Article: Testing Old Cannabis and Why We Need Stability Testing

In Canada if you take a look at the label on the package of the dried cannabis flower you bought you might notice that an expiration date isn’t noted and says “No Expiry Date Determined”. In June of 2019 I had posted about two products that were eight months old and Thomas Fraleigh, President and Founder of Vivariant Laboratories reached out and was willing to test this aged cannabis as my concern was on potency loss and not getting the full value from my purchase.

Before we get into this further I’d like to caution that it’s hard to say a drop in THC is 100% due to age. As Thomas advised you’re always going to see a difference when you test a licensed producer (LP) bud and compare it to the label value. Below he speaks of the sampling challenges and stability testing, and from there I take the results and give my final thoughts.

Sampling Challenges

Cannabinoids are not distributed evenly across a cannabis plant. A bud sampled from the top of a plant and the bottom of the same plant can vary in concentration, same goes for different clones in a grow room. Even on a single bud the trichomes have a distribution I often liken to “marble cake”. 

When a customer provides a sample for potency we typically ask for a minimum of 1 gram but suggest 5 grams. We then grind the sample to a homogenous (even) powder from which we take the material we actually analyze. The grinding is an important step because it takes the variable product and creates an average however that average is only as good as the input material that the customer provides. If the customer only submits one bud, the average result we return will be reflective of that one bud. If they take six buds from various parts of the plant, we grind those to a powder and that average is then more reflective of the whole plant. 

But how many plants, and what parts of those plants do you pull from in order to sample a whole grow room at an LP? Unfortunately there is no clear guidance on that matter right now. Health Canada (HC) has very carefully removed themselves from responsibility for sampling stating instead that it is up to the LP to make sure that they have a “good protocol for sampling”. Health Canada has also not placed any formal size definitions on what constitutes a batch or lot, so you could have someone sending in 1 gram sample for a 10 KG batch or a 1 gram sample for a 100 KG batch. 

The only time that HC has ever formalized any cannabis sampling plans was the now-obsolete 2004 Industrial Hemp Technical Manual. During this era each and every hemp farmer had to have their field sampled by a third party lab to check that THC levels were below 0.3%. The lab would send a technician who would walk in a very specific manner through the field and collect 60 flowering inflorescences (think of a branch off the main stem with the leaves and flowers), divide those into two groups of 30, 30 stay with the farmer as a reference and 30 go back to the lab for analysis. The THC determination would be based on the 30 inflorescences sent to the lab. This document is now obsolete and these guidelines no longer apply. 

Today the only hemp farmers that have to do THC testing are those breeding viable seed and clear sampling protocols for that testing have not been re-issued yet. I call attention to this old document though because it’s the only time that HC has given clear sampling guidance for cannabis/hemp because they wanted to keep an eye on the “evil THC” in hemp. They don’t seem as motivated these days to issue guidance on sampling for determination of THC and CBD at the medical and adult use cannabis producers. While mandating 30 branches sample size from a cannabis crop to determine potency would cause the LPs to riot it would be nice to have some sort of sampling guidelines from HC on the topic. 

It’s important to note that even with a huge sample input amount, which is going to give you a great representative average, if you were to re-test buds from that batch against that value you will still have outliers. There were some articles going around in USA from when state markets and testing labs were coming online with headlines like “omg I sent my buds to two different labs and got two different results” and that is to be expected for all the reasons we discussed above. I had a friend ask once why we don’t present values in ranges which I thought was a good question. My thoughts are that people in general don’t like ranges and the labels are also confusing enough as it is today. If you were going to go with a range you would need to conduct multiple repeat tests so the cost would go up a lot as well.

Personally I think that the single value is sufficient, we do need more consensus on sampling practices. Note that for products like oil solutions sampling is less of an issue because as liquid solutions these products are more homogenous to begin with. The problem re-surfaces again in edibles and topicals though. Cannabinoids are highly viscous and difficult to blend. If your mixing process does not evenly mix your cannabinoid you’re back at marble cake again, perhaps literally! 


