How to Avoid Getting Ripped Off When Buying Cannabis or Hemp

When looking for a reliable seller to supply your company with hemp or cannabis, it’s important to make sure you (and your clients) are getting the high quality you’re paying. Unfortunately, some sellers will try to mislead and overcharge clients for an inferior product.

Why You Shouldn’t Use an External Testing Lab

Cannabis prices are often flexible and can vary based on factors such as strain type, growing methods, and seasonality, but one of the most crucial factors is THC and CBD content. THC and CBD determine the crop’s potency and research indicates a strong link between THC and CBD levels and the price per gram. Studies conducted in Europe also indicated a higher amount of THC per Euro spent on cannabis.

The only way to check the THC and CBD levels in a crop is by testing it, which usually involves sending a sample to an external lab. Unfortunately the cannabis industry is severely under-regulated and the quality of industry contributors isn’t standardized. Each country or state has its own regulations, and laboratories (even if certified) use different methods and tools.

This lack of standardization in the industry means that the results from one lab are not necessarily comparable to those from another one. Since not all the labs are certified, for example in compliance with ISO 17025, the risk of receiving unreliable results or errors being made, and questionable practices is high. Industry insiders even report some laboratories have offered to fabricate results for an additional fee.

Another issue with laboratory testing is that protocols are based on minimal sampling per batch. This can lead to inaccurate representation – a gram or two is not an accurate sample of an entire cannabis batch. No two cannabis flowers are the same when it comes to potency and composition, even when they come from the same plant. Some growers seek labs which generally give higher THC results to raise their prices. Alternatively, to raise THC levels, growers will take the buds selected for testing and roll them into kief, resinous trichomes of cannabis, which is 30-50% cannabinoid by weight.

In 2019, hemp production was higher than demand, according to data from Hemp Benchmarks, and prices for hemp CBD biomass decreased by 79% over the last year, falling from $38 per pound to $8.10 per pound. This resulted in unscrupulous sellers marketing CBD biomass as THC to raise prices.

It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way

GemmaCert can help companies avoid being fooled by CBD marketed as THC. As a buyer, you have the ability to test samples on the spot and receive real-time results. GemmaCert allows you to compare results you get on the spot to the results given in the Certificate of Analysis provided by the seller. With GemmaCert, you can make sure you know exactly what you’re buying at all times to protect your business and reputation.


What Is a “Hot” Hemp Crop?

What Is a “Hot” Hemp Crop?

Since hemp growing and harvesting became legal in the US in 2018, hemp growers have had to put up with numerous challenges, including close supervision by law enforcement, less demand than predicted for their products, and more. Growers lose much of their crop to crop diseases, failure, and a variety of environmental factors.

What Is a “Hot” Hemp Crop?

Among the restrictions the law has placed on hemp growers to prevent the illegal cultivation and sale of marijuana, is a law forbidding the use or cultivation of hemp with THC above the permitted level, which sits at just 0.3%. In 2019, an estimated 50%-60% of the crop harvested was unusable for growers due to the reasons stated above, in particular for being too “hot” for use.

What is Hot Hemp?

“Hot” hemp, as it is known, is hemp which tests as “hot”, or too high, on the THC scale, and can cause huge losses for growers. According to both the state and federal law, if a grower has a crop which has become “hot”, not only does the grower need to swallow the commercial loss of the crop, but it also becomes the grower’s responsibility to pay for its destruction.

How to Avoid Harvesting a “Hot” Crop:

  • It’s critical to test your crop every day in the two or three weeks before harvesting time. Sending samples to an external lab can be costly, and can take up to several days to get results. In the time it takes for an external lab to get you the results, THC levels in crops will continue to rise. Therefore, it is ideal to have a quick and efficient in-house testing solution you can rely on as well as a pre-harvest testing protocol.
  • Cultivate cultivars which are known for their low THC/ high CBD history, as the factors which lead to high THC in crops are mostly genetic.
  • Harvesting the crop as early as possible lowers the risk of finding high levels of THC, and gives a broader safety margin. CBD margins rise in line with THC, so once you reach CBD potency of 7%, maximum 8%, it’s important to harvest the crop as it’s likely at the legal THC limit. Waiting for greater CBD potency is not worth the risk.

