There is no dispute that cannabis is a complex plant often used as a botanical drug, food, food ingredient, and textile. With no federal oversight, regulatory bodies of the now 29 United States and the District of Columbia where cannabis is legal in some form, are tasked with ensuring product safety to their constituents. Most states require finished product testing by the International Organization for Standardization and the International Electrotechnical Commission (ISO/IEC) 17025 accredited laboratories. Laboratory accreditation to ISO/IEC 17025 represents a laboratory’s commitment to develop protocols to ensure quality practices are implemented and includes the attestation of their competence by an independent third party. Whenever possible or when mandated, analytical labs rely on published consensus and standard test methods or to validate their modifications to such methods to perform the necessary work. Although standard methods are in development by scientific organizations such as AOAC International and ASTM, as of this writing there is not a single published compendial or consensus method for the most typical assays used in the cannabis industry. This article discusses basic principles of quality assurance and laboratory accreditation, and the current status of voluntary methods in development. A final intent of this article is to provide unique insight into the challenges associated with testing cannabis amidst the federal prohibition.
Summary and Outlook
In summary, cannabis has been around for at least 5000 years and much of its history has been held in high regard for its many uses in rituals, medicines, textiles, and personal pleasure. However, for the past 120 years or so, the pendulum has swung from open acceptance to complete prohibition. The past decade has witnessed this shift once again, where in the United States there remains a federal prohibition, but more than half of the United States has legalized some form of cannabis use. Effectively, the United States cannabis industry is subject to 30 independent operating systems managed by jurisdictions or state governments that historically prosecuted the industry. Where consumers of similar commodities are afforded protection by one or more federal body, individual states are tasked with this challenge and unfortunately not all of them have recognized the necessity for product testing. Admittedly, cannabis product testing is not always straightforward. For example, an analytical method to extract, identify, and quantitate cannabinoids in a chocolate bar is not likely to perform similarly in a chewing gum matrix.
The inherent complexities of the cannabis plant, the vast number of matrices in which it may present, and the number of modes by which it can enter a person’s body creates a dynamic analytical challenge. Assuring quality in cannabis testing requires simultaneous movement along multiple pathways, beginning with consistent regulatory requirements. States that have legalized cannabis use have a responsibility to their constituents to ensure products are as safe as possible, and should honor that commitment by providing the necessary resources to relevant organizations. This begins with quality manufacturing as well as quality testing of finished products by third-party testing laboratories. Laboratories should be compelled to operate transparently and competently, as determined by an independent third party and not by self-declaration. Laboratory accreditation to ISO/IEC 17025 attests to quality assurance. Quality control, however, is the responsibility of laboratories. Among other factors, effective quality control requires access to well-characterized and standardized materials that are not limited by state boundaries. Organizations such as AOAC, AOCS, USP, and ASTM are working with scientists and stakeholder communities to establish consensus methods built upon sound science as one element of consumer protection. In the end, however, ensuring the safety of cannabis products requires a host of conditions that have yet to be met.
Susan Audino, PhD, is the Principal at S.A. Audino & Associates, LLC. She is a chair for the AOAC International Cannabis Advisory Panel, a chair for AOAC International Cannabis Working Group, an executive committee member for ASTM D37, and the lead assessor and instructor for A2LA. Direct correspondence to: [email protected]
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How to Cite This Article
S. Audino, Cannabis Science and Technology 1(1), 14-20 (2018).