Near Infrared Spectroscopy for Cannabis and Hemp Potency Testing

Near InfraRed (NIR) spectroscopy is an analytical technique using near-infrared radiation emissions to analyze samples for compositional or characteristic traits. The technology was commercialized back in the 1970s and since then has become popular for the analysis of food, agricultural, pharmaceutical, and chemical products. Both the FDA and European Medicines Agency have published guidelines for the use of NIR spectroscopy by the pharmaceutical industry.

NIR spectroscopy is a sensible solution for in-house testing. It allows for performing a fast and non-destructive test, with the possibility of reagent free analysis that provides useful information requiring minimal or no sample preparation. Unsurprisingly, it is a widely used forensic tool by law enforcement agencies for analyzing samples in the field without evidence tampering or destruction.

Cannabis professionals must adopt In-House Testing protocols in order to make the right business decisions, from determining the optimal harvest time to making sure they do not overpay for biomass. NIR spectroscopy is ideal for this because it is easy-to-use, affordable, fast, accurate, and has a proven track-record. No wonder the FDA demonstrates its use for Real Time Release Testing in the pharmaceutical industry.

It is only a matter of time before In-House Testing becomes common practice across the cannabis and hemp supply chains and along with it NIR spectroscopy will be one of the main analytical techniques used.

No Two Cannabis Flowers are the Same and Trichomes are Not Spread Equal

Image analysis by GemmaCert of trichome spread (in yellow)

Selecting an NIR spectroscopy solution:

Before investing in a NIR spectroscopy solution for your cannabis or hemp business make sure:

  1. It can handle the natural variance of cannabis samples. Any solution limited to one reading on the sample surface is as good as guessing. The result you get may only be accurate for the specific point scanned rather than being representative for the entire sample.
  2. Finally, make sure the solution is truly non-destructive. Grinding a sample destroys sample efficacy and value.
  3. To make life easier and less costly, opt for a NIR solution with automated calibration, instead of paying for an external calibration service every few hundred tests.
  4. The solution improves over time with over-the-air updates as the reference database grows and the analytical algorithms improve.
  5. The reference database was collected at an ISO 17025 certified cannabis testing laboratory using High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC).
  6. The reference database applied consists of tens of thousands, not hundreds, of datasets from samples collected worldwide.
  7. If you are a hemp grower, make sure the solution can test at least as low as the legal threshold of 0.3% for Total THC.

Near-infrared spectroscopy FAQ

What else would you like to learn about NIR spectroscopy in regards to cannabis testing?

What is near-infrared light?

Defined as the wavelength spectrum between 700nm and 2500nm, near-infrared light is highly useful for diagnostic purposes, and near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) devices are commonly used in food testing, agricultural, and biomedical applications.

What does near-infrared light do?

Near-infrared light doesn’t do much that’s interesting from the perspective of day-to-day human life. Used in the field of spectroscopy, however, the near-infrared spectrum becomes a goldmine of data on physical samples that would otherwise be very difficult to gather.

What is near-infrared technology?

Near-infrared spectroscopy is an imaging innovation that uses the near-infrared light spectrum to render usable data on physical samples. Applied in the world of cannabis, NIRS devices allow fast and accurate analysis of the components of a cannabis sample.

In a 2018 study examining the utility of NIRS as a quality control tool in the cannabis industry, scientists concluded that this “new analytical method would allow a simpler, more robust and precise estimation.” As a cutting-edge technology, NIRS has not been widely adopted in the cannabis industry at this point, but it’s the core innovation at the heart of in-house cannabis testing devices like the GemmaCert Pro.

What is an NIR cannabinoid tester?

An NIR cannabinoid tester is a laboratory analytics device that uses the near-infrared light spectrum to provide cannabinoid concentration data for cannabis samples. As one of the most-sought-after types of cannabis sample data, rendering accurate cannabinoid concentration information is one type of analytic function an NIR spectroscopy device can provide.

Cannabinoid concentration information is far from the only kind of data an NIR device can provide regarding a cannabis sample, however. This innovative testing technology can also determine terpene concentration and detect the presence of common contaminants. Compared to gas-chromatography cannabinoid testers, NIR testers are much faster and more compact.