The most crucial factor in guaranteeing you don’t waste time and money on harvesting an unusable crop is having an accessible and easy-to-use testing solution, which can get you quick results. GemmaCert’s potency analysis tool is indispensable for hemp farmers looking to maximize their profit and minimize crop wastage. GemmaCert’s Fresh Flower Testing Protocol allows farmers to test their plants within 24 hours, and provides results without the waiting or traveling times required of an external lab.


Hemp Cultivation: How Can Potency Testing Help?

Hemp Cultivation Legalization

The federal legalization of hemp cultivation in 2018 was first perceived as a great money-making opportunity by farmers across the United States. Many planted the crop in 2019, hoping to make a fortune, primarily by supplying hemp-derived CBD. Acreage dedicated to hemp farming reached record highs.

Your Hemp Crop

But demand did not materialize. Consumer packaged-goods giants like PepsiCo and big retailers like Walmart did not commit to CBD products due to FDA concerns regarding the ingredient’s safety in food and beverages. Since much of last year’s crop remained unsold, the market became oversaturated with hemp biomass and prices collapsed.

The CBD market forecasts remain promising. Canaccord Genuity expects the U.S. CBD market to pass $18 billion by 2024, up from $1.9 billion in 2018. While there was a 9% decrease in licensed hemp acreage in 2020, grower numbers increased by almost 30%.

The cultivation of hemp is a complex endeavour involving a laborious process. A healthy crop depends on a painstaking spraying schedule to keep pests away, the harvest is by hand, and it needs to be carefully dried out before being sold. Hemp farmers also need to deal with suspicious law enforcement agents with a legal mandate to burn crops that exceed the permitted THC limit. About 50% of last year’s crop was not harvested due to crop failure, non-compliant crops, and other factors. Even if all is well, farmers need protection from thieves wanting to steal the crop to flip it back into the market as cannabis.

Hemp Potency Testing & Cultivation

Hemp farmers need be smart and manage their risks by:

  1. Meticulously planning the harvest.
  2. Testing crop samples daily during the three weeks leading up to the harvest to avoid a “hot” crop with THC levels above the permitted threshold (0.3%). Better be on the safe side than late, even if the crop is harvested slightly earlier with a lower than optimal CBD potency.
  3. Confirm contracts for the harvested hemp with processing facilities.

To manage their risks, smart hemp farmers must equip themselves with an easy-to-use and affordable hemp potency testing solution, providing results in real-time for crop monitoring and harvest decision-making. GemmaCert’s proven solution for potency analysis is a must-have risk-mitigation tool. GemmaCert’s wet flower analysis protocol enables farmers to test potency leading up the harvest. It also saves time and money on laboratory testing. Ultimately, the cost of a device pales in comparison to the financial disaster a farmer can face from a lost hemp crop.


US Capitol

Is Cannabis Legalization in the United States Just Around the Corner?

Every now and then there is an expectation that the federal legalization of cannabis is just around the corner. This time the focus has shifted to the upcoming November elections and a growing anticipation that the Democrats will win the White House and both houses of Congress. Maybe so, but earlier this week the Democratic National Committee rejected an amendment to its platform supporting legalization.

US Capitol

Legalization faces multiple obstacles. First, whatever the results in November, the Republicans will control the Senate (at least) until January 2021. Polls indicate that only 50% of Republicans support legalization. Therefore, if Republicans remain in control after November than attempts by lawmakers to bring cannabis reform legislation to the Senate floor for vote will fail.

In addition, despite two-thirds of Americans supporting legalization, the issue is not a polarizing one. About 80% of voters say they will support a political candidate who does not share their views on cannabis legalization. In other words, lawmakers do not risk their seat if they are against legalization.

