Analytic equipment needed for cbd oil

Analytical Instruments You Need to Start a Cannabis Testing Laboratory

From using an HPLC for potency testing to an LC-MS/MS for mycotoxin analysis, find out what instruments you need in a lab to get started.

Share this:

The cannabis industry is growing exponentially, and the use of cannabis for medical purposes is being adopted across the nation. With this boom in cannabis consumers, there has been an increasing need for knowledge about the product.

The role of testing labs has become crucial to the process, which makes owning and operating a lab more lucrative. Scientists testing for potency, heavy metals, pesticides, residual solvents, moisture, terpene profile, microbial and fungal growth, and mycotoxins/aflatoxins are able to make meaningful contributions to the medical industry by making sure products are safe, while simultaneously generating profits and a return on investment.

Here are the key testing instruments you need to conduct these critical analyses. Note that cannabis analytical testing requirements may vary by state, so be sure to check the regulations applicable to the location of your laboratory.

Potency Testing

High-performance liquid chromatograph (HPLC) designed for quantitative determination of cannabinoid content.

The most important component of cannabis testing is the analysis of cannabinoid profiles, also known as potency. Cannabis plants naturally produce cannabinoids that determine the overall effect and strength of the cultivar, which is also referred to as the strain. There are many different cannabinoids that all have distinct medicinal effects. However, most states only require testing and reporting for the dry weight percentages of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). It should be noted that delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (Δ9-THCA) can be converted to THC through oxidation with heat or light.

For potency testing, traditional high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) is recommended and has become the gold standard for analyzing cannabinoid profiles. Look for a turnkey HPLC analyzer that delivers a comprehensive package that integrates instrument hardware, software, consumables and proven HPLC methods.

Heavy Metal Testing

Different types of metals can be found in soils and fertilizers, and as cannabis plants grow, they tend to draw in these metals from the soil. Heavy metals are a group of metals considered to be toxic, and the most common include lead, cadmium, arsenic and mercury. Most labs are required to test and confirm that samples are under the allowable toxic concentration limits for these four hazardous metals.

Heavy metal testing is performed by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS). ICP-MS uses the different masses of each element to determine which elements are present within a sample and at what concentrations. Make sure to include accompanying software that provides assistant functions to simplify analysis by developing analytical methods and automatically diagnosing spectral interference. This will provide easy operation and analytical results with exceptionally high reliability.

To reduce running costs, look for a supporting hardware system that reduces the consumption of argon gas and electricity. For example, use a plasma ignition sequence that is optimized for lower-purity argon gas (i.e., 99.9% argon as opposed to more expensive 99.9999%).

Pesticide Testing

The detection of pesticides in cannabis can be a challenge. There are many pesticides that are used in commercial cannabis grow operations to kill the pests that thrive on the plants and in greenhouses. These chemicals are toxic to humans, so confirming their absence from cannabis products is crucial. The number of pesticides that must be tested for varies from state to state, with Colorado requiring only 13 pesticides, whereas Oregon and California require 59 and 66 respectively. Canada has taken it a step further and must test for 96 pesticides, while AOAC International is developing methods for testing for 104 pesticides. The list of pesticides will continue to evolve as the industry evolves.

Testing for pesticides is one of the more problematic analyses, possibly resulting in the need for two different instruments depending on the state’s requirements. For a majority of pesticides, liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (LCMS) is acceptable and operates much like HPLC but utilizes a different detector and sample preparation.

With excellent sensitivity and ultra-low detection limits, LC-MS/MS is an ideal technique for the analysis of pesticides.

Pesticides that do not ionize well in an LCMS source require the use of a gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GCMS) instrument. The principles of HPLC still apply – you inject a sample, separate it on a column and detect with a detector. However, in this case, a gas (typically helium) is used to carry the sample.

Look for a LC-MS/MS system or HPLC system with a triple quadrupole mass spectrometer that provides ultra-low detection limits, high sensitivity and efficient throughput. Advanced systems can analyze more than 200 pesticides in 12 minutes.

