Cannabis Testing: A New Field for Mass Spectrometry

We periodically highlight new types of work in mass spec technology that our dedicated lab furniture supports. In this post, we put the spotlight on a rapidly growing, yet controversial use for mass spectrometry—cannabis analysis.

Setting the Stage for Types of Testing

The piecemeal legalization of cannabis is a challenge for the states where cannabis consumption has been approved. Each state has its own laws and regulations for the medical and/or recreational use of cannabis that include several challenges. First, crop protection agents are applied to increase yields and to standardize product appearance; testing must determine contaminant levels for consumer safety. Second, various—and sometimes nonexistent—maximum-residue limits exist. Third, sample variation is enormous because cannabis is ingested by various methods—orally, topically, or inhalation.

Four Types of Mass Spectrometry Cannabis Analysis

All of these variables have led to the need for LC-MS/MS technology, which determines chemical residues and compares them to the lowest legal—or possible—limits. High-resolution mass spectrometry has proven most effectively when analyzing compounds for the following four categories.

Pesticides

Pesticide levels are regulated in some states, such as Oregon, which has issued a guide list for acceptable types and levels of pesticides in flowers and concentrates. Other regulatory agencies now follow this standard. Targeted mass spectrometry can test for levels of stipulated residues, and some manufacturers are creating plug-and-play methodologies for efficient mass-spec analysis.

Mycotoxins

Human-generated pesticides are not the only contaminants affecting cannabis. Mycotoxins (molds and fungi) readily colonize crops and survive harvest and processing. Aflatoxins are of particular concern with cannabis; mass spectrometry can detect dangerous levels of these microbial contaminants.

Potency Levels

In addition to testing the presence of contaminants, mass spectrometry is also used to determine the levels of beneficial compounds in cannabis. Using mass spec, accurate and precise data can be collected from almost a dozen different cannabinoids. The development of streamlined sample preparation and analysis protocols can accurately compare samples.

Terpene Content

In addition to assessing cannabinoids, mass spec can test levels of various terpenes—essential oils that may enhance the cannabis experience and may promote certain health benefits. While mass spectrometry cannot assess the claims of those health benefits, determining the levels of various terpenes is certainly helpful for the comparison of cannabis crops and for marketing purposes.

Supporting Your Mass Spectrometry with Dedicated Lab Furniture

As with many inventions, it’s likely the early pioneers of mass spectrometry probably had no idea how useful those mass spec machines would become. And while new uses will contribute to the development of tomorrow’s machines, you can rest assured that IonBench will be there, literally, supporting those mass spectrometers both now and in the future. Whether you’re undertaking controversial cannabis analysis or engaged in more commonplace testing, all mass specs deserve the right foundation. To learn more about our IonBench MS, contact Tim Hawkins at tim.hawkins@farhawk.com or 1-888-669-1233.