Over time the technology for testing cannabis and concentrates has evolved. Now, thanks to companies like Herbal Synergy, testing samples goes far beyond THC percentages. Labs like Herbal Synergy can test for contaminants, terpene profiles, and a litany of cannabinoids with relative ease and incredible accuracy.
Herbal Synergy’s Charlie Steinberg is one of the main men behind all the gas chromatography testing in the state of Colorado. Here, he discusses the latest in lab testing cannabis and concentrates.
What's the difference between gas and liquid chromatography?
Gas chromatography and liquid chromatography differ in one way that is important to the analysis of cannabinoids. Gas chromatography uses heat and liquid chromatography does not. Heat allows the sample of marijuana to go through a chemical process called decarboxylation, which is a necessary step to determine the exact amount of CBD and THC that can be absorbed into the body. The body will not absorb marijuana that has not been decarboxylated. Marijuana is decarboxylated either through smoking, vaporizing or cooking butter.
Analyzing medical marijuana without decarboxylation, like through liquid chromatography, allows only for the measurement of the maximum THC and CBD possible in a sample. This produces high numbers that are not useful to patients because they will need to decarboxylze marijuana in order to feel its effects.
This is why gas chromatography has been the method of choice for the quantification of cannabinoids by both the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
When you’re doing these tests, what exactly shows up for flowers and concentrates? Is it just cannabinoids or can you test for contaminants, residuals, etc.?
We're able to do several different types of screening, as well as several different types of testing. As far as visual screening, we do that for foreign contaminants such as bugs, mites, mildew and molds. In GC we’re testing for cannabinoids on one column and then we’re able to switch over to a whole new application to do residual solvents, gases, pesticides and also a terpene profile.
When you’re testing for concentrates there are several different consistencies – like wax, budder, shatter, etc. Does one consistency generally test “dirtier” than the others?
Based on what we've seen, I would say shatters are consistently dirtier then budders. Then again, I've worked for a couple companies that do some forms of shatters that never have any contamination in it, so it's kind of a hard question. There are so many variables that contribute to “dirty” BHO.
What's the best or worst brand of butane to make BHO?
A lot of people think N-Butane is great to run with because the closed-loop system is a cleaner way to run stuff. In the test results I've seen, it’s not necessarily the cleanest way to run it. It looks like there's much more of a saturation happening in a closed-loop system with N-Butane. I don't think the people have their timing right there. I think the product is sitting in the gas and the liquid a lot longer and the molecular structure of N-Butane is a chain, just like the tail end of the THC cannabinoid structure, so there's a bonding going on there.
So running with just N-Butane wouldn't be as good as running with a combination of Propane, ISO Butane and N-Butane?
In the 1,000 samples that I've seen so far, I would say N-Butane probably has shown significantly dirtier results. Usually, runs using Newport, Vector or a Power x5 canned gas test at an average of 1-3 PPM – and that’s from somebody who I would consider to be an extraction artist. I would say generally that canned gases are cleaner.
There are people using Propane to extract – and call it Propane Hash Oil or PHO. Can you let me know the difference between that and Butane Hash Oil or BHO?
I have a client who gives me propane hash samples all the time – it's crazy! It's darker, more of a copper color. This hash maker runs it in a CO2 extraction machine. The test results usually come out a little bit higher and it appears to be cleaner, generally. But I haven't done enough research and I have not seen enough samples to verify any of that and back it up yet.
A lot of people worry about the health risk of butane.
There are tons of health risks. From blowing yourself up to running a case in a closed room – maybe you didn't blow yourself up but you are absorbing it. I've heard stories of people who passed out from inhalation of butane. Or someone opens the door, fresh air rushes in, and everyone in the room starts vomiting. All sorts of weird stuff I've heard.
Does Herbal Synergy only test for dispensaries or can someone with a legal home grow bring their cannabis in for testing?
We’re pretty much the only lab that will do private caregivers. I do have my red card so I can hold up to eight ounces of legal cannabis in the state of Colorado. I'll basically test anybody's stuff whether they’re a patient, grower or dispensary.
If there’s something that you think is wrong with your pot or hash – especially BHO – and you think it should be checked out, we will test it.
How can people contact you?
Our web site is the best way – you can find us at HerbalSynergyLLC.Com.