Putting Your Buds to the Test: Cannabis Laboratories in Canada

Haute Health / Introduction / Putting Your Buds to the Test: Cannabis Laboratories in Canada
cannabis laboratories in canada

Have you ever sat in your comfiest chair, smoking some of the dankest dro from your most recent personal cultivation crop, and got to thinking: “I wonder how potent my own stuff is?…”.  We all like to show off our weed, especially if we committed to the labors of love in growing them from seed to harvest.  Many Canadians are now growing their own cannabis under the “4 Plant Rule” instituted by The Cannabis Act, and many more people are looking for laboratory services now that marijuana is at its most proliferate in decades.  Where can you get your buds tested? How much does it cost? What kinds of tests are available? Let’s dive into the analytics of cannabis laboratory testing in Canada and learn about the industry in addition to the science around this wonderful plant.

Currently in Canada, there are 72 authorized laboratories that are licensed to conduct analytical testing for cannabis and cannabis product.  Regulated under The Cannabis Act & Regulations, these labs have been instrumental in providing cannabis companies and consumers alike the analytics needed to guarantee the safety and satisfaction of their marijuana.  Health Canada has mandated many quality assurance measures for cannabis producers in this country, such as strict adherence to Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s), full-disclosure of cannabis inventory tracking as well as limitations on the chemical composition of their cannabis or the substances used to cultivate said cannabis.  Although most cannabis laboratories in Canada are primarily for commercial testing (i.e. products meant for the retail market), there are some labs that can provide analytical testing for those flowers and derived products from personal cultivation.  Costs can vary greatly, but nonetheless if you want to know with the utmost certainty what is the terpene, cannabinoid, nutrient or chemical profiles of your buds then these teams of licensed testers can help.

Over the years, many cannabis growers – both commercial and personal – have lamented over the lack of “at home” testing options for cannabis.  It is difficult to have access to, or even have the know how, to properly test your cannabis at home and this is doubly so for home-testing kits that have been on the market for years.  There are many options for testing at home, usually limited to THC/CBD concentration, but many cannabis consumers need to know or want to understand more about their plants.  What you put into your plants reflects what you’ll get out of them (or find residing in them), so it can be essential for medical patients or people who rely on a certain grade of cannabis to receive up-to-date, accurate information about their marijuana.

All these mentions, and we haven’t even touched on the extremely important factor of genetics.  Strain validity, including potency of THC & CBD, terpenes and genetic variances are some of the most prominent hot-button issues when it comes to analytical testing.  Is a strain you recently purchased, be it flowers or even seeds, exactly what was advertised? Are there any ways to guarantee/test genetics? What, if any, benchmarks are there for cannabis cultivators to compare/test their strains for validity?  These are just a few of the pressing questions facing commercial cultivators and cannabis consumers, and it’s imperative that we establish a foundation for answering these quandaries soon.  Today, moreso than ever, a certain strain of cannabis’ ability to self promote through its potency (perceived vs actual), popularity (word of mouth) and pricing can be the difference between success and failure.  With so many marketing/promotional restrictions on cannabis, being able to put your ‘marijuana where your mouth is’ and prove your strain is what you say it is, can do what you claim it can, and comes from a definable legacy of genetics is sometimes the best way to generate demand for your cannabis products.

How can you prove the validity of your strains, when strain names seem to change with the seasons?!  We understand your trepidation when it comes to keeping up with strain names in the ongoing “strain wars” that afflict the modern cannabis market. Sometimes it seems like one cultivator comes up with a new strain, and the retailers or cannabis media go and change it before you’re even had a chance to try it.  Like most things in life, consistency is the name of the game when it comes to proving the quality of your buds; with each consistent batch/crop, a cannabis strain will build credibility and as the testing supports the consistency of their terpenes, cannabinoids and biochemical composition the strain will grow (no pun intended) in popularity.  Trust, when it comes to genetics, is a long-term process and it can often fall to you (the cannabis consumer) to act as the final check-and-balance for a strain’s claims on potency, plant-family or value.