Stability Testing and ‘old ass weed’

When we were first introduced on the topic of some old cannabis you received from an LP. We discussed how testing cannabis for cannabinoids isn’t necessarily a clear indicator of stability. There seems to be a consensus that THC breaks down into CBN but the kinetics of that are poorly understood. Stability studies are used to determine expiration dates and shelf life. They involve taking many products in its final container and putting them in a room of controlled temperature and humidity (“stability chamber”) and periodically pulling some out for analysis. 

When you test for stability you need to have stability markers, for example, what do I test for to show that this material is still stable? One thing you could do is repeat the tests on the Certificate of Analysis (CoA) until it fails to meet spec. For cannabis there is no pass/fail limit for cannabinoid content and the variability in cannabinoid content in between buds (as mentioned above) is going to complicate this. 

So what else? Microbes are one option. Keep in mind that microbial cells don’t grow at low water concentrations so very dry cannabis won’t show much microbial growth over time. Pesticides are unlikely to magically appear unless they leach in from packaging components. Metals may be leached from the container over time, especially vape pen products. Terpene content may diminish over time. The thing is, I think you can have old cannabis that still passes quality control long after it has lost it’s bag appeal. Again, there’s no consensus on how stability studies are performed especially on dry flower. If you meet LPs who are engaged in GMP production this is an interesting question to ask them as all GMP products must bear an expiration date and that expiration date needs to be determined by stability studies. 

The lab results

First in the lab Jean Guy was tested from Aphria which I ordered from the Cannabis by Shoppers Drug Mart (SDM) medical program. The label was stated this was packaged October 9th 2018 and was tested on September 18 2019, the potential THC amount was noted at 17.24% on the bottle.

According to this report the Total THC amount was 16.9%, a slight loss compared to the advertised potential of 17.24%. 

The second lab tested product didn’t fair as well and was Rockstar from Tilray which was also ordered from the SDM medical program. The package date was October 17 2018 and as tested September 18 2019, the potential THC amount was noted at 24% THC on the bottle.

According to the lab report the Total THC amount was 18.2%, that’s a large difference and not the potential 24% THC I paid for.

Final thoughts

One product had a tiny change and one significantly had a lower value. The takeaway here is the word “potential” THC on the label and the proper need of stability testing to determine when quality begins to degrade and when does it go bad. The cannabis I had wasn’t expired but the quality wasn’t where it should’ve been.

Vivariant Laboratories is one of the authorized laboratories in Canada to conduct analytical testing of cannabis under the Cannabis Act, and you can find more about them at vivariant.com for more details on potency testing that starts at $125 each and you can reach Thomas Fraleigh directly on Twitter under the handle @tfraleigh.

#VapeTheBud

Licensed Producer Review: Broken Coast Cannabis

This is my second licensed producer review on the medical cannabis market. I’ll be making note of the things that matter to medical patients, and highlighting where companies are doing a great job and noting where changes could be made to provide better products or services to patients.

Broken Coast Cannabis is based on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada and owned by a larger company called Aphria as of early 2018. Small-batch premium “BC Bud” is noted on their website and mentions how their flower is hand-trimmed and slow cured at its indoor facility. They serve both the medical and general consumer market.

 

Wide variety, great quality however consistency varied

As of October 2019 there were 10 dried whole flower varieties, two low cost flower tips (trim), two edible oils, and one THC capsule option. Of the dried flower types available eight were over 15% THC.  I have tried seven products from Broken Coast, six on the medical side and an additional one from the retail market. Each and every time I opened one of their containers I could smell the pungent aromas hitting my nostrils and most of the time the buds were large in size, even with five gram containers. 

The flower overall was great quality however I did notice some consistency issues when it came to lighting joints. Dark ash occurred on many occasions and some in the community have advised me that this could be due to an improper cure. As I primarily vape this wasn’t much of an issue but at the cost per gram you want consistency.

 

Why a perfect seal matters

A strong induction seal on the container keeps the moisture balance intact I’ve noticed and despite some products I had from Broken Coast that were four months or older since packaged, when I opened the container the aromas were still there.

