TFNR is now the first recreational cannabis-testing laboratory in Alaska accredited to ISO/IEC 17025 standard. According to Roger Brauninger, A2LA biosafety program manager, this accreditation is a sign of attention to thorough science. “Cannabis testing laboratories that have gained ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation have demonstrated their competence and commitment to rigorous science,” says Brauninger. “In the greatly scrutinized recreational cannabis industry, we are pleased to have granted the first accreditation of its kind in Alaska.”
According to the press release, the ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation is the most significant third-party lab accreditation an organization can receive. The standard confirms labs have management, quality and technical systems designed for accurate and repeatable analyses, in addition to proper administrative processes for testing.
Jessica Alexander, technical director of the TNFR laboratory, says this is the first step in many to researching the medical properties of cannabis. “By achieving ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation, The New Frontier Research believes that it advances the cannabis industry as a whole so that we can conduct legitimate research to unlock the amazing potential that this plant has for development of more effective medicines to address problems like opioid dependence and pediatric seizures,” says Alexander.
Last week, news of problems facing Oregon’s cannabis laboratory accreditation program surfaced, leading some to speculate about possible delays for the recreational cannabis market. According to The Register-Guard, ORELAP administrator Gary Ward believed the program was “on the precipice of collapse.”
According to Jonathan Modie, spokesman for the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), the Oregon Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (ORELAP) was anticipating over 30 cannabis laboratories applying for accreditation and they doubled their staff from two to four to prepare for the uptick in applications.
In June, the agency had zero labs applying for accreditation but within two months, 37 labs applied. However, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) just provided three additional staff members on Monday to help with the application process, says Modie.
Some believe the issues could mean the state may not have enough accredited labs by October 1st, when the recreational cannabis market is expected to go into full swing. “It is difficult to say exactly how many labs we can accredit by October 1,” says Modie. “We have seven labs today which would bring it to nine labs waiting for assessment, but our goal is to get as many labs assessed and hopefully accredited as soon as possible.”
With the additional staff members, Modie is hopeful this will jumpstart the program. “We really appreciate our collaboration with the DEQ and look forward to boosting our capacity a bit to help us get through this busy time,” says Modie.
Part of the reason some laboratories might have trouble meeting prerequisites is simply because the requirements are very strict. “The process involves submitting a quality manual, standard operating procedures, method validation, submitting proficiency testing data and finally undergoing an ORELAP assessment by our staff, so it is a very rigorous process,” says Modie. “This speaks to our concern for making sure they have the right systems in place so public health is protected.” Modie said there were at least three labs that did not pass the assessment.
Bethany Sherman, chief executive officer of OG Analytical, believes the hardest part of the process involves getting accredited for testing pesticides. OG Analytical, based in Eugene, Oregon, has already received their accreditation, one of the first to do so. “The pesticide testing requires our most expensive instrumentation and the sample preparation for testing pesticides is the most time consuming,” says Sherman. “Not only does it require very specific instrumentation, it also requires a real know-how and expertise to ensure we are cleaning samples appropriately, minimizing background noise and looking at the pesticides in trace quantities.” According to Sherman, laboratories are also left to their own devices to develop methodologies specifically for the cannabis matrix, adding to the difficulties.
Rodger Voelker, Ph.D., lab director at OG Analytical, seems confident that the state will be able to handle it. “It is a relief they were able to get some resources from the DEQ and I think the state will not allow a program with this kind of importance to fall apart,” says Voelker. He believes after this initial phase of putting the program in place, the workload will go down. “It is easier to maintain a program than it is to implement,“ adds Voelker. In his eyes, it is crucial for the program to require rigorous science. “People are forced to reconcile that there is a tremendous amount of controls to be considered to produce legally defensible data and I think it is great that the requirements are so strict.”
The OHA’s job is to essentially safeguard public health and they do not want to leave any stone unturned when it comes to potential contamination, says Modie. “This is not just about getting as many labs accredited as possible, this is about protecting public health.”
Emerald Scientific recently announced results for their latest round of the semi-annual Inter-Laboratory Comparison and Proficiency Test (ILC/PT), and the outcomes may bode well for one of the most vital quality and safety aspects of the cannabis industry. According to Cynthia Ludwig, director of technical services at the American Oil Chemists’ Society (AOCS), there are no official methods for cannabis testing from an internationally recognized non-profit organization known to provide ‘official methods’ to various industries, so method validation needs to be done in-house, which is very costly and time-consuming. Cannabis testing labs are charged with the difficult task of providing honest, consistent and accurate results for potency, pesticide residue, residual solvents and contaminants. AOCS partnered with Emerald Scientific in this round of ILC/PT and preformed the statistical analysis and reports. For the first time in The Emerald Test’s history, participants were able to review all of the raw data and were given a consensus mean, z-scores and kernel density plots in order to compare themselves to other participants.
Emerald Scientific’s ILC/PT program measures how accurately a cannabis lab performs along with comparing it to other labs for an indicator of variability and ways to improve, according to a press release. 46 cannabis laboratories participated in The Emerald Test’s latest round of proficiency testing for potency and residual solvents. Cynthia Ludwig sits on the advisory panel to give direction and industry insights, addressing specific needs for cannabis laboratories. Kirsten Blake, director of sales at Emerald Scientific, believes that proficiency testing is the first step in bringing consistency to cannabis analytics. “The goal is to create some level of industry standards for testing,” says Blake. Participants in the program are given data sets, judged by a consensus mean, so labs can see their score compared to the rest of the cannabis testing industry.
Proficiency tests like The Emerald Test give labs the ability to view how consistent their results are compared to the industry’s results overall. According to Ludwig, the results were pleasantly surprising. “The results were better than expected across the board; the vast majority of labs were within the acceptable range,” says Ludwig. The test is anonymous so individual labs can participate freely. “The overall performance of the participating labs in the Potency and Solvent Residue Emerald Test were very encouraging,” says Ludwig. “All but a couple of labs had the majority of their results fall within two standard deviations of the consensus mean, which is generally accepted as being within the acceptable limits to most evaluators.” Although requirements for labs testing cannabis differ in each state, Ludwig says the results show the ability of these labs to competently perform the tests and generate reliable results. “Given the lack of harmonized regulations, this is a testament to the self-imposed quality standards the industry is trying to achieve.”
Among the laboratories that participated, Steep Hill Laboratories joined the test at two of their locations. Reggie Gaudino, Ph.D., vice president of scientific operations and director of genetics at Steep Hill Laboratories, believes that tests like the Emerald Test ensure that the cannabis labs are performing their function to the best of their ability, which is extraordinarily important. “We, and not just Steep Hill, but all testing labs, are the custodians of quality and safety for the cannabis industry,” says Gaudino. “If we are not doing our best to ensure the quality of our science is beyond reproach, then we are failing the consumer; if even one person gets sick or dies because a lab cut corners and tried to make extra money, that is one person too many.” Accurate testing comes from internal and external proficiency testing.
According to Gaudino, how cannabis labs perform in The Emerald Test can affect every aspect of cannabis consumption: “Correct dosing from potency analysis reports, identification of as many, if not all, active compounds known to enable the consumer to make a determination as to which strain, edible or concentrate would be most beneficial and assurance that there are no harmful chemicals or biological contaminants on cannabis or cannabis derivatives; all of it stems from being able to accurately test.” Gaudino is a major proponent of The Emerald Test because it provides some measure of consistency and accuracy in the cannabis industry. Until more consistent regulations for cannabis testing are formed on a national scale, self-imposed quality standards such as The Emerald Test helps labs, growers and consumers know they are getting reliable data.