Talking Colorado Cannabis Testing With Stephen from PhytaTech.
Looking to learn a bit more about cannabis testing? We had the pleasure of sitting down with Laboratory Director of PhytaTech to talk more about testing in Colorado.
Q: Hey Stephen! What's up?
A: Hello and thank you for the opportunity to chat today.
Q: So, what do you do at PhyaTech?
A: I serve as the Laboratory Director and General Manager at PhytaTech. This means I create business goals for the laboratory, develop and improve all testing methods, ensure both our scientific & regulatory compliance, and generally make sure my staff have what they need to serve the Colorado Cannabis Industry.
Q: With testing being such a hot topic in the cannabis industry, what are a few misconceptions about cannabis testing?
A: A lot of our clients don’t realize that the testing we are performing has been pretty standard for over 50 years. The instrumentation and methods along with the quality procedures we have in place at PhytaTech are the same the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries use and are compliant to many international standards of practice. In other words, we aren’t smoking or eating samples all day long; we bring a lot of professionalism and legitimacy to the industry as well as vital safety to the public at large.
Q: What are you looking for when testing cannabis flower? And on the flip side, is there a difference when testing edibles or concentrates?
A: We are required to test final products here in Colorado. This means we test fully cured flowers, finished concentrates, and edibles in their final product packaging for potency and homogeneity. We try to test products that are in the same condition as customers would walk in and buy them in a dispensary. Often the most beautiful flowers are not the most potent in terms of THCA but might have an excellent terpene profile. Here at PhytaTech we also test for 28 terpenes. It is important, and really useful for our clients, to quantitate the full chemotype (cannabinoids and terpenes) of their products. This is important both for sales and marketing purposes but also for medical patients trying to medicate for particular indications.
Q: Most news on testing isn't related to potency but more so related to pesticides. How strict is Colorado law on pesticide use?
A: Pesticides get a lot of news coverage because of the negative health implications and financial impact it has for all parties involved. Colorado has a zero tolerance pesticide rule now while the state develops current permissible limits of acceptable pesticides. The state is currently developing pesticide limits in partnership with the Department of Agriculture and many Cannabis testing facilities like PhytaTech. However, there is no mandated pesticide testing for either retail or medical cannabis currently in Colorado.
Q: From our understanding, there are more pesticides in the food we eat than there is in the cannabis we consume. Why is this?
A: Pesticides are heavily used in many industries, with the agricultural industry at the top of the list. The FDA has set permissible limits on many pesticides used on food. What this means is that the food we eat does contain low concentrations of pesticides in it. These concentrations of pesticides are thought to be safe to consume based on toxicological data. This toxicological data doesn’t exist for pesticides in Cannabis however. This makes it difficult for many states to set logical permissible limits on Cannabis. We also have to remember that we ingest food orally while people can ingest Cannabis orally, through the lungs or across the skin. It's important to keep in mind toxicity based on route of delivery. This only complicates the issue of pesticides in Cannabis.
Q: When people think of a testing lab, they assume there are scientists in lab coats running around with test tubes. Can you bring us through your average day at the lab?
A: Sure. We perform high volume testing using High Pressure Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) to test potency, gas chromatography to test residual solvents, and microbial contamination in our microbiology laboratory. Most mornings are spent acquiring data off our instruments that ran the night prior and generating test results for our clients using our state-of-the-art Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS). This enables us to perform the necessary QC/QA on our samples while quickly and securely delivering the results of these tests to our clients. We then spend much of the afternoon processing new samples and preparing them to be run on our instruments in the evening. This process happens pretty quickly as long as there is enough coffee available in the laboratory.
Q: Our inside bird has heard about another lab (In Denver) producing failing results for a cannabis company. However, when the samples were sent to the State Agriculture Department they showed no failing results. What do you think could have happened?
A: There are many reasons that two different laboratories could get differing test results. The most likely is that the laboratories did not receive the same samples, i.e. the samples were not homogeneous. As you know, two flowers from the same strain, same growing room etc. can have different potency and terpene concentrations. This is very true for microbial contamination as well as these microorganisms typically are inside the densest part of the flower, making two flower samples very different in total counts. Concentrates are subject to this also as stratification can occur during storage, heating/cooling or transport. It is also possible that the laboratories use different instruments to perform these tests and that the extraction procedures for the two laboratories is different. If you add all these sources of variation up, you can see how you can get different results between laboratories.
Q: As the industry progresses, where do you see cannabis testing going in the next 5 years?
A: I see many of the variations between laboratories going away as well as many of the bad actors in the industry going away. The State of Colorado has implemented proficiency testing for all of the laboratories and from the data that I’ve seen, most of the laboratories performed well. I believe the more rounds of proficiency tests that are undertaken, the more consistent data will become. Additionally, a few of the laboratories are undergoing ISO certification, PhytaTech included. ISO certification is an international standard of quality that will only serve to bring more good practices to our industry. These trends, along with the recent implementation of the random sampling program from the State of Colorado will ensure that all parties are doing what they say they are doing and acting in responsible ways to maximize end user safety and public health.
Q: Final question: What are you most grateful for today?
A: I’m very grateful for the opportunity to make an impact in a new field and bring all I’ve learned in other industries into the Cannabis industry. I get to work with talented individuals everyday at PhytaTech and I can see the positive impact we are making on public health.