For GCMS analysis, consider an instrument that utilizes a triple quadrupole mass spectrometer to help maximize the capabilities of your laboratory. Select an instrument that is designed with enhanced functionality, analysis software, databases and a sample introduction system. Also include a headspace autosampler, which can also be used for terpene profiles and residual solvent testing.

Residual Solvent Testing

Residual solvents are chemicals left over from the process of extracting cannabinoids and terpenes from the cannabis plant. Common solvents for such extractions include ethanol, butane, propane and hexane. These solvents are evaporated to prepare high-concentration oils and waxes. However, it is sometimes necessary to use large quantities of solvent in order to increase extraction efficiency and to achieve higher levels of purity. Since these solvents are not safe for human consumption, most states require labs to verify that all traces of the substances have been removed.

Testing for residual solvents requires gas chromatography (GC). For this process, a small amount of extract is put into a vial and heated to mimic the natural evaporation process. The amount of solvent that is evaporated from the sample and into the air is referred to as the “headspace.” The headspace is then extracted with a syringe and placed in the injection port of the GC. This technique is called full-evaporated technique (FET) and utilizes the headspace autosampler for the GC.

Look for a GCMS instrument with a headspace autosampler, which can also be used for pesticide and terpene analysis.

Terpene Profile Testing

Terpenes are produced in the trichomes of the cannabis leaves, where THC is created, and are common constituents of the plant’s distinctive flavor and aroma. Terpenes also act as essential medicinal hydrocarbon building blocks, influencing the overall homeopathic and therapeutic effect of the product. The characterization of terpenes and their synergistic effect with cannabinoids are key for identifying the correct cannabis treatment plan for patients with pain, anxiety, epilepsy, depression, cancer and other illnesses. This test is not required by most states, but it is recommended.

The instrumentation that is used for analyzing terpene profiles is a GCMS with headspace autosampler with an appropriate spectral library. Since residual solvent testing is an analysis required by most states, all of the instrumentation required for terpene profiling will already be in your lab.

As with residual solvent testing, look for a GCMS instrument with a headspace autosampler (see above).

Microbe, Fungus and Mycotoxin Testing

Most states mandate that cannabis testing labs analyze samples for any fungal or microbial growth resulting from production or handling, as well as for mycotoxins, which are toxins produced by fungi. With the potential to become lethal, continuous exposure to mycotoxins can lead to a buildup of progressively worse allergic reactions.

LCMS should be used to qualify and identify strains of mycotoxins. However, determining the amount of microorganisms present is another challenge. That testing can be done using enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) or matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOF MS), with each having their advantages and disadvantages.

For mycotoxin analysis, select a high-sensitivity LC-MS/MS instrument. In addition to standard LC, using an MS/MS selective detector enables labs to obtain limits of detection up to 1000 times greater than conventional LC-UV instruments.

For qPCR and its associated needs, look for a real-time PCR amplification system that combines thermal cyclers with optical reaction modules for singleplex and multiplex detection of fluorophores. These real-time PCR detection systems range from economical two-target detection to sophisticated five-target or more detection systems. The real-time detection platform should offer reliable gradient-enabled thermal cyclers for rapid assay optimization. Accompanying software built to work with the system simplifies plate setup, data collection, data analysis and data visualization of real-time PCR results.

Moisture Content and Water Activity Testing

Moisture content testing is required in some states. Moisture can be extremely detrimental to the quality of stored cannabis products. Dried cannabis typically has a moisture content of 5% to 12%. A moisture content above 12% in dried cannabis is prone to fungal growth (mold). As medical users may be immune deficient and vulnerable to the effects of mold, constant monitoring of moisture is needed. Below a 5% moisture content, the cannabis will turn to a dust-like texture.