 

Price, Excise Tax & Compassion Pricing

Of the current full dried flower products on their website, the cheapest per gram was Texada (Super Lemon Haze) at $10.04 per gram, and the highest was $11.86 per gram for Muskmelon OG. The average overall cost per gram across all whole flower options was $11.05 per gram.

These amounts are based if you live in Ontario since the Cannabis Act went into force on October 17 2018 an excise tax was introduced. Many licensed producers have absorbed that cost for medical patients and Broken Coast isn’t one of them. Prices may be lower or higher depending on the province or territory you live in as this tax percentage varies. Shipping is free when the order is over $150, otherwise a $5 flat fee is applied.

Compassion pricing doesn’t exist at Broken Coast and the only low cost offerings are the Indica and Sativa Tips for $4.06 per gram which is a mixture of high quality cured trim in a container.

Return Policy

Broken Coast has a great return policy on cannabis, according to the Broken Coast website,

Returns can be made within 30 days of purchase by sending any remaining product back to Broken Coast Cannabis 3695 Drinkwater Rd. Duncan, BC V9L 3C0, along with a written note indicating the reason for return. Broken Coast will only issue a credit for up to 10 grams per strain for a maximum of 30 grams per order. Any product returned to us has to be destroyed and cannot be resold or returned to you; please consider this when ordering strains you have not tried before.”

 

End Thought

While I enjoyed my experiences with Broken Coast and now have a few new favourites, I wasn’t a fan of the pricing as there was no incentive to buy more and save more. It would be nice to see a compassion pricing program for those who could use relief from the high taxes applied to such items.  

Thanks for reading. 

Next up will be Pure Sunfarms’s take on Afghan Kush.

Licensed Producer Tour: 7ACRES

Hanging Out With My Favourite Cultivar 

 After my first licensed producer tour in early September 2019, John Fowler, Chief Advocacy Officer and Founder of The Supreme Cannabis Company reached out to me on Twitter and asked if I’d like a tour of 7ACRES. As a big fan of their products I got to see high quality cannabis grown at scale. 

Who Is 7ACRES?

7ACRES is a brand owned by The Supreme Cannabis Company and has their greenhouse facility in Kincardine, Ontario, Canada which is about two and a half hours away from Toronto. As of this writing, this licensed producer supplies dried flower to eight provinces across Canada and cannabis oils sold under the KKE branding using 7ACRES flower.

Licensed production space is currently at 230,000 sq feet with 23 grow rooms using High Pressure Sodium (HPS) lighting in all greenhouses and using natural sunlight. Future plans are underway to expand production space towards 300,000 sq feet and current growing capacity of dried cannabis per year is currently 32,560 kilograms, with future goals of 50,000 kilograms per year. That’s a lot of cannabis!

 

The Tour Experience

It was quite a drive to Kincardine but thankful Pete from Supreme drove us up to check out the site. I met Amy Anonymous during our trip and we had some great conversations about cannabis and why quality matters. When we arrived at the grow facility we met up with Vince, who was the operations manager of sanitation and checked us in and we had to change into a 7ACRES uniform from outside clothes. The typical “marshmallow suits” weren’t worn here and they had a good reasoning as fibers may flake off from them.

As we walked into one of the massive grow rooms of Jean Guy holding nearly 3000 plants I had the chance to chat with others working there and all of them were excited to talk about cannabis. I noticed the happiness and passion the workers have and showed that quality isn’t only in their flower here, it’s also in their employees. 

There was a continuous flow of people working as we walked over to the trimming room, and then we saw the curing area and then the final frontier, the vault. Every step of the way was well cared for like a fine wine and this facility was running on high standards. Great job!

This quick write up ends with me holding 10 kg of cannabis and enjoying the moment as I’ve never held so much in my life. 

Thanks for reading and big thanks to Pete Shearer for taking me up there and back. It was great meeting the people working at the Kincardine facility and Amy, I’m glad we got to sesh together! Hope to see you all again soon.

My next write up will be Northern Kush GE by JWC.

Licensed Producer Tour & Review: James E. Wagner Cultivation (JWC)

This is my first licensed producer review, I’ll be making note of the things that matter to me when choosing one, and highlighting where companies are doing a great job and noting where changes could be made to provide better products or services to patients.