What is the NIR technique?

The “NIR technique” is the process of using near-infrared technology to render usable data on a physical sample. Rather than being a technique, however, near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) is a technology that can be packaged into a variety of in-house and handheld analytics devices. As one of the fastest and most efficient analytics technologies developed to date, NIRS testing devices like the GemmaCert pro are empowering average cannabis producers to test their own products quickly and accurately.

What is NIR spectroscopy, and how does it work?

NIR spectroscopy is the process of using the near-infrared light spectrum to render usable data on a physical sample. This type of sensory analysis provides compositional and functional information on ingredients, and it is considered to be the gold standard of testing by many international regulatory agencies.

In addition to providing information on the cannabinoid and terpene content in cannabis samples, NIR can also provide data regarding moisture content and the presence of microbial contaminants. A true all-in-one testing technology, NIR spectroscopy devices like the GemmaCert Pro also benefit from their small, portable design.

What does near-infrared spectroscopy do?

An NIR spectrometer measures molecular vibrations, specifically the asymmetric vibrations that appear with greatest intensity in near-infrared frequencies. The device generates a beam of light, which strikes a prism-like diffraction grating that captures light radiation in the near-infrared spectrum.

This light then strikes the sample, at which point the spectrometer records information on its absorbance and transmittance. Instead of leaving the user to wade through this highly technical raw data, modern NIR spectrometers render it into readable, user-friendly reports.

How is near-infrared spectroscopy used?

NIR testing equipment is used in a variety of different economic sectors. Considered to be a reliable, accurate form of testing around the world, NIR spectroscopy can be useful in any of the following applications:

  • Tissue testing
  • Soil testing
  • Sugarcane analysis
  • Biodiesel production
  • Raw materials identification

Of course, NIRS is also ideal for on-site, rapid testing within the cannabis industry. Quick, reliable analytics are vital during both cannabis cultivation and final product formulation, and NIRS is much more versatile and easier to deploy than gas chromatography testing equipment.

Why is NIRS important?

Near-infrared spectroscopy represents the next major leap forward in sample analysis. Providing rapid, accurate data on chemical constituents, moisture content, and other vital parameters, NIRS technology utilizes reflected light, eliminating the need for time-consuming sample preparation.

As a result, NIRS is considered “non-destructive,” an important factor to consider with a delicate sample material like cannabis flower. NIRS devices are also so much smaller than other forms of testing equipment that any serious comparison is impossible. With immense advantages and no discernible downsides, it’s no wonder NIRS testing has become so popular within the cannabis industry and beyond.

How do you use NIRS?

Every near-infrared spectroscopy device works slightly differently. In most cases, however, NIRS devices are relatively user-friendly and feature simple sample chambers and USB or Bluetooth connectivity.

Featuring advanced image and motion mechanics analysis, the GemmaCert Pro features a simple, intuitive user interface accessible instantly by Bluetooth technology. With comprehensive user support, learning how to use NIRS technology with the GemmaCert Pro is a stress-free and rewarding experience.

What is the difference between near and far-infrared waves?

Near-infrared and far-infrared light are both sections of the infrared light spectrum, but they behave differently and are found at opposite extremes of the infrared light domain. Far-infrared light is so far outside the realm of human sight that it verges on the microwave spectrum, but near-infrared light is so near visible light that we can almost see it.

Is near-infrared infrared?

While the near-infrared section of the light spectrum may technically lie within the infrared domain, the distinction between these types of light isn’t in name only. Near-infrared light behaves quite differently from light that’s found further along within the infrared spectrum, making it useful for specialized applications like spectroscopy.

Is near-infrared light visible?

Near-infrared is the closest part of the infrared light section to visible light, but it’s defined as beginning at the exact point that the human eye’s ability to detect light ends. As a result, near-infrared light is just as invisible to people as infrared light regardless of its closeness to visible light within the EM radiation spectrum.

Is near-infrared harmful?

Prolonged exposure to direct near-infrared light can cause certain health conditions like cataracts. Near-infrared testing devices do not expose operators to harmful illumination, however, and they are widely regarded as safe to use within their intended parameters.