Written by Jason S. Lupoi, Ph.D.
The need for accurate analytics is vital to every cog of the Cannabis sativa machine. Paying for a certificate of analysis (CoA) to flaunt numbers that are potentially devoid of meaning serves no purpose. Rather, the honorable CoA communicates product safety, information used for dosing, and the quantities of ancillary molecules like terpenes and minor cannabinoids that play various roles in a product’s medicinal and physiological properties. And as science desperately tries to (must) catch up to product development and, more importantly, consumption, the numbers calculated across any measurement must be trustworthy to make decisions, modifications, and claims based on factual medicine. In order to know “my product works for x, y, z”, the data associated with the product needs to be defendable and traceable.
Testing moisture in the flower (moisture balance instrument)
Enter Kaycha Labs…
In 2017, Kaycha Labs, formerly EVIO Labs Florida, identified a void in the cannabis market regarding patient outcomes. “We needed a way to aggregate chemical data to better understand what patients were consuming,” said Chris Martinez, the company’s president. “So, we invented a way to test these products and developed a platform to track patient/product efficacy.”
Preparing extraction samples prior to testing
Kaycha Labs provides analytical testing for the cannabis and hemp industries, serving cultivators, processors, manufacturers, and retailers. Kaycha’s mothership facility, a 6,000 sq. ft. laboratory in Davie, Florida, utilizes millions of dollars’ worth of technology and analytical instrumentation, enabling them to provide more predictable outcomes for patients and consumers who medicate with cannabis- and hemp-derived products.
Weighing out the samples
And The Hemp Institute
Kaycha’s family comprises the largest network of ISO accredited cannabis/hemp testing laboratories in the United States. They’ve also created The Hemp Institute at Kaycha Labs, a 7,000 sq. ft. a facility dedicated to hemp research and testing, powered by Shimadzu, and compliant with ISO 17025, AOAC, cGMP (current Good Manufacturing Practices), and GLP (Good Laboratory Practices) requirements.
TVs display the data, placing samples into the queue, reviewing data on overhead panels
“Our goal at The Hemp Institute,” Chris explained, “is to protect consumer health and well-being, while providing the infrastructure for hemp companies to determine the efficacy of their products, and ultimately change how consumers find relief with them. We want to end the trial and error for consumers and provide data which creates a better starting point for their treatment plan.”
Kaycha Labs and The Hemp Institute have also partnered with accredited universities and innovative businesses such as University of Florida, University of Miami, Duke University, Miami Dade College, PhytaTech, EndoCanna Health, and The Florida Hemp Council, all entities supporting the hemp and cannabis industries through research, analysis, advocacy, education, and service.
Kaycha Labs’ other contribution to industry innovation is its laboratory information management system (LIMS) platform called PureLIMS, which was specifically designed for the cannabis industry. PureLIMS’s different matrices and built-in quality control track information like the expiration date of consumables used, like reagents, to the analysts who conducted the measurements. “Our PureLIMS tracks data over time to support our customers in formulating products that best fit the needs of their consumers,” Chris added. “Our client portal allows our customers to submit samples with specified testing and post certificates of analysis directly to their website as well as custom QR codes.”
Chris, the Genie, and the Three Nuggets
Migrating away from the Kaycha Labs microcosm, I asked Chris what the most important needs of the cannabis industry are? “First, consistency across labs nationwide,” Chris responded, not unexpectedly, given his expertise and passion. “Second, we believe the industry needs to focus on testing innovations through technology, research, and science, furthering efforts to support patients in their transition from opiates and selecting cannabis as a treatment.”
And if Chris, like a genie in a bottle, could offer three nuggets of advice to his clients, what would they be? “First,” he responded, “understand the differences between testing labs based on proficiency testing, ISO accreditations, quality control, and automation. Consistency is key.”
“Second,” he continued, “understand that the CoA is only as good as the lab producing it and their qualifications, as it varies state by state.”
“And third, ask labs to be transparent and willing to show real data to consumers and clients. The more transparent labs can be, the safer patients and consumers will be.”
State Guidelines Pick Up Federal Slack
Currently, there are no testing guidelines federally mandated in the federally legal hemp industry, outside of quantifying total delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Therefore, when evaluating samples for contaminants, the hemp industry can turn to test guidelines mandated by states like New York and Florida.
“Our benchmarks are based on best practices established nationally while keeping patients’ safety in mind along the way,” Chris added. “As industry experts, we regularly speak with state regulators regarding consumer and patient safety. However, not all states operate under these benchmarks which is why patient education is key.”
Are the federal guidelines remiss for not including some basic guidance on contamination testing? “The federal guidelines are a good start,” Chris replied, “but we believe there is a lot more guidance that can be provided with regards to contamination and safety testing. These state guidelines will go a long way in ensuring consumer safety and preventing the influx of low-quality products that are currently flooding the market.”
Biggest Issues with Hemp and Cannabis Products
Labels sometimes aren’t representative of the product inside the packaging. There’s variance in CBD and THC levels compared to what’s labeled. Or, there’s no terpene information. Or, the ingredient list is vague (e.g. minerals). What’s more, from celebrities to politicians formerly against the plant, the mushrooming CBD industry has it all. Burgers, bubble bath, toothpicks, teas. A product for what ails you, including fleas.
“The industry has seen expansive growth with CBD and a great deal of white-label manufacturers and processors lack quality control standards, basic facility requirements, and certifications,” Chris commented. “We see products formulated and tested that ultimately fail due to contaminants. This is because brands are cutting corners to save on testing costs and bypassing the need to test their raw materials. The usual response is, ‘they provided me a CoA for the product.’ The question is, did you send out a sample of your raw materials to a credible lab to confirm for yourself?”
Given the lack of proper regulatory oversight of the industry, unlike federally illegal cannabis, I was curious if Chris has seen an escalating number of hemp samples testing at levels that would and should fail thresholds implemented on cannabis?
“There is a higher prevalence of hemp samples failing contaminant testing,” Chris answered. “This is because the hemp industry is like the Wild West, with many players looking to capitalize on market opportunities without doing basic safety testing and just focusing on potency testing.”
“The larger cannabis operators,” he continued, “understand their responsibility to consumers and are trying to put out the best product. If they would and should fail, then they do. There is no licensing structure in most states relating to CBD manufacturing, while cannabis manufactures have regulations that must be met.”
Although the hemp industry has yet to catch up to cannabis in regulatory oversight, it’s coming. Everyone recognizes its vitality. Until then, we can always look to cannabis testing requirements, and to labs like Kaycha, who have mastered state-level analytical regulations paramount for legitimizing cannabis products, regulations that have nicely transferred over to and served as a beacon in the tumultuous landscape of globalized hemp and CBD.
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