Rapid Growth in the Cannabis Industry
If anyone has any questions about the future or potential of the cannabis industry, the following statistics should provide some jaw-dropping closure.
In January, CNN reported that national marijuana sales are projected to rise to $11 billion in 2018 and to $21 billion in 2021.
From Forbes: “Spending on legal cannabis worldwide is expected to hit $57 billion by 2027. The adult-use (recreational) market will cover 67% of the spending; medical marijuana will take up the remaining 33%. The largest group of cannabis buyers will be in North America, going from $9.2 billion in 2017 to $47.3 billion a decade later.”
But what does all of this mean for the cannabis industry? In part, it translates into the standardization of testing methods while adhering to a growing body of regulations.
Cannabis Industry Testing Challenges
The U.S. cannabis industry – namely, the growers and distributor-manufacturers – currently outsources testing to contract labs. A growing number of these labs are shifting focus to high-volume cannabis safety & potency testing. The cannabis companies typically contact the lab to schedule testing, and someone is sent to the company site to collect the sample.
There are a host of tests – from purity to stability & shelf life – routinely performed for the cannabis industry. Most testing focuses on the plant material itself, but it appears environmental testing at company sites will soon arrive.
The wide range of tests generating huge quantities of data is leading companies to seek data informatics solutions that streamline management and help them remain in compliance. Stability & shelf life testing alone has gained attention as a key data chokepoint for the fledgling industry, and the emergence of environmental testing will only compound their data complexities.
Cannabis & the Regulatory Landscape: It’s Complicated.
Business is certainly booming – or at least poised to boom – and it has led to a growing regulatory infrastructure. But the regulatory footprint of the cannabis industry is…well…it’s complicated.
In Canada, for example, national regulatory standards have been developed, and standards for quality, testing and supply chain management are well-established. In state-governed regulatory systems – in the U.S. for instance – there is much more fragmentation. Cannabis ‘veterans’ like Colorado have more comprehensive standards than ‘upstarts’ (new entrants) such as California. This has led to a regulatory ‘Tower of Babel’ – a patchwork quilt of compliance standards.
At a minimum, most cannabis testing labs today are complying with ISO 17025, using validated standard test methods and following chain of custody as samples progress through their various tests in the lab.
Cannabis Industry Reaps Benefits of LIMS
Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS) are data management tools for testing labs. LIMS systems such as LabVantage enable automated data exchange with lab instrumentation (chromatography systems, mass spec, etc.) to reduce manual hands-on time & data errors and improve productivity, accuracy and speed.
Scalable data management solutions have become necessary for an industry that may be contemplating exponential – rather than incremental – growth. Sample metadata, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), freezer location management, test reports, data consolidation and analysis – all of these issues are emerging for labs increasingly swamped in samples.
Workflows for Cannabis Testing
An article earlier this year in Cannabis Industry Journal (Managing Cannabis Testing Lab Workflows using LIMS) pointed out the workload & productivity benefits of LIMS implementation.
The article shared a typical cannabis testing workflow, which we’ve summarized here:
- Cannabis samples are obtained.
- Sample extraction/concentration is performed, followed by isolation/separation using HPLC, GC-MS or another technique.
- The separated components are then analyzed and identified for qualitative and quantitative analysis based on specialized standards and certified reference materials.
- Analytical data is exported from the instruments and compiled.
- The test results are organized and reviewed by the lab personnel.
- The finalized test results are reported in a compliant format and released to the relevant parties.
Selecting a Cannabis Testing Lab LIMS
So what does the ideal cannabis industry LIMS look like?
The LIMS solution should be sector-specific – delivering the specific workflows and regulations of the cannabis industry.
- No Need for Customization
It should be highly configurable and offer complete client flexibility without the need for customization.
- Fast and Cost-Effective Startup
The LIMS should also offer reduced startup costs and rapid implementation to get labs up and running quickly.
In an effort to eliminate data bottlenecks and reduce operational inefficiencies, cannabis testing labs have begun to explore scalable data management solutions such as LIMS. Choosing a suitable, purpose-built LIMS for testing and quality management can be complicated – demanding a thorough appraisal of test quantities, workflows and more.
If you are beginning to explore options for your cannabis testing and have any questions, contact us here.