Have you always been curious about cannabis genetics? It’s a fascinating world, and luckily for anyone intrigued with marijuana strains this is the new dawn of cannabis research – now is the time to get involved in discovering what makes cannabis tick at the cellular level.  Strain definitions have always been tough to keep up-to-date on, but our friendly over at Leafly have done a great job cataloging, analyzing and providing industry-leading information on cannabis genetics and terpene profiles.  We recommend you check them out for some interesting reads on the current state of strains and how to determine cannabis genetic traits like a true pro.

For this article, we’re going to forego the exciting but complex world of cannabis strains and focus on reviewing the marijuana laboratories in Canada.  If you’re interested in testing your own cannabis, or want to be sure what you’re buying is exactly as advertised, here’s an overview of the current licensed labs for cannabis in Canada.

CANNABIS LABORATORIES IN CANADA

A&L Canada Laboratories Inc. is an Ontario-based analytical lab that has been an established and relied-on supporter of the agriculture and high-value crop industries for many years.  A&L provides testing and analytical services to livestock, feed, crops, soil and horticulture clients across Canada.  For the past few years, A&L has also extended its expertise into the realm of cannabis testing. Since before legalization officially kicked off in October 17, 2018, A&L provided legal cannabis cultivators (ACMPR) with cannabinoid and heavy metals and plant diagnostics data for a number of Canadians.

A&L Labs has expanded their analytical offering in the wake of cannabis legalization, and their cannabis testing services now includes packages like:

  • Regulated Heavy Metals: incl. Arsenic, Cadmium, Lead, Mercury, N-P-K, Cannabinoid Profiling (THC, CBD, THCA, CBDA, CBG, CBGA, CBN), Microbiological Scanning (yeasts, molds, harmful bacteria), Pesticides residues and Uniformity & Visual Appearance (inspection of the flowers)
  • Water Analysis: Nitrogen analysis (ammonia, nitrate), Minerals analysis (Boron, Copper, Magnesium, etc), and Chemical analysis (Alkalinity, Hardness, Saturation index, etc)
  • Plant Tissue Analysis: Total-N, P, Mg, K, Ca, S, Na, Fe, Mn, Zn, etc.
  • Soil / Greenhouse Media: Total-N, pH, Available organic matter, Lime index, Soil extractable minerals (P, K, Mg, S, Cu, Fe, etc.)
  • Soil / Organic Amendment: Total Nitrogen (N), Organic Matter, pH, Total Phosphorus (P), Total Potassium (K), Available N-P-K, Minerals composition, Bulk density and more
  • Finished Product Miscellaneous: Moisture, Ash, Quality, Regulated Heavy Metals, Extraneous Foreign Matter
  • Plant / Soil Disease: Disease diagnostic scan, pathogen consultation, Disease confirmation per organism

A&L Canada Laboratories makes prices available on a per customer, quote-basis and their typical turnaround time is between 3-5 business days (upon receiving the samples).  For licensed producers and personal medical license holders, your license information and confirmation of identity is required.  Suffice to say, A&L has been one of the leading labs in Canada for many years, and with cannabis popularity continuing to increase you can expect A&L Labs’ analytical offering will continue to grow alongside this budding industry.

Anandia Laboratories Inc. is a BC analytics and research company that has received a lot of praise as one of the leading analytics facilities in the country (Emerald Test – ILC/PT).  Anandia’s team is comprised over over 70 analytics staffers, including nearly fifty scientists and 6 PhD holders among them.  Anandia Labs is solely focused on providing cannabis testing, including many of the same tests that their agricultural-lab competitors offer but with a greater focus for cannabis-specific data, greater detail, and the highest standards of analytics in cannabis.  Cultivators, processors and producers of all cannabis product types can submit samples to Anandia, and although they are located in Western Canada they service clients from every province.

