The Science of Cannabis Testing with Genifer Murray of CannLabs

Genifer Murray of CannLabs

Listen in as Genifer Murray, founder and president of CannLabs (CANL) describes the different ways CannLabs tests cannabis, not just for potency but for harmful substances like mold and heavy metals. Genifer also tells us the highest THC level she has ever seen in a cannabis flower. Don’t miss this episode.

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Matthew: Hi, I’m Matthew Kind. Each week I’ll take you behind the scenes to interview the insiders that are shaping the rapidly evolving legal marijuana industry. Learn more at www.cannainsider.com. That’s www.cannainsider.com. What are the five disruptive trends that will shape the cannabis industry in the next five years? Find out with your free report at www.cannainsider.com/trends. That’s www.cannainsider.com/trends. Now here’s your program. Today we’re going to learn about cannabis testing and why it is important. CannLabs provides cannabis testing services and consulting services to help growers ensure they have the highest quality, safest product for the public. I’m pleased to welcome Genifer Murray founder and president of CannLabs to CannaInsider today. Welcome Genifer.

Genifer: Thank you Matt. I’m very excited to be here.

Matthew: To give us a sense of geography can you tell us where are in the world?

Genifer: Yes, I’m actually in Denver, Colorado.

Matthew: Great, and I want to dig into what CannLabs does testing-wise, but can you give us a little background on yourself and how you started CannLabs?

Genifer: Sure. Basically at the beginning of 2010, so the end of January, I was back visiting my dad in Arizona, and I was at a friend of a friend’s restaurant and started talking to this gentleman. And he found out I had a degree in science and he kind of perked up and I thought that was a little weird. And then he was asking me about if I was… trying to find out if I was pro cannabis or not and quickly he found out I was, and said he had an idea of testing. And I said testing, kind of like everybody else. And he said yeah like, you know, you test milligrams of Vicodin. And that moment changed my life forever. Did my due diligence and we started CannLabs together then I bought him out at the end of 2011, and I brought on another investor. And then we went public in June of this year, 2014.

Matthew: Wow that’s a great story.

Genifer: Yeah it’s crazy.

Matthew: It is. Now many business owners may kind of get dragged into testing hemming and hawing. They say well I already know my cannabis is clean and arguments like that. And then at some point there’s a couple of realizations. A) this is inevitability. I have to get this done. But B) this can really help my business. I can stand out and give, you know, my customers confidence that, you know, my THC level is this high. I don’t have mold and etcetera. Can you help us frame how we should think about testing?

Genifer: Yes, and you’re absolutely right. It’s been a tough road first of all because nobody understood it. I mean it’s new thinking and when you try to explain that to people early on, you know, all they can think about was their unnecessary cost, and that they’re, you know, they’re doing their best to compete and to spend more money, they just didn’t get it. But in actuality it does make you stand out, and it does show that you are selling a top of the line product. And that doesn’t mean… I don’t mean that without testing you don’t have a top of the line product. I just mean that you can prove to somebody that it does not have pesticides, it does not have mold, and give them an exact dose of what they’re taking which is very important to find out why this plant works so well. We need to know the specifics about the plant and the more we know about the plant, the more we’re going to be able to help and make better medicine.

So it’s also to discover new cannabinoids. A funny but tragic story is CBD. So four years ago it was barely talked about, okay. All samples had less than 1 percent. It was insignificant. We really didn’t talk about it much, and then I remember testing for my first 1 to 1 ratio. It was 7 percent/6 percent CBD to THC in the summer of 2010, and I tested it like 10 times to make sure it was what it was. I called… it happened to be Bubblegum Kush, I called and since then he has been growing some amazing genetics. But if you weren’t testing, okay, you found a plant that did not produce a lot of product. It wasn’t a high producer. It didn’t look as pretty as what you thought the THC plants did, and it didn’t really get you high so people got rid of it. And unfortunately that was… those were high CBD genetics. And so a lot… and now we have a CBD shortage. Kids need it, you know, cancer patients. Like it’s a real big contributor to this plant, and so you know, if people that have been testing, they could have had plenty CBD stains now. And I feel like that is the same now for CBC and CBG and THCV and some of these other amazing cannabinoids that we’re learning more about now.

Matthew: Yes. Can you talk a little bit about the entourage effect because you have a really good understand of the cannabinoids, how they interrelate and how we should be thinking about that.