Legalization would lead to an estimated loss of US $5 billion in revenues for the Federal government over the next decade. American cannabis businesses are subject to a very high income tax rate since they are barred from taking tax deductions or credits. They must pay taxes on all their revenue without the benefit of being able to use business expenses to reduce their taxable income. Lawmakers could pass a federal tax to generate additional revenue, but this would widen the gap between legal and black market cannabis, in favor of the latter. The federal government wants to avoid this outcome.

Safety data is lacking. The FDA have made their position on CBD well known. They will not change their stance that the compound may be harmful to consumers so long as they are not convinced by an accumulation of scientific evidence proving otherwise. If this is the case with CBD, then we can assume that the FDA will place an even much higher bar for THC. Meanwhile, regulator and law enforcement concerns about the risks of driving under the influence of cannabis also need to be addressed.

The bottom line is that federal legalization remains unlikely for the foreseeable future. A more likely outcome, especially if the Democrats win big in November, is the decriminalization of cannabis use and more support (and maybe funds) for medical cannabis treatment and research. The federal government will also likely be prevented from launching federal prosecutions of cannabis related conduct that is legal at the state level. The industry should not wait for the politicians. They have enough on their plates these days, especially with COVID-19, an economy in crisis and a society on the brink. Cannabis businesses must take control of their future and independently pursue scientific and medical research to back safety and efficacy claims. The future of the industry depends on scientific, not anecdotal, evidence.


Call for Medical Cannabis Collaborations

GemmaCert invites medical practitioners and scientists worldwide to collaborate with it in the much-needed effort to advance the study into the correlation between medical cannabis composition and efficacy.

A new initiative was announced in Canada to study the efficacy of medical cannabis for specific conditions and help physicians prescribe it at the right dose, for the right patient. This is very good news. Doctors seek scientific evidence rather than anecdotal testimonials. Patients want better quality of life; here and now.

Cannabis is a natural product with hundreds of active ingredients. No two flowers are the same. A patient even when using the same strain and the same amount of medicinal cannabis can receive different amounts of the active compound for treatment, up to double dose. Furthermore, a patient may react differently to two flowers from the same strain with an identical THC:CBD ratio.

The efficacy of medical cannabis is not as simple as the THC:CBD ratio. It will take years, if not decades, of dedicated and costly scientific research to decipher the therapeutic potential of the active compounds in cannabis and how their interaction impacts efficacy for specific health conditions. Yet, a promising diagnostic technology to facilitate the personalization of cannabis treatment already exists today.

GemmaCert Ltd. (est. in 2015 in collaboration with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem) has a patented desktop analytical device for estimating medical cannabis potency and capturing unique composition data (spectral fingerprints) by means of Near Infrared Spectroscopy, Image Analysis and Machine Learning. The spectral fingerprint can help identify a correlation with treatment efficacy for specific health conditions.

As a result, GemmaCert shall commence a pilot trial with the Tel Aviv Medical Center (TMC) to seek such a correlation between cannabis composition and chronic pain efficacy treatment involving 100 patients over 12 months. A correlation between the two may facilitate the personalization of treatment, shortening the adjustment period to cannabis treatment for pain, decreasing exposure to addictive opioids, lowering healthcare costs, and improving patient quality of life.

GemmaCert invites medical practitioners and scientists worldwide to join the much-needed effort to advance the study into the correlation between medical cannabis composition and efficacy. To the interested and committed parties, GemmaCert can provide devices for data collection, user training, service and support, and provision of a dedicated smartphone application for patient feedback collection before and after medical cannabis use. Success will improve patient treatment and the formulation of effective protocols and standards for medical cannabis treatment.

For more information, please email: info@gemmacert.com


The Fallacy of Regulatory Cannabis Potency Testing

Regulated cannabis markets have different mandatory testing protocols. Most require random collection of a minimum number of samples from a batch, of equal weight from different quadrants of the flower lot to maximize the chances for representative sampling.