Anandia Labs offers some of the most comprehensive cannabis testing in Canada.  Their analytics offerings include packages:

  • Metal Analysis: Required metals like Arsenic, Cadmium, Lead and Mercury; additional metals analysis available, such as Aluminum, Nickel, Chromium, Cobalt, Molybdenum and many more.
  • Pesticide Screening: Analysis for pesticide residues, including all Health Canada required reporting (such as Abamectin, Metalaxyl, Clothianidin, etc)
  • Potency & Cannabinoids: Potency testing includes 5 major cannabinoids (THC, THCA, CBD, CBDA, CBN); Cannabinoids testing profiles 14 cannabinoids, including the major 5 in addition to CBG, CBGA, CBC, CBCA, THCV, THCVA, CBDV, CBDVA, and CBGVA.
  • Microbial Contaminants: Includes reporting for Total yeast, molds, Aerobic and microbial counts, E-coli, Salmonella, etc.
  • Terpenes: Monoterpene profiling (including 28 terpenes); Sesquiterpene profiling (including 10 terpenes)
  • Loss on Drying: Moisture, Water Activity analysis
  • Residual Solvents: Diagnostic on residues from organic and inorganic solvents, including Methanol, Ethanol, Acetone, Isopropanol, Hexane, etc.
  • Aflatoxin & Ochratoxin Analysis: Scans for aflatoxins (B1, B2, G1, G2); Scans for ochratoxin A (optional)

Anandia has received Emerald Badges (Emerald Test Recognition) for each of its testing categories every year since its inception in 2016.  Standard turnaround time is 7 business days, but faster testing can be requested and quoted on a case-by-case basis.  Sample submissions need to follow strict guidelines, so be sure to check out their samples submission guide before you send any cannabis for testing.  For the most comprehensive cannabis analytics in Canada, look no further than Anandia Laboratories Inc.

Keystone Labs Inc. in Alberta is another licensed laboratory that has been relied on by many ACMPR cultivators and clients.  Today, the Keystone team is working hard to be one of the leading marijuana analytics labs in the very busy cannabis province of Alberta – home to some of the largest cannabis cultivators in the country.  As Keystone Labs updates its services to include full terpene profiling, current clients can still rely on Keystone for a variety of standardized tests and reports, such as visual examinations and cannabinoid/potency tests.

Keystone Labs offers some of the most comprehensive cannabis testing in Canada.  Their analytics offerings include packages:

  • Visual Examination: Provide documented physical characteristics of the cannabis sample
  • Moisture Content: Moisture, water weight vs. plant material weight, loss on drying, etc.
  • Cannabinoid Profile & Potency: Currently testing for 10 major cannabinoids (THC, THCA, CBD, CBDA, CBG, CBGA, CBN, CBC, THCV, CBDV); 5 additional cannabinoids coming soon (CBCA, TCHVA, CBDVA, CBGVA, 8-THC)
  • Microbial Analysis: Includes reporting for Total yeast, molds, Aerobic and microbial counts, E-coli, Salmonella
  • Aflatoxins: Mycotoxin detection
  • Pesticides: All Health Canada regulated pesticides residues can be tested for
  • Terpenes & Residual Solvents: Coming soon

Keystone Labs is not quite fully operational when it comes to cannabis testing, but they are very close to providing full-service cannabis analytics.  In the meantime, cultivators, retailers or consumers looking for cannabis testing can still rely on Keystone for a variety of compliance reports that Health Canada requires, such as Heavy Metals, Cannabinoids and Pesticides analyses.

There are many other cannabis licensed laboratories across Canada.  For a complete list and contact directory, please check out Health Canada’s up-to-date List of Authorized Laboratories to find the lab closest to you, or the one that best fits your needs.

WHO CAN TEST CANNABIS IN CANADA, AND HOW?

If you have cannabis you’d like to have tested, whether it’s your own or some you have acquired, there are certain parameters you have to meet in Canada.  Cannabis laboratories require you to adhere to the following:

  • Be a registered license holder (ACMPR) and authorized to produce a limited amount of cannabis as per your designated, medical cannabis license
  • Be the recipient of medically licensed cannabis produced/provided by a registered designate grower (ACMPR)
  • Submit only cannabis that has been produced in accordance with the guidelines and restrictions set out in the ACMPR (Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations)
    • Cannabis can be submitted for testing if there has been a court order that allows the cannabis in question to be analyzed

Those designated cultivators authorized to grow cannabis for someone – under the ACMPR – are not permitted to submit cannabis for testing by their own reckoning; only the license holder for whom the cannabis is produced, i.e. the person with a medical need for cannabis, may request testing.  A designate grower may prepare the sample for testing, but the license holder & medical patient must inspect, approve and sign for the submission sample.

