North American cannabis consumption continues to rise at a torrid pace and, according to Arcview Analytic Research, the markets for total annual legal cannabis spending in 13 states are expected to pass the $1 billion mark by the end of 2024 (1). Such high demand for legal cannabis products bodes well for the market for analytical tools used to test legal cannabis and ensure its consistency, high quality, and, most importantly, safety.
Cannabis products are frequently tested for potency, pesticides and fungicides, solvent residues, heavy metals, microbes, foreign organic matter, and moisture. The most common technologies used for these tests are high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry (LC–MS), gas chromatography (GC) and GC–MS, inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS), and polymerase chain reaction (PCR).
Thousands of licenses have been issued by states to prospective laboratories looking to test cannabis products. However, only a small fraction of those licensed laboratories are actually capable of performing cannabis tests. Compliance is among the major issues many laboratories face (for example, achieving ISO 17025 accreditation). While regulatory uncertainties and understanding the state requirements continue to be key challenges, for many laboratories, just obtaining the right equipment and fine tuning methods was cited in a recent survey as the biggest hurdle.
Survey participants were asked to rate the level of importance of eight performance parameters of testing instruments on a five-point scale, where a rating of five indicates high importance. As shown in Figure 1, on average, sensitivity and accuracy was deemed the most important by survey participants, followed by reliability and durability. Service and support from the vendor also rated high.
Survey participants were asked to indicate their level of satisfaction for these same performance parameters. The parameters that averaged the lowest scores were affordability, up-to-date technology, and user friendliness.
The responses to these questions reflect the challenges in the laboratory and the cannabis testing industry as a whole. For example, the parameter with the largest difference between importance and satisfaction averages was reliability and durability. Laboratories often experience inconsistencies in their results when obtaining tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) content levels.
The gap between importance and satisfaction for sensitivity and accuracy was also notable, suggesting users are experiencing difficulty obtaining accurate measurements for THC, CBD, pesticides, heavy metals, and other analytes. Laboratories seem to also be concerned about the sensitivity of instruments, particularly when measuring pesticides and heavy metals to meet regulatory mandates.
Overall, the market for laboratory testing is still in its infancy as laboratories struggle to obtain instruments and achieve compliance, while also keeping up with the evolving regulatory mandates.
This article also refers to data from the 2020 market report focused on the North American cannabis market for laboratory instrumentation from independent market research firm TDA. The report features industry benchmarks (such as market size and growth estimates) for cannabis testing laboratories in North America, including a survey of end users. For more information about this report, contact Glenn Cudiamat, president & CEO, at (310) 871-3768 or [email protected] or visit www.tdaresearch.com/cannabis.
- The State of Legal Cannabis Markets, 7th Edition, (Arcview Research and BDS Analytics) https://arcviewgroup.com/research/#6th.
How to Cite this Article
G. Cudiamat, Cannabis Science and Technology 3(2), 50 (2020).