But research reveals that potency results (e.g. THC and CBD) from randomly selected flowers from a batch is anything but homogenous. The quadrant methodology does not work. There are many factors influencing cannabinoid levels, such as plant age, light quality and wavelength, inflorescence position, plant nutrition, size of glandular trichome and plant organ.

GemmaCert’s scientists have been analysing cannabis flowers since 2015, sourced from Israel, Europe, and North America. Flowers have been tested at the company’s ISO 17025 certified lab. Each flower is first tested by non-destructive means with GemmaCert devices, using near infrared spectroscopy, image analysis, powered by motion mechanics and estimation by machine learning. Then each flower is analysed using high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). The company has the world’s largest database of cannabis flower spectra.

Today’s mandated sampling procedures do not ensure accurate labelling. One should not be surprised if any flower taken randomly from a batch tests 20% in either direction of the mandated sampling result. In other words, if a batch is attributed a THC potency of 15%, a randomly selected flower from the same batch can yield a THC result of 12% to 18%!

It may take time for regulators to reconsider their sampling protocols. Until then, smart cannabis businesses need to invest in in-house testing, specifically non-destructive potency analysis. By doing so, they can test more samples in rapid sequence to improve their estimation of batch potency, avoid unpleasant surprises from mandatory testing (with non-destructive you can send the same flower analysed for mandatory testing), and if you are buying cannabis raw material or product, in-house testing is your only means to make sure you get what you paid for.

You cannot make a sensible and profitable business decision solely based on Certificate of Analysis (CoA) from a certified laboratory presented by your supplier. The CoA does not refer to the specific product presented to you but in the best case it relates to the batch it came from.

If you are serious about your business, then empower yourself with an in-house potency analysis capability. The GemmaCert is the best-fit potency analytical solution for the cannabis professional covering dry flower buds, biomass (trim) and crude extract. GemmaCert Lite, based on the same patented technology platform, is for the smaller business or craft cannabis grower.

GemmaCert’s patented technology is truly non-destructive and eco-friendly. It requires no sample preparation whatsoever; you do not need to grind your sample before analysis. No necessity for dangerous solvents. This technology has been used and validated by cannabis professionals worldwide since 2015.


High THC Strains: Myths vs. Fact

From time to time we hear about a new cannabis variety with a THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) potency, the main psychoactive compound, in the low 30s or even higher. The immediate question is whether this is naturally possible?

Since the 1980s various studies confirm a gradual increase in THC potency levels. If in the 1970s the average THC potency level was 1%-4%, today it is more toward the mid-teens. In the United States, the maximum levels of recorded THC were just above 17% in 2017 Across the Atlantic, in France, it was 13% in 2016. The rise in THC levels can be attributed in part to hybridized strains, cross-bred specifically for greater levels of potency.

The GemmaCert Team has been testing thousands of cannabis flowers sourced globally since 2015 at its ISO 17025 certified lab. The company has the world’s largest database of cannabis flower spectral readings for THC and CBD potency with over 250,000 data points and growing daily. It confirms that THC-dominant strains are likely to contain about 18%-20% Total THC and it is rare to encounter more potent strains with 25%-30% Total THC. Total THC refers to the levels of active cannabinoids in the cannabis after it has been prepared for consumption by heating through vaping, smoking, or cooking. The “Total” cannabinoid content numbers are most helpful in identifying the potential potency that the product may have when consumed.

There are biological limits to THC potency. Any strain above 30% Total THC, especially above 35%, is questionable. It may be a very rare bud which does not come from a stable genetic line, it may be the result of adulteration, such as by the addition of kief, or simply laboratory analysis error. A cannabis flower is more likely to have a total cannabinoid count above 30%, including but not limited to Total THC.

The bottom line is that you should be sceptical when presented with cannabis that has a claimed THC potency above 30%, even if accompanied with a Certificate of Analysis (CoA) from a certified laboratory. Remember that the CoA does not refer to the specific product presented to you but in the best case to the batch it came from. Yet, not two cannabis flowers are the same, especially in terms of potency, even when they come from the same plant.

