Cannabis Gets Third-Party Tested
Natural products are one of the key sources in new drug discovery. The Cinchona tree has played a fundamental role in extracting the chemical Quinine, which is used as an antimalarial. Plant-based treatment has been used for thousands of years and plays an essential role in the development of new lines of therapy, food supplements and even beauty products. In today’s world, scientists have discovered an array of benefits associated with using Cannabis extracts, such as the CBD molecule. The use of CBD has shown to improve one’s appetite, skin conditions, muscle recovery and even anti-cancer treatment. Undoubtedly, with so many breakthroughs, the use of CBD in cosmetics, supplements and even pain relief is now fully legal in the UK.
However, the exponential growth in demand for this single-molecule has led to the rise in un-tested, poor quality and sometimes counterfeit CBD products. It is vital that brands advertise fully certified samples and that consumers can check the ingredients to protect their health. Finding a certified and competent laboratory is essential for both producers and consumers. This article will provide an overview of what CBD is, its background and finally, a list of certified Cannabis testing facilities.
What is Cannabidiol (CBD)?
CBD is a molecule (Cannabinoid) derived from certain strains of Cannabis. It is a natural compound that, unlike the THC cannabinoid, has no psychoactive effects. CBD retail products can exist in many forms, from oils to chewing gum, and can be both orally ingested and even vaped. There are over 113 Cannabinoids, and these molecules are known to interact with the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) by binding to key receptors in the body. THC causes psychoactive effects as it binds to receptors in the ECS and antagonises the release of neurotransmitters which are involved in motor skills and cognition. There are no significant side-effects from consuming excessive levels of CBD; however, large amounts of THC can result in memory loss, red eyes and coordination issues.
The structure of CBD:
Hemp and Cannabis- What’s the difference?
There are three species of Cannabis: Sativa, Indica and Ruderalis. Each species has distinguishable structures and concentrations of cannabinoids produced. Hemp and Marijuana are strains derived from the Cannabis Sativa, although, what makes them different is the concentration of the THC cannabinoid present.
CBD, derived from hemp, is a very exciting molecule and has caused scientists around the world to start exploring a myriad of potential applications; from weight loss to treating psychiatric disorders. This Cannabinoid is legal in many parts of the world, including the UK. In addition, both CBD and THC initially exist as CBDA and THCA and only through respective decarboxylation or heating do these compounds become their active counterparts as CBD and THC.
Production of CBD.
Although its respective extraction can produce CBD from the Cannabis plant, this process is costly and not very efficient. Firstly, the exact concentration of Cannabinoids in a plant will vary due to many factors and hence, its supply can vary. For any plant to grow, it requires light, a specific temperature, CO2 levels, soil pH etc. These optimum conditions can be achieved by using greenhouses. However, they are costly to run; they require trained technicians and further treatment, such as pesticides to remove unwanted insects. Furthermore, there are regulations that producers must adhere to ensure the quality of the active ingredient and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) are in place.
A new method has been developed, and it involves genetic engineering. The biosynthesis of CBD with a bacterial strain like E.Coli is a highly efficient and fast process. Genetic Engineering presents a solution to the concerns surrounding the quality and consistency of the active ingredient. How does it work?
- The gene for CBD producing proteins is cut out of Cannabis DNA.
- Bacteria have organelles called plasmids. DNA restriction endonuclease (an enzyme) is used to cut plasmid DNA in bacteria and create “sticky ends”.
- CBD-producing genes are inserted into bacterial DNA at the “Sticky End” sites using DNA ligase (an enzyme).
- The bacteria now produce CBD in a large-scale reactor.
The Legal Backdrop and Market Size
Cannabis is now legal in over 30 countries worldwide with Canada leading the way in legalising recreational Cannabis. Although the psychoactive effects of THC carry the stigma attached to Cannabis, there is widespread acceptance of CBD since being authorised in 2018. However, product testing is now a legal requirement in order to check for contaminants, THC levels and potency levels. Such analysis must be conducted in a licensed facility, and if applicable, individual state laws and compliance must be met. Lab accreditations are also necessary as they indicate that the lab has the right instrumentation and testing facilities.