The best way to analyze the moisture content of any product is using the thermogravimetric method with a moisture balance instrument. This process involves placing the sample of cannabis into the sample chamber and taking an initial reading. Then the moisture balance instrument heats up until all the moisture has been evaporated out of the sample. A final reading is then taken to determine the percent weight of moisture that was contained in the original sample.

A moisture balance can provide accurate determination of moisture content in cannabis.

Look for a moisture balance that offers intuitive operation and quick, accurate determination of moisture content. The pan should be spacious enough to allow large samples to be spread thinly. The halogen heater and reflector plate should combine to enable precise, uniform heating. Advanced features can include preset, modifiable measurement modes like automated ending, timed ending, rapid drying, slow drying and step drying.

Another method for preventing mold is monitoring water activity (aW). Very simply, moisture content is the total amount of water available, while water activity is the “free water” that could produce mold. Water activityranges from 0 to 1. Pure water would have an aW of 1.0. ASTM methods D8196-18 and D8297-18 are methods for monitoring water activity in dry cannabis flower. The aW range recommended for storage is 0.55 to 0.65. Some states recommend moisture content to be monitored, other states monitor water activity, and some states such as California recommend monitoring both.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, cannabis growers benefit tremendously from cannabis testing. Whether meeting state requirements or certifying a product, laboratory testing reduces growers’ risk and ensures delivery of a quality product. As medicinal and recreational cannabis markets continue to grow, analytical testing will ensure that consumers are receiving accurately

labeled products that are free from contamination. That’s why it is important to invest in the future of your cannabis testing lab by selecting the right analytical equipment at the start of your venture.

A Guide to Cannabis Extraction Equipment and Machines

Analytical Cannabis Ltd. needs the contact information you provide to us to contact you about our products and services. You may unsubscribe from these communications at any time. For information on how to unsubscribe, as well as our privacy practices and commitment to protecting your privacy, check out our Privacy Policy

Before any CBD oil, THC tincture, weed butter or cannabis concentrate can be bought, first, it must be extracted. This is the job of cannabis extraction equipment, the machines that remove the coveted cannabis compounds from the plant’s matrix (a process explored in more detail here).

And just like any other piece of kit, an inevitable question arises when considering extraction machines: which one’s the best value for money?

Some are industrial, some are the size of a kettle. Some use CO2 as a solvent, others utilize alcohol. All have their pros and cons which can be listed in a nice, handy guide to cannabis extraction equipment and machines. A guide just like this.

The top 12 cannabis extraction machines:

CO2 Cannabis Extraction

CO2 might not be the cheapest solvent going, but its benefits can be worth the price tag. Inside these machines, high heat and pressures turn the gas supercritical, enabling it to extract higher yields than many other solvent methods.


Automation at all stages has already improved the extraction process, especially with regard to repeatability and accuracy. Soma Labs Scientific focuses on developing automated extraction systems specifically for the cannabis industry. Its BOSS CO2 Extraction System incorporates automated controls that eliminate the use of manual valves and has been designed to make load and unload times as short as possible to increase production capacity. The company claims that by streamlining the process its setup can process 20 pounds of cannabis material in 4 hours and run continuously without supervision, enabling a total of 6 runs per day.

The BOSS CO 2 extraction system. Image credit: Soma Labs Scientific.

The price: approximately $250,000

Pros Cons
Small footprint Not suitable for small-scale production
Relatively low energy costs Relatively expensive
Automated batch loading CO2 must be stored carefully
Easy to use for this kind of system Operates at high pressures
Does not require harmful solvents Relatively complex

In all extraction methods, throughput will always be a key element for improvement. For example, the SFT-SP1100, a supercritical CO2 extraction system from Supercritical Fluid Technologies, is able to perform both at subcritical (for terpenes) and supercritical levels (for cannabinoids) with simple setting adjustments. Flexibility and scalability in throughput are always desirable attributes, particularly in the fast-paced cannabis industry where companies grow fast and requirements can change overnight.

The SFT-SP1100 Supercritical CO 2 Extraction Unit. Image credit: Supercritical Fluid Technologies.