Images Analysis by GemmaCert of Trichome Spread in Cannabis FlowersImages Analysis by GemmaCert of Trichome Spread in Cannabis Flowers

If you are serious about your cannabis, then you should empower yourself to do your own potency analysis. The GemmaCert Lite is the perfect affordable analytical solution for the small cannabis business or enthusiast. GemmaCert Lite (patent no. US10458908B2) combines near infrared (NIR) spectroscopy, image analysis and machine learning to deliver an easy-to-use, quick, and reliable solution for estimating cannabis potency.

The GemmaCert patented technology is truly non-destructive and eco-friendly. It requires no sample preparation whatsoever; you do not need to grind your sample before analysis. No necessity for dangerous solvents. This technology has been used and validated by cannabis professionals worldwide since 2015. For the first time, the technology, as well as the know-how and expertise behind it, is available in an affordable package. After all, GemmaCert is on a mission to improve the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities worldwide by setting the standard for cannabis quality.

With GemmaCert Lite:

  • Test like a Pro
  • Avoid expensive laboratory tests
  • Make sure you do not get ripped off
  • Get THC and CBD potency results within 5 minutes
  • Easy to operate by smartphone


Class Action Lawsuit

No Surprise: A $500 Million Class Lawsuit Over Alleged Mislabelling

A $500 million class action lawsuit was filed last week in Calgary targeting the potency of several Canadian cannabis companies’ products, claiming testing shows the THC content is “drastically different” than advertised. For example, a potency analysis of a cannabis oil product from one of the major producers contained 46% of the THC advertised. A second sample from the same lot was tested and contained 79% of the advertised THC content.

Class Action LawsuitCannabis was overdue for class litigation. Since 2015, the authorities have issued warning letters to dozens of cannabis manufacturers whose products have tested below the labeled quantities.  In 2018, GemmaCert published a white paper warning the industry of such lawsuits. The dietary supplement industry is rife with lawsuits and recalls, both in the form of class action suits from consumers and suits from the FDA. The white paper argued that as the cannabis industry evolves, it could be subject to this scrutiny or, worse, legal discrimination by anti-cannabis groups. Regulation brings litigation.

Class litigation is driven by opportunistic attorneys and prompted by recalls or cautionary regulatory notices. Once a problem is identified, attorneys assess the sales volume of the product in question and the extent to which its harmed consumers. If the case is profitable – and supported by consumer complaints – it is likely to proceed.

The companies listed in the Calgary lawsuit played into the hands of attorneys. The variable potency of cannabis is well-documented. Potency varies between crops and between individual buds from the same plant. Additionally, potency decreases as plant material ages. Some extract products may even experience an eight-month half-life, meaning 50% of the potency is lost every eight months.

There is no silver bullet solution to overcome the threat of class action lawsuits. Cannabis companies must acknowledge that cannabis quality assurance is a challenge. They must adopt comprehensive standard operating procedures to address this challenge, including quick, inexpensive in-house testing. Analysis devices such as those offered by GemmaCert make possible what laboratories cannot: a better assessment of potency variance with more frequent sample analysis.

Because THC and CBD content varies widely from flower-to-flower, selecting a representative sample is difficult. Testing multiple samples – even with a testing unit slightly less accurate than conventional laboratory equipment – provides a far better understanding of the potency of a crop. A representative assessment of potency with multiple tests is more relevant to quality control than a highly accurate test from a single specimen.

Class action lawsuits are here to stay. Unfortunately, there are plenty of cannabis companies in denial or too arrogant to admit they have a quality assurance problem. They will go down and make lawyers rich along the way. The smarter ones will think risk mitigation by also investing in in-house testing. As a result, they will not only be better protected but consumer confidence in their products will rise, as well as brand loyalty, paving the way for sustainable profitability.