Moreover, a domino effect already coming into play as more countries legalise Cannabis both for Medicinal and recreational applications, the total legal European Cannabis market value is at US$2.47Bn for 2024. With emerging trends in beauty, health and food supplements, many analysts believe some form of Cannabis, including CBD, will become ubiquitous in every-day life. In fact, there are already over 140 clinical trials on-going that are focused on CBD compounds to help alleviate symptoms such as pain, PTSD and Sleep Disorders.
Alphagreen Academy is dedicated to providing transparent and effective CBD products that meet all the legal regulations for your country and satisfy your individual needs. Click here to find out more.
The growing importance of CBD
The emerging science behind CBD and its applications are enormous both from a financial market size potential and scientific:
The Central Nervous System (CNS) involves the brain, spinal cord and an array of neurons that connect these two and relays information between receptors and effector in the body. The ECS is a complex network of receptors and enzymes which regulate your mood, memory, appetite, pain and immune response. The two receptors, CB1 and CB2, are concentrated in the CNS and peripheral organs, respectively. These receptors are involved in a number of physiological processes, including metabolic activity and regulating enzymes involved in cancer cell metastasis. Cannabinoids, such as CBD are also known to interact with these receptors. Molecules that are inserted into the body and which activate such receptors are called endogenous agonists whereas those that block receptors are antagonists; CBD is an antagonist. A recent paper by Sharma et al. showed that CBD is an inhibitor of cancer cell growth.
Apart from the possible anti-cancer benefits, CBD has other modes of action (MOA) with the ECS and hence, pharmacological effects. These include anti-inflammatory effects which undoubtedly help athletes recover from joint pain or even prevent atherosclerosis and the build-up of LDL and plaque in arteries and ergo, limit the possibility of developing heart disease. Further MOA includes regulation of the hippocampus which directly affects the limbic system and is involved in mood, learning and cognitive abilities. CBD exhibits other properties that also allow it to be used for anxiety, arthritis and possibly THC induced side-effects. Epidiolex, a 99% pure CBD extract, was recently approved FDA drug used to treat epilepsy as the patients experienced over 30% reductions in seizures during the clinical trials.
Beauty and Wellness
Although the possible development of CBD for skin treatment is still in its early research stages, it has found its way into every-day foods. From vitamin supplements to mascara, this Cannabinoid is linked to improved muscle recovery and is yet to disrupt the makeup industry too. New reports on CBD use for treating acne, dry skin and several Beauty & Wellness companies, such as Sephora, have already included CBD extracts in their products.
Importance of Third-party CBD Testing
The administration of a new molecule for medical treatment, supplements or makeup requires rigorous quality checks of the active ingredient. This testing is fundamental too in order to ensure reliable potency checks on the active molecule so that each batch contains the same amount of the Cannabinoid in line with regulations. More importantly, testing must be conducted by law in order to ensure consistent and contamination-free products. Having a CBD product validated by a certified lab will provide a consumer with confidence in knowing that they are purchasing a product whose ingredients have been checked and are consistent in every batch.
There is a profile of contaminants that can be tested, and a range of analytical techniques employed for each one. Therefore, it is essential that retailers are certified in order to comply with regulations and prevent any harm to their consumers.
What Do CBD Checks Involve?
A range of tests can be conducted on a Cannabis extract; however, the instrumentation used, and chemical analysis conducted depends on the accreditations of each testing facility and requirements of the retailer/distributor/manufacturer. A number of chemical tests can do: Pesticide, Heavy Metals, Organo-Toxins, residual Solvents, Potency of THC and CBD and Terpene profiling.
With some retailers growing CBD-producing Cannabis plants, the use of pesticides, as with any plant crop, is used to improve the yield. This is achieved by preventing insects from damaging your crop. However, traces of these pesticides have proved to be mutagenic and incredibly harmful to a consumer, if not removed.
