The meticulous process of developing cannabis products goes far beyond extraction and packaging. By performing advanced analytical testing at each stage, manufacturers can determine the quantity, quality and behavior of the compounds in the samples. These are the four main phases from flowering to consumption.
Level 1: Flower
The development of a high quality cannabis product begins with the knowledge of the composition of the source material. The best analytical tests use a metabolomic approach. Metabolomics is a set of techniques that includes various tools for analyzing samples to obtain data about their composition. At this stage, LC-qTOF and GC-MS are the best instruments to detect all compounds present in the starting material. Essentially, metabolomics takes the fingerprint of compounds present in a plant sample. This is useful because growers need to understand how their chosen cannabis plant differs from other varieties and how it can perform in the desired formulations of the final product.
Once the plant material has gone through the extraction process, manufacturers want to know exactly what the extract contains. Are there connections that should not be there and are all the desired connections present? The best way to verify the quality of cannabis oil is to use metabolomics again (e.g. via LC-qTOF). This test identifies all compounds in the sample to help the manufacturer determine the purity and consistency of molecules other than THC and CBD.
Cannabis isolates are best studied using NMR spectroscopy and X-ray diffraction. NMR characterizes and evaluates the purity of individual compounds or mixtures in solution or solid state. X-ray diffraction provides information on the crystal structure, chemical composition and physical properties of a cannabis sample to assist the producer in proving the identification of desired compounds. At this stage of product development, it is crucial to determine the purity of the concentrates and whether they correspond to what the manufacturer intended to extract.
Level 3: Formulation
Developing a suitable formulation for drug delivery is a universal challenge faced by manufacturers at this stage of product development. When nanoemulsions or other carriers are used, formulation characterization allows manufacturers to understand how their active ingredients behave in simulated physiological environments and how stable their products are over time. In particular, determining the size of the nanoparticles and evaluating the changes in size over time can help the formulator ensure that the product is mixed with the highest quality and has the desired effect for the consumer/patient.
Level 4: Smoke/steam
Many manufacturers may not think of this last step, but it is crucial for all inhalable cannabis products and devices. The smoke analyzer and metabolomics can be used to identify and quantify compounds present in the smoke or vapor released from the pre-connections to the band equipment. This is not only important to prevent the production of toxic by-products, but can also help manufacturers create an optimal smoking experience for consumers.
One area that often comes to mind is quality compliance testing. While a number of groups make good use of the testing required during development, many forget to perform robust testing on the final products. In the current situation, where cannabis products are being developed, there is little guidance on how conformity testing should be conducted for each batch of products. These advanced analytical tests allow manufacturers to confidently develop compliant, stable and high quality hemp products.