When it comes to sending the actual samples, you may be wondering: what can be sent?  Health Canada has provided guidelines for the submission of cannabis samples for analytical testing:

  • Dried or fresh cannabis, cannabis oil can be submitted for testing; however, no other cannabis products or derivatives are currently approved for testing (cannabis edibles, cannabis concentrates, topicals, etc)
    • These non-approved forms of marijuana products are being reviewed and testing methods developed, but for now Health Canada will not recognize these kinds of cannabis products
  • Any cannabis samples submitted for testing cannot exceed your possession limits for cannabis, as defined under The Cannabis Act & Regulations
    • Possession limits are defined as:
      • 30 grams of dried cannabis flowers, or equivalent (non-licensed)
      • 30 times your daily quantity of dried marijuana, or up to a maximum of 150 grams of dried marijuana (the lesser of the two is always pertinent – licensed, ACMPR)
    • For “equivalent cannabis values”: 5 grams of fresh cannabis is considered to be the equivalent to 1 gram of dried cannabis; and in the case of cannabis oil, the weight of the dried cannabis that was used to produce said cannabis oil (i.e. not the non-solids base, but the weight of the cannabis flowers themselves)

In terms of what kinds of tests an individual can request, Health Canada has provided some clarification in recent months.  Cannabis samples must follow the laboratory’s requirements for volume, packaging and shipment instructions.  Pricing for marijuana analytical tests are up to the laboratory, and should be quoted per client/sample and are not under the jurisdiction of Health Canada.  Before submitting samples for testing, be sure to communicate with multiple laboratories to ascertain the ideal price for you.  Health Canada has also suggested some typical testing methods that individuals may want to request.  Standard cannabis testing packages for individuals should include: Cannabinoid content (THC, CBD), potency, microbial reports, heavy metals or other contaminants, and chemical analyses.

There are further regulations requiring you, the licensed sender, to provide additional information and security measures for any cannabis that is to be tested.  Some of these requirements:

  • A copy of your cannabis license – i.e. ACMPR, micro-cultivation license, cannabis retail license, etc.
    • If you do not provide sufficient license information, your samples will not be tested and will be destroyed as no samples sent to testing facilities are allowed, by law, to be returned
  • Packaging must be conducive to general safety, security to both shippers and laboratory staff – i.e. use a sealed, smell-free, damage-resistant bag or container
  • In addition, packaging for samples must be labelled correctly and sent via authorized cannabis shippers only – Canada Post, Purolator, NOT through personal delivery means
  • Any descriptions for how the cannabis was cultivated, processed and harvested can be very helpful for testers, including:
    • additives or ingredients used to cultivation the cannabis (flowers) or process it (cannabis oil)
    • the net weights of the cannabis, before, during and after cultivation/harvesting/processing
    • the packaging date, signature of the sender/license holder

Laboratories may require additional information, but these guidelines should be followed at the very least as a standard.  If you suspect your cannabis samples have been lost or stolen, or are notified by the laboratory or shipper that this may have occurred, then you should report your missing cannabis samples to the police as soon as possible.  24 hours after learning of this outcome, the police must be contacted with the details of your missing/stolen samples, and within 72 hours the Minister (Health Canada) should be notified in writing of the apparent loss/theft.

When it comes to getting your cannabis tested in Canada, there are many excellent options across the country.  Canada is the first G7 country to Federally legalize marijuana, so we are lucky to have a lot of global cannabis analytics leaders at our disposal.  If you’ve got an exciting new strain that you need more insight on, or have questions about the potency levels in the cannabis you’re currently growing, Canadian cannabis labs can help you have the confidence and assurance in your cannabis.  

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