The quality of soil can be significantly perturbed by heavy metals. Produced from soil-run off, textiles and other industrial factories, if not tested for, they can accumulate up a food chain and severely affect consumers existing at higher trophic levels. Gastrointestinal cancer, bone marrow growth and neurological retardation are only some of the devastating consequences of excessive exposure.
Mycotoxins, such as aflatoxins, are incredibly harmful to humans. The low levels of moisture in Cannabis can promote fungal growth and production of such compounds. The Cannabis Safety Institute recommended testing Cannabis-derived products for these harmful substances as part of routine safety checks due to their carcinogenic effects, even at low doses. Further, persistent organic pollutants (POPs), are also known to aggregate microbes, heavy metal and other contaminants in food products, such as CBD ones.
The production of most organic compounds involves the use of organic solvents. However, unless removed, solvents such as Toluene or Benzene are incredibly mutagenic. Ensuring that all CBD products are checked by a certified and competent lab is fundamental.
The concentration of all active ingredients needs to be correctly identified and quantified. It is crucial for a consumer to understand the potency of CBD in the products that they buy due to the idiosyncratic tolerance to different dosages, whether it is for anxiety treatment or taken as general wellness supplements. Moreover, potency testing also ensures that the levels of other Cannabinoids, such as THC (the psychoactive Cannabinoid), CBN and THCA present, meet legal standards.
These aromatic molecules are secreted in the same glands that produce Cannabinoids. Terpene oils are involved in producing distinct smells and colours of Cannabis, including pine, berry and citrus smells. There are over 100 terpenes, and employing identity testing techniques is essential. Terpenes are not dangerous.
Analytical Testing Techniques
Receiving an accurate certificate of analysis for your Cannabis or Hemp product is crucial in gaining consumer confidence. This document details the full composition of a product and ensures that all customers are aware of the ingredients. However, there are no set standards on the type of analysis that should be conducted, different laboratories will conduct different types of chemical analysis, and in some instances, CBD manufacturers will misrepresent the ingredients in their products. Alphagreen only retails the world’s most trusted CBD products as all products receive a certificate of analysis.
High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC)
This chromatographic technique utilises the polarity and unique chemical structure of a molecule in order to separate it from a bulk phase inside a column. In essence, there is a mobile phase (a solvent), a stationary phase (solid material inside the column) and a pump that is used to drive the sample through the column. The time it takes for the sample to pass through the column is known as the retention time; the more attracted the sample is to the mobile phase, the longer the retention time. As CBD has a specific structure, its interactions with the stationary and mobile phase will be different from every other sample in the bulk phase and thereby, its retention time. By recording the retention of each extract that comes out of the column, you can compare these to literature in order to identify if your sample contains THC, CBD or contaminants. HPLC is not indicative of concentration, only identity. A spectrum of peaks will appear, each one corresponding to impurities or known identities.
Gas Chromatography (GC)
This is very similar to HPLC; however, it involves a gas. The mobile phase is a carrier gas (N2), and the stationary phase is usually a liquid on a solid support. Again, the retention time is measured of the vaporised sample, pushed along by the mobile phase. This technique is used to detect residual solvents by evaporating them from the sample.
Mass Spectroscopy (Mass Spec)
This is another analytical technique that requires the vaporisation of the sample, followed by ionisation and then the assessment of the mass-to-charge ratio. A mass spec can ionise a sample in several ways, depending on the fragility; however, for CBD testing, the primary method involves electron ionisation. Effectively, high-speed electrons bombard the sample ‘knocking’ off a valence electron although this can lead to fragmentation (the molecule breaks apart). It is the fragmentation pattern and molecular ion peak that allows the successful determination of a molecule. Every molecule will have a unique fragmentation pattern and one molecular ion peak. Certain functional groups will have specific fragmentation patterns and a unique sequence of mass-to-charge peaks that will appear in the spectrum at the end. Mass spec is used in conjunction with HPLC or GC, that is, once the unique retention time of the CBD molecule has been identified, and the sample has been extracted, Mass Spec is then used to confirm the structure/identity.