Genifer: Yeah, so to really just make it simple, cannabis brings you back to ground zero, if you will. If you’re neurons are over firing, you know, they will calm them down. If they’re under firing, they’ll bring them up. But the most important thing is in pharmaceuticals you have one interaction, right. You have one active ingredient and thus it creates all of these side effects. Well in cannabis you have over 500 constituents in that plant working for you. There’s over 66, that we know of, cannabinoids to this point. We test for about 9 of them. And then you have all the flavonoids and carbohydrates and protein and chlorophyll and all these other things in the plant that help work together. But these cannabinoids are like… it seems like a lock and key. So that’s why you’re not getting a ton of side effects.

Matthew: Okay. And what tests do you do the most that are the most popular?

Genifer: Well it’s always been potency. It started with potency just because the people that wanted to get ahead with testing, wanted to show that they had high THC, okay. But and now that’s the only thing mandated in Colorado for recreational users. It’s potency of concentrates, edibles and flowers, but soon will be health and safety. But to me all the tests are very important, and if you put product… and as you consume cannabis and you understand it, you can taste… you can taste things. You can taste a bad flush or somebody not flushing. You can taste, you know, butane and propane in hash oils. I mean you get familiar with the tasting of it, but unfortunately when people come from out of state, they don’t know, they don’t understand and everybody thinks, oh well cannabis can’t kill you so you know, why should it be tested. Well we’ve been doing things to cannabis that’s never been done before, one. And two, really like 20 years ago or 10 years ago or even 5 years ago if you were sick and went to your doctor, most likely you’re not going to tell your doctor that you’re consuming cannabis, right.

Matthew: Right, right.

Genifer: So do we really know the specifics on that, no we don’t. But the more we know about it the better.

Matthew: And could you tell us a little bit about how the testing works, let’s just say for THC concentration? I did take a tour of your labs and it’s exactly how most people would picture. There’s people walking around with white lab coats on and there’s machines and it looks very complicated to someone that’s layperson, but can you kind of describe what is happening there in the lab?

Genifer: Sure. So you have different… usually these tests need different instrumentation, and just to give you a difference, machines make things and instruments measure things. So all the things in our lab are instruments as far as when were measuring something. We prefer liquid chromatography. So we use a UPLC, a waters UPLC to do potency. The reason we do that is THC acid is what naturally occurs in the plant, CBD acid, and when you use gas chromatography, you decarboxylate that so you can’t get the acidic numbers. So really… and also you don’t want to change the structure of the molecule. You really want to analyze it in its natural state. And so that’s why we prefer liquid chromatography. But then when you’re talking about residual solvents, you know, you have to ignite the sample so it does take gas. So we use a GC flame ion detector with a head space, and so that ignites the oil sample and it traps the gas in, if there’s any butane or propane and then we measure parts per million for that. And then another chemist test is heavy metals and that’s done with ICPMS, pesticides. Can either be done with liquid or gas. And then micro has its own test. So your micro lab… our micro lab downstairs, mold, mildew and then your bacteria; e-coli, salmonella, we do ph water activity and then we’ll be starting genetics.

Matthew: Now just out of curiosity, how would heavy metal find its way into cannabis? Is that leached in through the water or is there some other way?

Genifer: So it could be reached in through the soil. So actually hemp is used for soil remediation, and so it pulls the impurities out and then you get rid of the plant. That’s one of the ways hemp is used. And so cannabis, kind of the same thing. So if you have bad soil or if you have… if you have nutrients, let’s say, that maybe have some heavy metals in them and your plant’s up taking and you’re not flushing, and then possibly water too.

Matthew: Okay and now how long does a typical battery of tests take, your most common test? Is it a few days, a week or how long?

Genifer: So potency usually we have some customers that get a 24 hour turnaround time. We also have expedited service available for same day as long as it’s dropped off in the morning. But typically it’s 48 to 72 hours. And then with the other stuff usually the residual solvents can get done in the same amount of time as well. But again microbes take a while to grow. So usually that’s 5 to 7 days. But we’re getting our QPCR method validated, and so what that does is it accelerates the growth. So instead of 5 to 7 days, it could be one day or two days. I think two days, and then if there is an infestations then we have to run plates to double check that. You always have to double check micro. And then pesticides it kind of depends on if it’s a pesticide scan or if it’s a quantification of pesticides. Of course quantifying takes a little longer, and it’s a different method. But usually potency and residual solvent, the most popular tests, are you know 48 hours I would say. And we’re trying to get that down to 20-24 hour.

Matthew: There’s so much innovation in the cannabis industry in terms of edibles, concentrates. I mean every time I turn around there’s a half dozen new things. Is that cause some complications as far as having, you know, testing edibles versus flower. Are you having to constantly retool to manage all these things or is it pretty simple?

