Determining THC potency of flower and concentrates can be an important part of operations for many cannabis cultivators and manufacturers. Knowing the exact strength of a product can be a valuable bargaining chip when striking a deal.
Achieving consistent results can be extremely challenging without testing during formulation and production. However, using the services of a testing laboratory can be a costly and time-consuming endeavor.
Sage Analytics was founded in 2014 in order to give cannabis businesses the ability to perform their own in-house potency testing. The company offers a line of devices that use near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopy to test samples for THC, THC-A, CBD and CBD-A.
NIR spectroscopy uses a strong beam of light to measure the cannabinoids, without destroying the sample. The devices are easy to use and require no special training to operate them.
More traditional methods of cannabinoid testing performed by laboratories, such as high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and gas chromatography (GC) can be quite costly. Properly outfitting a lab can cost up to $100,000, and the well-trained personnel needed to operate the equipment do not come cheap. These processes also require the use of solvents or combustion, which is less friendly to the environment and renders the sample tested unusable.
I was invited to a demonstration of the Beacon cannabis potency profiler by Sage Analytics director of marketing Lauren Wilson and sales representative Kristin Zimmerman.
The table-top device has a touchscreen user interface and small testing chamber attached to the top of the unit. After watching them run through the process twice, I gave it a go myself.
A small (0.5 gram or so) sample is ground and placed in the chamber to cover the light source window. The lid is closed, and a touch of the screen starts the process. The device shines the beam on the sample and analyzes the light reflected off it.
The information collected is compared to a database of hundreds of tested samples, and potency results are given in less than a minute. The test data is saved automatically and can be exported as an Excel file. A printer is available to create labels for packaging.
According to Lauren of Sage Analytics, accuracy of results for flower is ± 2%. Because of the wide variety of concentrates available, accuracy of findings for these products is currently at ± 5%. The company is currently working on adding a larger database of concentrates to the model. Once that update is available in late July, Lauren expects accuracy for concentrates to be similar to that of flower. New software can be downloaded for free via an ethernet internet connection.
Although not as costly as other testing equipment, the Beacon isn’t cheap, either.
Running about $25,000, buying one requires a major capital investment. However, the savings in time and lab fees can be significant. Manufacturers such as Kiva Chocolates and SOCAL Extracts have already made the plunge and are currently using Sage Analytics cannabinoid profilers in their operations.
Victor Berrio, of pre-rolled joint producer Pineworx, saw great value in a portable device that could provide instantaneous potency results.
“As a buyer traveling from farm to farm, having something you can trust in real-time is very, very important,” he noted.
But Victor didn’t see the Sage Analytics products as the right ones for his business. For such a sizable investment, he would want the capabilities of testing for contaminants, such as pesticides and mold, as well as potency.
Andrew Harrison, a partner in cannabis broker Flora Street Distribution, saw potential in the use of the Sage analyzers for growers. Tracking potency of a crop as it matures would be a great way for cultivators to determine the optimal harvest time. But for his business, Andrew requires third-party, verifiable results not available from in-house testing.
Lauren of Sage Analytics acknowledges that her company’s equipment isn’t right for those who only need verifiable results from an independent lab.
But for firms who need quick and economical testing during production, for consistency and quality assurance, the Beacon can a have a great return on investment.
“We wanted to give them a way to be able to test in-house, before they have to send out their minimum requirement to the lab,” she explained. Even when independent testing is required, as it will be in California when regulations go into effect in 2018, onsite testing can help eliminate surprises from third-party lab results.
Although the Sage Analytics products were developed for marijuana businesses, Lauren also mentioned the importance of potency testing for cannabis consumers. Accurate information can help the MMJ patient or recreational user make the appropriate choice for their needs.
“We want to educate people and let them know that you have a right to know the potency of your product,” she said.