Moisture can be detrimental to the quality of stored Cannabis by promoting fungal growth. This method involves constant monitoring of the sample mass during a heating stage. If water is present, it would evaporate and thereby reduce the mass of the sample.
This technique, coupled with Mass Spec, and it is used to detect different metals based on their isotopic speciation. Samples are placed in an argon aerosol which contains electrons and positive ions. The material inside the plasma splits and ionises. These ions are then detected by the Mass Spec based on their mass-to-charge ratio. Specific metals provide identifiable and unique mass-to-charge ratios.
Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR)
PCR enables the identification and quantification of microbes in a sample. In essence, after the DNA is extracted from a cell, microbe DNA is amplified by using a template strand (primer) with fluorescent markers called dNTP. After one cycle, a second copy of DNA will be produced. Also, the sample undergoes a cycle of temperature changes in order to separate the DNA and optimise prime binding. Once the sample is heated, an enzyme is added in order to initiate the replication process, the small primers with dNTP fluorescent markers are incorporated into the new DNA copies. The amplified PCR products are separated with Gel electrophoresis, and their identity is checked. The intensity of fluorescence is also indicative of the number of microbe’s present.
CBD testing laboratories
A certificate of analysis is needed in order to identify laboratories which can conduct a thorough analysis of your Cannabis sample as it indicates the types of testing and instrumentation that is used. Here we highlight laboratories that provide cutting-edge analytical testing facilities, including some based in the UK.
British Cannabis, 160 City Road, London, EC1V 2NX
The largest distributor, manufacturer and producer of Cannabis Sativa L. in the UK, British Cannabis also has analytical testing facilities to purify and control their active ingredients in the products that they sell.
As the largest supplier of EU Cannabis and registered with Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), British Cannabis can supply white label and private label CBD based products, including food supplements, CBD tea, cosmetics and medicinal grade CBD at competitive prices due to their domestic supply chains. Further services offered are product development and packaging.
Moreover, British Cannabis has testing facilities that are capable of identifying sample THC levels, contaminants by running HPLC and GC analysis and ‘removing or reintroducing any compound at a molecular level’ (Please see table 1).
BSCG offers GMP and certified testing facilities for dietary supplements. A complete assessment of CBD and Hemp products is provided, with all tests covering: THC levels, metals and other contaminants, illicit drugs, CBD content and supplier verification. Apart from these services, BSCG also holds animal, facility, and ingredient certifications with the main focus on sports drug testing services.
Desert Valley Testing, 51 W Weldon Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85013
Desert Valley Testing specialises in Cannabinoid testing and provides a “Services and Pricing” page on their website. With an ISO 17025 accreditation, their analysis offered includes contaminants, Cannabinoid, residual solvents, pesticides, terpene and mycotoxins that could be present CBD samples. Moreover, all testing facilities use current state-of-the-art instruments such as chromatography, mass spec and ICP-MS. (Please see table 1).
Eurofins is a specialist in laboratory testing, offering testing facilities to a scale of industries from genomic sequencing to analysing contents in pet food. The multiple accreditations held by Eurofin such as, in analytical chemistry, Microbiology and Biodiagostics are reflected in the advanced instrumentation used in their testing that includes chromatography and infrared analytical techniques. Furthermore, the product testing is only one of the many services offered by Eurofins; on-site solutions, auditing, product design and R&D are also offered.
Finally, an in-depth array of hemp sample testing services, such as CBD, is also available. Unlike most testing labs that only use chromatography in contaminant and identity testing, Eurofins also utilise infrared and ultraviolet spectroscopy as well as plant sex determination. (Please see table 1).
Eurofin Ultraviolet and Infrared Spectroscopy
This form of spectroscopy utilises part of the electromagnetic spectrum to determine key functional groups within a molecule. Chemical bonds require a unique amount of energy to stretch and bend and thus, utilising such technology allows added security in the determination of a product molecule or contaminants. Eurofin utilises such technology in their sample testing but also, in identifying crop ‘hot-spots’ and hence, asymmetric crop growth that can infringe on crop yield.
