We talk a lot about the importance of hemp and cannabis testing and how to read certificates of analysis (COAs) to determine the results. True, those are critical components of creating high-quality products. But accurate testing and analysis rely on the preceding step that we often fail to discuss—sampling of the finished goods. Proper hemp and cannabis sampling is essential to ensure a consistent and homogenous end product that consumers expect and patients rely on.
Let’s dive in.
The Importance of Random Sampling and Minimum Quantities
Medical cannabis, unlike commercial hemp products, is highly regulated for patient protection. That means most states require licensed third-party laboratories, like ACS Laboratory, to conduct the sampling on behalf of the manufacturers. Moreover, in states like Florida, it means labs can only test finished goods or shelf-ready products that are fully packaged and ready for sale.
Most importantly, stringent regulations in the state require laboratories to select random samples per batch, and multiple selections at minimum quantities to ensure they’re getting an accurate picture of the product’s quality, potency and components across the entire batch.
Random sampling of multiple products at minimum quantities is critical to accurately determine consistency and homogeneity. Consistency ensures that every gram of flower or oil contains just as much THC or CBD as the gram before it. Homogeneity, or uniformity, ensures that every piece of a consumable, such as an infused chocolate bar, has an even amount of THC and CBD throughout.
Homogeneity and potency testing are essential because the manufacturing process is inevitably imperfect and can cause issues with irregularity. This kind of analysis ensures that every smokable flower product, extract, beverage and edible contains an even amount of THC and CBD throughout each piece and each batch. As a result, patients and consumers can feel confident that they’re taking the correct dosage and getting the same experience every time.
But unlike medical cannabis, most U.S. states require limited homogeneity testing for adult-use cannabis and hemp in mature markets.
The Issue with Hemp Sampling
The issue in the hemp space is that clients often conduct the sampling themselves, unlike medical cannabis, where a third-party laboratory is accountable. The hemp manufacturer is entirely responsible for preparing samples and sending them to a laboratory via FedEx or UPS. The company could be sending multiple random samples, or they could be hand-picking ideal pieces that don’t reflect the entire batch.
If manufacturers hand-select samples or simply don’t send enough pieces or milligrams for testing, it’s challenging to determine consistency and homogeneity. That means end users may suffer the consequences of unreliable products.
If someone slices a 40-mg brownie in half, they should expect to receive 20 mg in each piece. But if the product is not homogenous, that person may consume 35 mg in one half of the product and only 5 mg in the other half. Uneven cannabinoid distribution can cause adverse effects, especially for psychoactive THC-based products. Conversely, it can also cause consumers to experience a lack of effects.
When it comes to CBD products, inconsistent dosing means people may not get the relief they seek and may give up on the products altogether. These situations can be dangerous, disappointing and lead to mistrust in the industry as a whole.
At the laboratory, we don’t know how the manufacturer chooses the samples in these unregulated situations. We simply receive and test them using our protocols. We’re confident in the outcomes, but the results might only tell part of the story. Theoretically, the samples could contain a much higher or lower cannabinoid content than the remaining products in the batch.
Until state or federal regulating bodies guide the matter, we must rely on transparent, reliable and professional hemp brands to do the right thing.
How to Conduct Sampling for Consistent and Uniform Results
Whether we’re talking about flower, edibles, or oils, our goal at ACS Laboratory when collecting and testing samples is to ensure each batch has the same potency level and lack of contaminants. We’re concerned with consistency in flower and extracts, so we require a minimum of 30 grams for medical cannabis flower or a minimum of 0.35% of a retail batch or 15 mL for medical extracts. For hemp, we need 10 grams of flower and 10 mg/mL for extracts (depending on its form) to acquire a representative sample.
When it comes to edibles, we take it one step further to determine the homogeneity per piece within the sample. To figure that out, we take the entire bar and homogenize it. Then we test it for potency.
We require 15 g/mL (depending on its form) for hemp edibles. For medical cannabis edibles, we determine the minimum quantity based on the batch size. For example, a 100-mg chocolate bar may have 10 pieces, so we test each piece to ensure it has an equal dose of THC or CBD and that all 100 mg is uniformly dispersed. After that, we take three individual pieces of another bar and test them separately. The results of these separate tests should closely align with the initial homogeneity test. If they don’t match closely, the product is likely inconsistent. This second part of the process is critical and requires collecting enough samples to represent the entire product, batch, and its pieces.
Ensuring Trust and Consistency
Positive consumer experiences hinge on product continuity and homogeneity. For brands to create consistent products, they must utilize proper sampling techniques. As I see it, the problem is that many hemp brands are new to the space and don’t necessarily understand the importance of extensive, random selections. So, until we have standardized testing procedures nationwide for end-products, consumers will face varying levels of quality. For now, it’s up to manufacturers to elevate their standards and create high-quality products that inspire brand loyalty.
Roger Brown co-founded ACS Laboratory, the first cannabis testing laboratory in Florida. Founded in 2008, ACS Laboratory is a DEA-licensed, AHCA-licensed, ISO17025-accredited and CLIA-accredited laboratory with the largest state-of-the-art testing facility in the eastern U.S. ACS is also approved by the Florida Department of Agriculture as a “Designated Compliance Laboratory” and deemed a "Certified Marijuana Testing Laboratory" by the Florida Department of Health.