that the desired (and effective) cannabinoid content is achieved and that they have not introduced (or enhanced) any contaminants due to the processing of the growers’ materials. The dispensary is responsible for testing as a last line of defense for the patients and to keep growers and processors in check.

What needs to be tested?

The answer is something that not many want to hear. Cannabis and its’ products need to be tested anytime a “transformation” of the material occurs. At a minimum, the first time is when the material is ready to be sold from the grower to a processor and/or a dispensary. At a processor, if a concentrate is made, then it needs to be tested again. Concentrating the cannabinoids also concentrates any potential pesticides and/or heavy metals. So, although they may not have been detected in the flower, they can sometimes easily be detected in the concentrate. Once that concentrate is made into a final product, it must be tested again, at a minimum for potency, although the contaminants such as pesticides and heavy metals should be fine at this point.

When does cannabis need to be tested?

The answer is relatively simple. Test it in the form it is immediately before being transformed and/or sold. For growers, this would be dry, cured flower. For processors, this would be a concentrate before using it for other products and for final products. There is too much that could change the product if it tested before reaching these states. For a dispensary, at a minimum, spot check your grower or processor in order to make sure that the laboratory they are using is producing reliable results.

Where does cannabis need to be tested?

Cannabis needs to be tested in an analytical laboratory that is staffed by knowledgeable personnel. Not everyone that has money to put in a laboratory and/or purchase equipment is qualified to run a laboratory. Ask questions of your lab. Ask about the background of the staff. A laboratory is typically only as good as the training of its management and their ability to pass that knowledge to their employees. Ask that your laboratory seek ISO accreditation. Although it doesn’t “guarantee” that all the laboratory staff is necessarily proficient, it is a tedious step that any laboratory should take in order to show some competency in the methods being used. However, be patient with your lab. ISO accreditation can sometimes take upwards of a year to obtain. The main point is to use a lab that you can trust their results and one that isn’t just giving you the results they think you want to see.

Why does cannabis need to be tested?

The State of Oklahoma is a medical cannabis state. This means that patients will be using these products. People who are sick and/or suffering from some to several different ailments do not need to become sicker because of ingesting medicine that is supposed to treat and/or heal them. A good laboratory always keeps this in mind. It isn’t about the bottom line as much as it is about the patient. If all the groups in this industry keep this in mind, then the bottom line will be there. I can speak for my laboratory in saying that patients come before profits. Our hope is that others will follow this lead as well.

About the author

Kyle Felling, Ph.D. is an inorganic/analytical chemist with extensive industrial and academic laboratory experience. Kyle is the owner and operator of F.A.S.T. Laboratories.