Fundación CANNA, World Trade Center, Edificio Sur, 2e planta, Muelle de Barcelona
Fundación Canna is specialised solely on the research of Cannabis and its Cannabinoids with a focus on their effects on the human body and Cannabis use. Their testing facilities are only available to NGO’s and related companies in the field of Cannabis.
The testing services cover Microbe, Cannabinoid, Heavy Metal and Terpene. (Please see table 1).
JHG Analytical Services, unit 9 Airside, Gulf Stream Avenue, Airport Business Park, Waterford, Ireland
JHG Analytical Testing services have over 33 years of laboratory testing services and specialise in: Environmental, Petrochemical, Fuel Oils and Agricultural content. This means that JHG is strongly suited in analysing contamination of Hemp and CBD oils.
Analytical testing includes Terpenes, Cannabinoid, Polyphenols, Flavonoid and Antioxidant analysis. Although it is interesting to note that tests for polyphenols, which have diet-associated benefits and Flavonoids, which show anti-inflammatory benefits, there is no potency testing heavy metal, organo-toxins ,nor mycotoxin testing. (Please see table 1).
Pharma Hemp Laboratories, Cesta v Gorice 8, Sl-1000 Ljubjana
Partnered with Hannah Biz and Hempika, Pharma Hemp provides a range of CBD products; however, their laboratories focus on Cannabinoid profiling with HPLC analysis only. (Please see table 1).
Phytatech, 879 Federal Blvd, Denver, CO 80204
A full suite of testing facilities is only offered to licensed members of the State of Colorado’s Cannabis industry. ISO 17025 accredited, Phytatech is partnered with CannaSys. In addition, standard tests on potency, Cannabinoid profiles and heavy metal contamination are offered. (Please see table 1).
Photovista Lab, Stubb’s Ln, Beckington, BA11 6TE
Photovista supports all members of the Hemp and CBD supply chain; from manufacturers to the consumers. With fast turnaround services, all standard tests on Cannabinoids, terpenes, residual solvents, pesticides, mycotoxins and heavy metals are tested for. Photovista understands the importance of transparent product labelling, and this is reflected in their vision to provide accurate and quintessential results. (Please see table 1).
Leaf Laboratoire focuses on testing e-liquids, including those containing CBD and all analysis is in compliance with AFNOR. Moreover, microbe growth, contamination and Cannabinoid detection, including THC, are included in their HEMP analysis. Leaf Laboratoire also works with tobacco e-liquids.
Infinite Chemical, 8380 Miramar Mall #102, San Diego, 92121
With a number of awarded accreditations, Infinite Chemical aims to provide accurate and timely Cannabinoid testing. Infinite Chemical offers all standard tests for potency, identify and contaminants as well as further analysis into water activity, vitamin E acetate and gender identification. Co-founded in 2016, Infinite Chemical also has an ISO 17025 accreditation. (Please see table 1).
It is clear that Cannabis, but more specifically, the CBD industry is in its niche stages. As with many naturally occurring molecules, CBD is backed by science as an emerging Cannabinoid which has the potential to disrupt both the Medicinal and Health and Beauty industries on a large scale. With emerging uses in diet and sports as an anti-inflammatory or for pain relief in cancer positive patients, it is only a matter of time until scientists discover more exciting applications. Moreover, the growing demand for these plant-based resources can now be easily met due to the new developments in mass-scale biosynthesis, which present a cost-effective and supply rigid process.
However, the positive effects induced by CBD based products are only as sound as their purity. It is paramount that supplies, manufacturers and distributors certify their products. Ensuring a consistent contaminant-free product which also transparently labels its potency and ingredients is fundamental both in a regulatory and consumer perspective.
Alphagreen does precisely this and ensures that all our listed products are third-party tested by some of the most advanced laboratories, including those mentioned above.