Choosing a licensed producer is never an easy task, I’ve seen some cannabis reviews and talk on social media about James E. Wagner Cultivation (JWC) and decided to switch half my prescription to them at the end of June 2019.

 

Pricing that makes sense and free shipping

The cheapest per gram of dried flower that JWC offers is $7 when buying 30 grams of ChemDawg, with tax that’s $237.10 in Ontario for just over an ounce. While ordering less grams of the same cultivar for example does cost more, in the case of five grams, the cost would be $9 plus tax. It sounds a little confusing, but makes sense, buy more, save more. I do wish companies who use this method of pricing to extend the discount in some way when ordering 30 grams overall in an order.

Shipping is free with Canada Post or Purolator if the total order is over $150, otherwise its $10 flat. Orders generally ship within one business day, delivery times vary but since I live close usually one to two business days until it makes way to the local post office.


Selection is key

As of September 2019 there were 10 dried flower varieties, three oil options, and dozens more arriving down the road. It’s important to have a good selection as I find rotating my choices around keeps cannabis effective, rather than my body getting use to the same cultivar over and over.

 


Quality of the flower

I’ve consumed eight products from JWC since the end of June, the quality of the flower was excellent each and every order and didn’t require a humidity pack to bring the moisture balance back. This is exactly what I expect from a licensed producer that delivers high quality cannabis.

 

Packaged just right

Too many times I’ve received dried cannabis flower that was packed over six months ago with other licensed producers (LPs) and many consumers I’ve spoken to on social media having similar fates, which leads me to advise that JWC packages their cannabis when an order comes in, which is probably one of the reasons why their flower isn’t dried out and fresh every time.

 

Excise Tax & Compassion Pricing

When the Cannabis Act went into force an excise tax was introduced, many licensed producers have absorbed that cost for medical patients and JWC is one of those companies. Also to those with an annual income of less than $25,000, a 15% discount is given with proof (usually this is a Notice of Assessment or other government issued documentation).

 

 

Terpenes matter

Under each cultivar on their website is a link to a “Strain Profile”, this shows what terpenes and cannabinoids are present and helps consumers draw possible conclusions as to what worked and what didn’t for them. For instance, Rockstar Kush has Caryophyllene as their dominant terpene, while White Russian is Pinene dominant, there’s a high chance you’ll likely feel different from each of these and may prefer one over another.

 

What can be changed or improved

Okay, I’ve said A LOT of positive things so far, what could be changed or improved. Once you log into the website to make your purchase those “Strain Profiles” are no longer there, adding those links within the webstore when logged in would be great!

That’s it. I would throw in that I hate the wide mouth containers, but those are already in the process of being changed later this year.

How I got a tour

It started with a Twitter joke Cory Philion (@c_philion) made originally about us going together on a tour, someone I never met but had casual online conversations with. A few weeks later JWC had a contest for a branded hat, and I made a comment, “A tour would be nice too”, and Laura Foster, Chief Compliance Officer at James E. Wagner, asked me to direct message and it was set from there.

 


The tour experience

Last month I went on my first tour of a cannabis facility, and I must say I’ve never seen that many cannabis plants in my life, it was unreal. Nathan and Laura were my tour guides for the next two and a half hours, I asked some questions and learned a bit on the business of cannabis. Also, no soil plants here, JWC only uses aeroponics to grow cannabis, and as JWC puts it, “Aeroponics is a plant-cultivation technique in which the roots hang suspended in the air while being periodically misted with nutrients and water.” 

I enjoyed walking the halls of the connected rooms in my marshmallow-like suit, the environment was really clean and made me feel happy knowing this is where I get my medicine from.

 


After reading the recent
AMA on Reddit that Nathan Woodworth, CEO of JWC took part in, I’m excited to hear their that JWC is currently working with provincial retailers to bring its products to the recreational market in the coming months.

Thanks for reading and big thanks to Nathan and Laura for taking the time out of their day to show me how a cannabis company works day to day. 


Next up will be a review on JWC’s Rockstar Kush.