Genifer: You know what that’s such a great question and usually people don’t ask that and listen it is very complicated. Edibles are the most complicated, right. They have different matrix in them. Some have seeds. Some have nuts. Some have sugar. Some have this. Some have that. And so you.. we have to validate every method we use for everything. So our gummies has an extraction process, our brownies, our chocolate, sodas. And so we absolutely validate each of those methods and they’re all fairly different depending on the makeup of the edible. And then it is crucial to make sure that you extract the edible so you get all the cannabinoids out of it. And that’s kind of been the hard part of it. It’s not actually getting it on the instrument once you have figured out you instrumentation and have calibrated it and validated it and everything. It’s really the extraction process that is most important. And then we also have checks as well. So once the lab tech turns in the values, then we have our manager go over data review. And that’s very very important and I think a lot of labs don’t do that. But you know we’re only human and we can make mistakes whether that’s a decimal point or write down the wrong number on the wrong line. So it’s very important to have checks and also to, you know, have less of a chance for human errors. So we have a lot of things that help us like software for the scales and stuff like that so it alleviates handwritten problems.

Matthew: Now switching gears a little bit to problem mitigation. So let’s say I’m a cultivator. I send in a sample and it comes back with some things that are undesirable, let’s say, how do you work with those cultivators to say look let’s help you so this doesn’t happen again and figure out maybe how it happened?

Genifer: You bet. That’s one of the things that, you know, we do. And because we… these are relationships to us. Really it’s us doing a service for them. And so we just… we’re not like another environmental lab where we’re like hey, yeah sorry here you go. So we remediate. We go out and site track and look at what’s going on. Simple things, filters, that kind of thing that people just don’t understand or maybe their grower is getting lazy or you know, somebody missed it. I mean it could be as simple as covering up water. What kind of water you are using, you know, all of those factors that go into good manufacturing processes. And let’s face it, you know, most people do not have good manufacturing processes, at least what they need to to have a consistent product. So yeah, we help every step of the way, and actually microbial infestation depending on what it is can be remediated, whether that’s extractions, some extraction help. Now obviously if you extract something with pesticides it’s only going to amplify it. So this doesn’t work for pesticides, but with a lot of microbials you can run it through and extractor and it can be cleaned. So that’s an option, and then obviously going through and treating the plant with some safe things. So there’s a lot you can do, and you know with a lot of money riding on these crops, you know, you’re better off testing more and having less infestations. Because as you know you can grow a crop and it’s great and then the next time it’s got powdery mildew on it. So it’s really better to do a lot of testing so you don’t risk losing a crop.

Matthew: So if you had to narrow it down to, and I know it’s a hard thing to answer, but a takeaway for a cultivator. Say look, this is the number one or number two thing that most cultivators overlook that is pretty easy to mitigate to improve their yield, what would you suggest?

Genifer: Well improve their yield or have a healthy yield?

Matthew: I’m sorry, to have a healthy clean plant.

Genifer: You know what it is treating every crop like it’s the first one. So cleaning out the room. Taking everything out of the room and absolutely cleaning everything in the room. You know cleaning all your supplies. Filters, filters are a big one. People don’t think about them and especially filters where you’re sharing a facility with another person, another business. For instance we had somebody that had actual black mold, and it was blowing from the bakery next door.

Matthew: Oh god.

Genifer: So yeah. I mean you really have to be careful. And then of course, you know, should suit up. You should actually, I mean, depending on how, you know, how good you want to be, I mean you should suit up. You should shower when you get there. Suit up, leave your suit there. I mean, you know, not have a dog there, not have a dog in the dispensary that people pet and then go look in the grow. The less people in the grow the better of course. But, you know, those are some things that we definitely recommend. And then there’s, you know, other things depending on how you’re growing as well because there’s so many growing styles. But keeping things absolutely clean.

Matthew: Now if somebody is listening that has a legal home grow, can they send samples to CannLabs too?

Genifer: Sore subject, no they can’t. It’s a real sore subject. Unfortunately since CannLabs has a license and a certification by the state, we are only allowed to take samples from licensed entities, which breaks my heart mainly for the parents that have relocated from across the country if not the world to come to Colorado. And the medicine can be, you know, expensive. So they want to grow their own and then they can’t get it tested to dose it for their children. So they’re desperate and then they go to maybe some labs that aren’t certified. Well there’s a reason those labs aren’t certified. I mean there’s a lot of people that claim to be testers that don’t even have a chemist. It’s ridiculous. So we’re hoping to change that, and then medical marijuana doesn’t have to be tested. So when you come across the country, you still don’t know what’s in your medicine. It’s ridiculous.

Matthew: So is this… what’s the horizon look like for, you know, you’re talking about people that come from other states to get medicine for their kids. Is there a solution on the drawing board or is it still up in the air?