GemmaCert Facility

GemmaCert for Extractors and Processors

As a professional extractor or processor, you need data measurements to support real-time business decision-making which impact your performance and profitability. This means you need to have easy, timely and affordable access to reliable data.

The industry needs certified laboratories for regulatory compliance testing, but not to fulfil ever-increasing in-house testing needs to support product development, operational and commercial business decisions. Often, the nearest laboratory may be a few hours drive from your facility. Your business cannot afford to wait days or weeks for results.

GemmaCert Facility

 

GemmaCert was established in 2015 with the foresight that as the cannabis and hemp industry matures and competition intensifies, the demand for data and in-house testing will increase.

GemmaCert’s smart system for analysing cannabis and hemp potency, which is being used by professionals worldwide, is now capable of analysing THC and CBD levels in crude (raw) extract. GemmaCert already does so for dry flowers and biomass. With GemmaCert you can analyse:

  1. Biomass before purchase
  2. Crude extract to calculate yield, loss, quality, and consistency

Remember that the biomass you purchase is likely not flower material. While your supplier may present you with a Certificate of Analysis (COA) for potency in the batch based on the analysis of cannabinoid rich flowers, the biomass itself is likely to have a significantly lower potency. If the COA indicates a CBD potency of 13%, the actual CBD potency in the biomass can be much lower at 8%. Keep in mind that the biomass includes other particles, such as the stems and seeds which have almost no cannabinoids, and the leaves also contain lower levels than the flowers.

The only means for you to control the quality of incoming raw material and the yield of your extraction is by in-house testing. One analysis on GemmaCert can save you a lot of money.

GemmaCert extract analysis


In-House Testing is Your Insurance Against a Recall

Since the legalization of recreational cannabis in late 2018, Health Canada has ordered 15 product recalls due to labelling errors for actual levels of THC and CBD. In one case, pre-rolled cannabis cigarettes had five times the THC content advertised.

Health Canada is doing its job protecting the health of Canadians. Its peers in other countries are doing the same. While recalls are not exclusive to the cannabis trade, other mainstream industries do not face similar levels of daily opposition, doubts, obstacles, and challenges. There are interest groups out there who would shut down the industry tomorrow if they had the opportunity to do so. They should not be given the ammunition to do so.

Cannabis companies must do everything they reasonably can be expected to do to ensure that their products are consistent, safe, effective, and predictable. To start, producers of cannabis products must recognize the challenge of dealing with a natural product. Too many cannabis players argue that they have the best product, they know their potencies for certain and laboratory testing by sampling is all they need to ensure quality. This approach is a recipe for disaster.

Cannabis as a raw material is the opposite of a homogenous synthetic active compound. No two cannabis flowers are the same, even if they come from the same plant. When a producer receives a supply of raw material, be it flowers, biomass or crude extract, they cannot take for granted the results presented in the supplier’s certificate of analysis (COA), even if it comes from a certified laboratory. The results from the COA are, in the best-case scenario, accurate for the sample analysed. Attempts to create homogenous samples before analysis, such as by grinding, do not solve the problem. Unsurprisingly, certified labs will state on the COA that “Results pertain to submitted samples only”.

Producers must adopt in-house testing protocols across their process from start to finish. A fully equipped analytical laboratory can cost anywhere between US $1.5 million to US$ 7.0 million.  There is no need to invest such amounts if you do not plan to run an analytical laboratory business. Effective in-house testing can be implemented and managed for much less.

One recall can destroy consumer confidence in your brand, years of hard work and millions of dollars invested. The smart cannabis and hemp analyzer by GemmaCert, for example, is an effective and affordable tool for in-house potency testing. Its cost pales in comparison to that of an expensive product recall. The legal cannabis industry may be young, but it is fiercely competitive. Consumers will be loyal to the brands they trust. As a producer, if your brand is important to you, be smart and invest in in-house testing to reduce the chances for a recall. No insurance policy gives you 100% coverage but for a small premium you can go a long way with in-house testing.

GemmaCert extract analysis