The price: $490,500

Pros Cons
Small footprint Not suitable for large scale production
Extractions up to 10,000 psi No automated loading between runs
Scalable capacity CO2 must be stored carefully
Add-ons available to enhance functionality Operates at high pressures
Does not require harmful solvents Relatively complex

The Hi-Flo™ High Performance Series from Eden Labs is known for its processing powers, and one of the latest in the series, the Hi-Flo FX2, is no exception. Capable of processing as much as 107lbs of biomass a day, the extractor offers up to 5,000 psi and a rapid change-over for maximum extraction times.

The Hi-Flo FX 2 . Image credit: Eden Labs LLC.

The price: $175,000

Pros Cons
Closed-loop design with up to 95% CO2 recapture rate Requires a well-ventilated, tightly controlled lab environment
Extractions up to 5,000 psi Not suitable for small scale operators
Easy step-by-step protocol for upkeep Relatively expensive
No internal moving parts so fewer points of failure Requires scientific expertise to optimize
Energy efficient Lower capacity than some competitors

The most industrial extraction products deserve intimidating names, and the Force is certainly no exception. Able to process a colossal 200 pounds of dried botanical material every day, the system from Prospiant (formally Apeks Supercritical) is optimized to tackle the biggest workloads in the industry. This one’s for the pros.

The Force . Image credit: Apeks Supercritical.

The price: start at $473,800

Pros Cons
Can perform supercritical and subcritical extractions Hefty price tag
Equipped with CO2 storage tank Not suitable for small operations
Fully automated Extensive scientific expertise required to run and optimize system
Works for large scale operations High energy consumption

Compared to the industrial behemoths, OCO Labs’ SuperC extractor looks like a toy. But don’t be fooled by its size; for the right buyer, this little extractor has is it all-in-one. Capable of processing 1oz at 4500 psi by itself, the SuperC’s capabilities can also be expanded with purchased additions such as OCO Labs’ rack specs.

The SuperC. Image credit: OCO Labs.

The price: $4000


Alcohol Cannabis Extraction

Like CO2, alcohol is one of the most commonly used solvents for cannabis extraction. Cheap to source, the ethanol soaks up the prized compounds, which can then be separated via evaporation. But this cheap solution doesn’t come without its challenges. Ethanol is highly flammable, and any temperature change can drastically alter the final product. Luckily, these machines come with instruction manuals.

A leading company in the supply of extraction machines, Precision Extraction Solutions offers several solutions for ethanol extractors. One of these is the C-40 Centrifugal Extractor, an all-in-one kit for those looking to produce cannabis extracts at a mid scale volume under low to room temperatures.

The C-40 Centrifugal Extractor. Image credit: Precision Extraction Solutions.

The price: $449,470

Pros
Cons
98%+ removal of cannabinoids Not suitable for small operations
97%+ removal of solvent Certain safety risks (ethanol is flammable)
Up to around 40 lb per cycle Winterization steps will be required post-extraction to create the final product
Designed to be used by a single operator Requires some assembling
Relatively lower costs of extraction at room or below room temperatures

With an average run time of around 10 to 20 minutes, the CUP-30 is one of the faster pieces of ethanol extraction equipment on the market. Produced by Prospiant (formally Delta Separations), the machine is the larger of the two CUP series, being able to process 25-30 pounds of cannabis material per batch.

The CUP-30. Image credit: Delta Separations .

The price: $133,900

Pros Cons
Up to 98% extraction of cannabinoids Too limited for mid-scale or large operations
Up to 97% recovery of solvent from spent biomass Winterization steps will be required post-extraction to create the final product
Quick run time Certain safety risks (ethanol is flammable)
Can be operated by a single person

The extractor for the on-the-go cannabis connoisseur, the Source Turbo can be operated remotely via a mobile app. No day is too jam-packed for this extract. As an extra feature, the Turbo also comes equipped with altitude-specific tuning, so it can operate at its best performance whether up in the mountains or down on the beach.