Genifer: We are so trying to, you know, fix it in legislation, this coming legislation period. So starting, I believe, in the end of February or end of January. But I don’t know what to say. And you know I’ve thought about actually opening or having somebody else open another lab because I know what I’m doing, but you couldn’t make it. I mean the labs here are barely making it as it is just because there’s only one thing mandatory and there’s so many labs here now. But so, one person opening up for patients, they couldn’t even make it work. So it’s a really tough situation right now, and we have to get it fixed. And if not, then yeah I’ll have to, you know, we’ll have to do something and have an instrument just at least to do potency.

Matthew: So this is a good transition to what’s going on in politics. I mean we could talk about Denver in particular, but how do you feel in general lawmakers are doing in finding the right balance of, you know, helping consumers, helping cannabis businesses and so forth? Do you think they’re finding the right balance? Is it too conservative some places, too liberal or just is insight lacking in any specific arena apart from what you just mentioned?

Genifer: Well what’s happening, what happened in Colorado specifically is you had an industry before regulation. Okay, so pre-2010 you had dispensaries here. I mean, you’ve had dispensaries all along since it passed in 2000, but nobody knew right. They were way under the radar. They started popping up at the end of 2009 when the Ogden Memo came out in October. So until July of 2010 there was no regulation. So once regulation came, the industry is not going to implement mandatory testing. They don’t want to pay for it. So they lobbied against it. And I didn’t realize that starting up. I had no idea. I had no… I had never lobbied or any, I mean, I’d heard of it but I didn’t really understand it. So once I understood that, then I started lobbying at the capitol and talking to people and you know, and people… most patients and people that consume of course want testing. And so it’s just getting implemented because of 64. Now if 64 wouldn’t have passed, who knows if medical would be tested now, but I would be out of business if it wasn’t. I knew that once recreational passed I would have a market because there’s no way they can make it legal without testing it, but here we are a year later with no health and safety testing. So I was a bit wrong. The other states are implementing it right away. So I don’t see how Colorado will not implement it fully. We recommend AHP, the American Herbal Pharmacopeia. They wrote a great testing regime that they got information from, you know, all the respectable labs and some other scientists and I think it’s a good start. But until we start it, and start testing we’re not going to know if we’re under testing or over testing right. Like Colorado doesn’t require listeria. Well does listeria find itself on the cannabis plant, I don’t know. So maybe we should test it for that to see. So basically the next couple of years are going to be testing and then figuring things out and figuring out what likes to grow within this plant and other things like that. But it’s crucial that we get this data.

Matthew: Now I love your input on this because it’s something I think about a lot, and I really don’t know the answer. So let’s say I’m a cultivator and I’m growing a specific strain of cannabis, we’ll say Star Dog, and I know what the cannabinoids profile is of this plant, but right down the street someone else is growing Star Dog too and their cannabinoids profile is different. I mean how do we get to a place where we can say this is an optimal Star Dog or an optimal Blue Dream? I mean how is that going to work?

Genifer: That’s genetics. So once we start doing genetic profiling in terpenes, terpenes play a big part in the plant. It is thought that terpenes are what distinguishes the sativa and indica. It is not the cannabinoids count. We still need more research on that, but there is no way to know if you’re smoking a sour or you’re using a Sour Diesel. We will have to genetically be able to every strain coming in, test the genetics and then you’ll know what’s what. But until that happens, you know, people are… something happens in the world and they name pot after it. Peyton Manning, you know, back when… what is his name? Charlie Sheen had his own strain for a while, you know. So I think there’s a strain called winning. So you know people change those or they, you know, they fool the customer and they’re like okay well Sour Diesel is a huge, you know, a huge strain. So we’re just going to call this Sour Diesel. So until we have genetics and we have, you know, terpenes and everything, we’re just not going to know. And again so that, you know, hopefully motivates growers to test their stuff so they know exactly what they have and if it’s fading or getting better or whatever that is. Because a lot of people are seeing their mothers, they’ve taken too many clones and their strains are failing. So you know, with testing, you know, we can figure this all out and we’ll know how to prevent things.

Matthew: Now I’m curious, what’s the highest THC concentration you’ve seen in a plant that’s come in for testing?

Genifer: So to date, 4 ½ years later, 32 percent.

Matthew: Wow.

Genifer: And that, I mean, any higher than that, so it’s like you’ll see some 40 percents and high 30s and it’s ridiculous. People are doing the calculation wrong. You don’t add THC acid and THC. It’s not 100 percent decarboxylation. So when you do that you have to take your THC acid number times 5.87 and then add THC and that’s your max THC. Now that doesn’t mean what you’re getting, right, because if you’re smoking or vaping or baking, it could be different decarboxylation rates. So it just… we just give you that’s the max it could be.

