As the cannabis industry continues to grow at an accelerated rate, the need for analytical testing labs increases exponentially. There is a need for potency testing, safety screening, and much more. Let’s dig in to the essentials required for opening up a new cannabis testing lab.
Garyn Angel, the CEO of Magical Butter, told Forbes in an interview that among many problems with testing facilities in the industry there aren’t any standardized operating procedures (SOPs) for testing products. “Everything in science works on standard operating procedures. True science is repeatable. Testing cannabinoids though is not like testing blood.” He theorizes that labs don’t want to give away proprietary secrets, but standard operating procedures could very well be the key to setting up a successful scalable lab.
Along with SOPs, other procedures and processes critical to a laboratory’s outcome need to be implemented like internal audits. The Training for lab personnel, requirements for lab equipment, management reviews, asystem governing policy, and behavioral violations. In addition, it’s crucial toassess the quality of lab suppliers andpartners that you will be working with.
Lastly, budgeting the lab equipment will be challenging for new laboratories. Improper equipment will negatively affect the business ability to scale, and new equipment can drain low lab budgets. There are companies out there that sell high-quality refurbished equipment.
Essential lab equipment includes Mass Spectrometers (MS), High-Pressure Liquid Chromatographs (HPLCs), and Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) thermocyclers.HPLC is one of the best ways to test cannabis potency since it operates at room temperature. Gas chromatography is essential as well it just requires adding substantial heat to the process which can deteriorate samples more.
Mass Spectrometers detect particles in pesticide testing. Gas chromatographs with thermal conductivity detectors combined with mass spectrometry provide the best results. PCR machines test chemovars and contaminants. They quantify DNA molecules while calculating specific amounts of fungus, yeast, mold, and bacteria in less than one hour.
Testing medical cannabis is a complex process requiring educated and knowledgeable lab personnel. One of the key lab employees are the Extraction Technicians. They are responsible for prepping the cannabis plant materials and equipment for the extraction process. Extraction Technicians must have knowledge of proper lab safety and storage methods, as well as experience in oil extraction. Usually their backgrounds are in organic and inorganic chemistry.
Another integral employee is the Analytical Chemist who is trained to use mass spectrometers or gas chromatographs. These chemists establish lab testing methods, set up the lab, and work with sample preparations. Lab Chemists must have at least a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry or related field and should have experience with theequipment in the lab.
In sum, setting up a lab requires a budget, equipment, personnel, and most importantly establishing SOPs. Before creating a business plan, research competitors, establish a financial plan, andtalk to those already in business to gain insight. Once the lab is correctly set up, scaling up should be a much simpler process.