The Source Turbo. Image credit: Extract Craft.

The price: $599

Pros Cons
Suitable for home-use Very low production capacity
Easy to use Alcohol extracts can require extensive clean up
Does not require harmful solvents Not suitable for commercial extraction

Butane Cannabis Extraction

Butane, or propane in some instances, can be seen as similar solvents to CO2 in many ways. The butane is pressurized and heated, which transforms it from liquid to a vapor, making it easier to remove. This process creates a shatter, a clear material of THC, CBD and other cannabis compounds like terpenes. Although effective, the process can be undesirable for medicinal products, due to the risk of contamination.

Throughput and scalability have been the focus of manufacturers of hydrocarbon solvent-based extraction equipment too. Precision Extraction Solutions, for example, continuously update their flagship PX40 Extraction System. Run using either butane, propane or isobutane, this system can process up to 36lbs in one go, and up to 250lbs per 8-hour run.

The X40 MSE Extraction System. Image credit: Precision Extraction Solutions.

The price: starts at $189,000

Pros
Cons
Comes with vacuum jacketing Uses hydrocarbon solvents which must be removed
Compatible with propane and butane gas Hydrocarbon solvents must be handled with care
High capacity Not suitable for small-scale production
High throughput Relatively complex
97% cannabinoid and terpene removal

The Io extractor from Luna Technologies processes both butane and propane, though at slightly different rates. When using propane, the fully automated extractor can process 37lbs of cannabis material per hour. If using butane, it can process slightly less at 27lbs per hour. a fully automated system capable of extracting 18lbs of plant material per hour.

The Io extractor. Image credit: Luna Technologies.

The price: approximately $225,000

Pros Cons
Computer controls can help refine extraction
recipes for maximum yield and efficiency
Mid-level processing capacity (37lbs)
Automation-ready The dangers associated with butane
Simple to use Butane must be removed post-processing

And here it is, what might be the cheapest butane extractor on the market: Ablaze’s Mini Closed Loop Extractor. With a 45g capacity and a 100psi limit, this processing product might only be capable of the most humdrum extractions, but for those interested in a saving, this is one of the best deals out there.

ABLAZE Mini Closed Loop Extractor. Image credit: Ablaze.

The price: $550

Pros Cons
Low price point Not as simple as at-home alcohol extractors
Suitable for home-use Very low production capacity
Easy to use Vacuum pump and recovery tank also required

Ice Water Extraction

More back-to-basics than other extraction methods, ice water extraction isn’t a step too far from giving the cannabis plant a cold bath. Because THC is denser than water, the compound can separate from the leaf material when washed. After this, the cannabinoid-rich water only needs to be filtered through a series of micron bags before it’s ready to be used.

Working to create a safe and easy method for cannabis extraction, collaborators at Mountain High Suckers and Eberbach have developed a commercial platform that enables ice-water extraction, which eliminates any concern of residual chemicals in extracts. Plus, putting cannabis material in ice water and then filtering it is an extremely safe process. Currently available on their website, the Model E5703 can process over 1lb of plant material per hour and has been designed to comply with existing FDA standards. They are yet to release detailed information on the results of their experimentation, but the technique holds promise for small scale extraction and could potentially be scaled up to process more material.

The Eberbach Model E5703. Image credit: Eberbach.

The price: approximately $13,500

Pros
Cons
Does not require harmful solvents Methodology still in development
Very easy to use Scalability unknown
No dangerous chemicals or equipment required No public data available to prove efficacy
Cheap to run Ice water extraction is non-specific
Suitable for small scale operations Water-based extraction can be slow

Cannabis extraction equipment

As this industry grows, so will the equipment options for extraction. These advances will probably go across the kinds of extraction processes, and the connection between extraction and analytical testing could also see improvement. Even with the best equipment, though, only skilled operators can produce the intended results. So, training operators as needed should always be performed in any company to guarantee results.