Matthew: Okay.

Genifer: But you know, it’s very hard to get that high, I mean, very hard and people should not take that lightly.

Matthew: Right.

Genifer: But it doesn’t mean that… it doesn’t necessarily… also I want to mention that just because it has a high THC doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to feel higher. It depends on the terpenes and everything in your body as well. I’ve smoked an 8 percent and I was high as a kite, and it was probably because of the terpene profile. So you can’t always lay it on THC.

Matthew. Right. Right kind of we point to that in isolation but it’s really you have to look at the other variables as well.

Genifer: Yep absolutely.

Matthew: So what states CannLabs currently offer testing in right now?

Genifer: So we’re currently in Colorado and Connecticut. And then we just recently got local and state approval for an 8,000 square foot lab in North Las Vegas.

Matthew: How great. Now Las Vegas they’re kind of… they’re regulatory system seems a little bit more aggressive in helping tourism. Is that what you’re seeing as well. Like they really just want to…

Genifer: You bet.

Matthew: They go from 0 to 100.

Genifer: It’s reciprocity. Yeah they’re smart. They did reciprocity. So you know, if I have my card here I can go buy there which was very smart. But I truly believe, I mean, they’re very close to getting… to being recreational and if they decided to go recreational in 2015 I wouldn’t put it passed them. They’re not in great financial… North Las Vegas is not in good financial standing right now. So marijuana will literally turn that state, the city and the county, Clark County they’re around, I mean it’s going to be absolutely amazing just like it did in Colorado. I mean before marijuana, you know, the I70 Corridor was a bunch of empty buildings that have been empty for 10,000… or 10,000 years, for 10 years or so. So I mean it makes a huge economic impact. So we’re really excited about Vegas.

Matthew: As far as requirements go, is it… what requirements are going to be in place for testing in say Vegas or perhaps Oregon or is that still kind of unknown. Like hey THC concentration, pesticides or we don’t know.

Genifer: So they’re funneling AHP, the American Herbal Pharmacopeia. Connecticut is, Nevada is, Illinois is, Washington is. I’m not sure about Oregon, but most of these states, you know, when they’re creating legislation, they don’t know. They don’t understand. They need help and you know, since the monograph is already done, states can understand that. They understand it’s a third party, right. It’s not me telling them. It’s the American Herbal Pharmacopeia that has a ton of monographs for a ton of botanicals. So it’s really been catching on, and I believe that most of the labs are, you know, think it’s a good starting place.

Matthew: And what’s on the horizon for 2015?

Genifer: Whew. So literally it’s like a whirlwind. So you know in the marijuana industry it’s like dog years. So as I’ve only been in 4 ½ years it’s really been 28 ½ years, you know.

Matthew: Yeah you’re an industry veteran. I mean 2010 is that when you started. It’s like that’s really a long time in this industry.

Genifer: It is a long time, but Jill, my compliance director, I mean she started in 2008. So there’s some people that have been doing it a lot longer than I have. But 2015 will be definitely opening we hope first quarter, if not second quarter, you know, we’re going to be opening in Nevada, and then we have a lot of other amazing announcements coming up very soon, but of course I’m a publically traded company so I can’t share those until those are common, until those are public knowledge.

Matthew: Sure.

Genifer: But anybody that would like to look at our ticker symbol you can always go to our website www.cannlabs.com and click on investor, but our symbol is CANL.

Matthew: And could you give out your website Genifer.

Genifer: Sure yeah. It’s www.cannlabs.com.

Matthew: Well this was very informative for me Genifer. I could geek out all day and listen to you talk about this stuff.

Genifer: I appreciate that, and I’m a total science nerd. I love science, and we learn something new, I’m not kidding, every day here. It’s pretty fascinating.

Matthew: Well that’s great. Well thank you so much for being on CannaInsider. We really appreciate it.

Genifer: Well thank you so much for having me Matt.

Matthew: If you enjoyed the show today, please consider leaving us a review on iTunes. Every five star review helps us to bring the best guests to you. Learn more at www.cannainsider.com/itunes. What are the five disruptive trends that will shape the cannabis industry in the next five years? Find out with your free report at www.cannainsider.com/trends. That's www.cannainsider.com/trends. Have a suggestion for an awesome guest on www.cannainsider.com, email us feedback@cannainsider.com. We would love to hear from you.

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  • Bruce Rosenblatt

    Another great interview Matthew, thank you!

  • http://www.cannainsider.com/ Matthew Kind

    Thanks Bruce!