GMP Cannabis, THC, and CBD are on their way to the market. This is a fact. In order for labs to stay on top of the market, they must adapt to the practices of the pharmaceutical industry. This is a basic list of 10 things cannabis testing labs should already be doing.
- Thou shalt not perform analysis without proper training and understanding of the equipment. Qualifying a properly trained technician is dependent on the job they are doing. Have they been trained on the instrument? Have they taken sufficient analytical chemistry courses to understand how to interpret results? An analyst must know how to interpret the results, or figure out why the results they are get are inconsistent. If the results do not make sense, the analyst must troubleshoot the instrument based on what the data is telling them and then find out what went wrong. This type of critical and analytical thinking requires a thorough training program for all analysts.
- Thou shalt not perform laboratory analysis without Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that are followed exactly as they are written. This assumes that a laboratory has done a good job of writing their SOPs in the first place. SOPs define exactly how a test will be performed; this reduces any variation in process that could affect the results. SOPs also define the technique that an analyst should use – for example, are all analysts in the lab using the same mass or volume measurement techniques? If there is variance in the process, there will be variance in the results.
- Thou shalt not perform laboratory analysis using SOPs that have not been validated. In order to reduce variations in results, a method (e.g. the way you analyze your sample by HPLC) must produce the same results reliably. A validation is a set of experiments that is used to prove that the method does in fact produce the same results that are within the specifications of the desired method.
- Thou shalt not perform laboratory analysis without accurately weighing and measuring the samples. This also falls under the category of training, but is perhaps the most important factor in accurately and reliably analyzing samples. This is also the most difficult technique to master, because there are so many variables. The best way to accurately weigh and measure samples is to perform any weighing and measuring the same way every time it is done. Exactly the same way – no excuses. Everyone in the lab should also weigh and measure samples with the exact same technique. This reduces the amount of variability in results throughout the lab.
- Thou shalt not perform laboratory analysis without accurately documenting the results from weighing and measuring. This is self explanatory, but it may not be done this way in every lab. I have had the misfortune of seeing an analyst simply weigh out a sample, pour in ethanol up to an arbitrary line, shake it up, and inject the sample into an HPLC. He never recorded the weight of the sample or the volume of liquid that was added, and didn’t account for either of them… This kind of sloppiness is what makes labs untrustworthy.
- Thou shalt only use analytical reference standards (ARSs) that have been produced by an ISO accredited lab. Creating in-house reference standards is possible, but it is highly unlikely that your lab has the capabilities of qualifying them. An accredited ISO lab synthesizes THC/CBD/etc and has exact ways of measuring the quantities that are in their ARSs. If you have variability, or uncertainty, in the amounts of THC/CBD/etc in your ARSs, your analysis will not be accurate. Reliable ARSs are the backbone of good analysis.
- Thou shalt inject your ARS’s at a minimum of 5 times for any number of samples. This is how to determine if your instrument is working within its specifications/calibration, and includes the chromatography column and the instrument in general. If there is a poor Relative Standard Deviation (RSD), i.e. the 5 injections of the ARS are not within a specified percentage (think precision), the analysis of the samples is disregarded.
- Thou shalt calculate the Relative Standard Deviation of the 5 ARS injections. This is done by taking the average of the response factors for a given peak (e.g. THC), dividing it by the standard deviation, and multiplying by 100%. For a very tight group of data, an analyst with good preparation technique and a well calibrated instrument will pull 2% RSD. RSD is the means of showing just how precise your techniques and instruments are running, and is a very important tool for tracking the performance of your work.
- Thou shalt establish correction factors for different cannabinoids being analyzed. Not all cannabinoids will have the same response factor in the same chromatography instrument. This is particularly true for spectrophotometry (e.g. HPLC), that uses light to detect the presence of molecule. Since different molecules will absorb different amounts of light, the apparent amounts/concentrations will be thrown off if they are not corrected for.
- Thou shalt document everything. All analysis must be documented with the weight or measures of the samples that are used, and contain all data collected from each test. The records must contain the calculations used to draw conclusions, and must make a statement of the results. The test results must be compared to qualified reference standards that clearly show identity, strength/potency, quality, and purity of the drug product.
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