Pesticide testing workflow for cannabis and hemp products

insights from industryDr. Toby AstillGlobal Marketing ManagerPerkinElmer

In this interview, Dr. Toby Astill, the Global Marketing Manager for cannabis and hemp at PerkinElmer, talks to AZoLifeSciences about pesticide testing workflow for cannabis and hemp products.

Please could you start by introducing yourself and your role at PerkinElmer?

My name is Dr. Toby Astill, and I am the Global Marketing Manager for cannabis and hemp at PerkinElmer. I have a Ph.D. in Chemistry and have spent the past 15 years working in science, technology and business roles for leading technology companies.

For the last 11 years, I have worked for PerkinElmer in locations across the West Coast of Canada and the U.S.

My role is very much about driving PerkinElmer’s global cannabis and hemp business, including, but not limited to, new product development, market and industry research, collaboration agreements with customers, application content development and marketing initiatives.

How important is pesticide testing to the quality and commercialization of cannabis and hemp products?

Cannabis and hemp are unique materials in terms of their analysis and testing. It is a highly heterogeneous plant, and the products that are produced from its oil can also be very diverse. Cannabinoids, waxes and terpenes are the main organic constituents, but pesticides and contaminants can also be present due to the plant’s growing conditions.

Image Credit: ShutterStock/Parilov

Data available from the California Bureau of Cannabis Control shows that in late last year, one of the highest failure categories of cannabis products was pesticide testing fails. This is an important detail, as we recognize that the consumer needs to be sure they are receiving a quality, safe product.

Therefore, our goal has been to empower cannabis and hemp testing labs with sound methodology, allowing them to test for pesticides in a timely manner.

It is also important to note that hemp labs are adopting cannabis pesticide methods for their products, even though this is not strictly required by the state.

Recent press has shown that a number of the CBD products in California failed when tested in a similar manner, highlighting the importance of pesticide testing when it comes to controlling product throughput and ensuring quality.

What does a typical pesticide testing workflow for cannabis and hemp products look like, and where are the potential weaknesses?

Proper workflow design is key because these are areas in the sample preparation and processing stages where data accuracy can be influenced.

There are a number of points at which an experimental and/or user error can be introduced, including handling the cannabis sample, preparing the calibration standards, homogenizing, and during the dilutions, sample preparation and liquid handling steps.

We know that every human is going to perform this same task slightly differently, and we have focused on developing a product that we believe improves this workflow by not only reducing the time but also improving the data quality.

Many states and countries have very comprehensive pesticide testing requirements, with California, for example, requiring testing for up to 66 pesticides and five mycotoxins.

This means that the lab needs to source all the right testing supplies in a timely manner, typically involving liaising with multiple providers. Sometimes, a provider for the pesticide and mycotoxin standard is needed in addition to the internal standard supplier and often a separate consumable supplier.

Once all these materials are stored, they must be handled independently and prepared for the final calibration curve. This involves a number of bench-level steps, such as dilution mixing and quality control preparation. This takes time - on average, several hours a week.

How has PerkinElmer been working to help streamline and improve throughput in these testing workflows?

We are committed to solving this problem, and I have spent the past 12 months listening to feedback from the market, speaking to cannabis labs and hemp labs and working with our R&D development teams.

We are excited to be able to offer ONE Pesticide 420 CRM Reagent and Consumable Kit, which we feel is unique in the marketplace. We recognized that to be viable for the cannabis market, a pesticide and mycotoxin kit was needed to facilitate testing in a highly regulated manner.

This means that the kit would need to have the same accreditations and approvals as any other reagent. Looking at the market, we saw the need for ISO 17034, and we took it upon ourselves to develop manufacturing protocols to allow our products to carry the ISO 17034 certificate.

We also ensured that the kit met a range of state-level requirements for cannabis testing - California in particular, due to its detailed requirements around quality control and consistency.

For example, the kit includes a second lot number for the ICV quality, meaning that there are two sets of the same reagents available with two different lot numbers in order to meet California-specific compliance requirements. Ultimately, this makes the kit a one-stop-shop and improves the pesticide testing workflow.

We have also included eight calibrants that are pre-formatted, added in mixtures of the 77 pesticides, and a higher concentration standard (the LCS) which can be diluted to make other concentrations if needed.

This comprehensive kit allows the lab to work with a single supplier and source for all of their pesticide and mycotoxin standard needs. The first version of the kit includes 77 pesticides and five mycotoxins, making it suitable for the testing standards of California, Oregon and a multitude of other states.

It can accommodate the widespread CBD pesticide testing requirements we now see across the U.S. The kit also includes the common hardware needed to prepare the samples.

Could you provide an example of a pesticide testing workflow using the ONE 420 CRM kit?

With this kit, a researcher or analyst is able to go to the freezer and pull out the exact standard required, ready-to-use for their analytical workflow. The standard should be left to reach room temperature on the bench before pipetting the appropriate amount into an HPLC vial. There is no need for dilution, mixing or weighing.

As a procurement team only has to deal with one part number and one team, they can easily process and manage inventory.

It is important to note that this is an instrument and technique agnostic kit. These pesticide standards and mycotoxin standards can be used on any mass spectrometer, meaning that if a lab has a method for a specific pesticide already, it can be transitioned to this new kit with ease.

Laboratories are currently using these kits on an LC-MS/MS with APCI and ESI, as well as with an LC-MS/ESI and a GC-MS/MS/ESI. We would advise users to consult with their hardware manufacturer for more information.

Where do the kit’s internal standards and consumables fit into the overall pesticide testing workflow?

We saw some laboratories facing challenges around the ability to handle very difficult cannabis and hemp matrices. Our findings have shown that the use of internal standards is the best approach, so our kit includes 30 deuterated internal standards.

These standards allow users to spike their samples to account for that matrix interference.

We know that when we sample and test cannabinoid extracts, the cannabinoid signal suppresses the pesticide signal. These 30 deuterated internal standards allow us to compensate for that and accurately report the pesticide residue concentration.

The ONE 420 CRM kit includes a collection of common laboratory LC-MS consumables, making this a go-to consumable kit for virtually all user sample preparation needs. The PerkinElmer LC-MS/MS method does not require any catches or SPE cleanup; hence these are not included in the kit.

We have created this kit to include enough consumables and standards to run approximately 500 samples, including enough consumables to account for quality control samples. Most of the labs using this kit are running between 500 and 1,000 samples every one or two months, and we see many repeat purchases.

What impact does the ONE 420 CRM kit have on analytical throughput? Can you provide any example use cases of this?

Our research showed that, on average, labs were taking over 19 minutes a day to prepare their quality control and calibration curve standards. This is valuable time, especially as we know that the throughput demands of cannabis and hemp labs are ever-increasing to meet consumer demand.

The ONE Pesticide 420 Kit reduces this preparation time down to a matter of minutes, with labs being able to take the kit out of the freezer, let it come to room temperature and inject it onto their instrument in around 5 minutes.

This alone offers significant time savings in the laboratory, in addition to time savings on the procurement and handling steps.

Combined together, we believe this is going to offer one of the most streamlined workflow solutions in the cannabis testing market.

How can our readers find out more about the ONE Pesticide 420 CRM kit?

We are excited to work with any labs looking to improve or streamline their cannabis testing workflows, and we would love to have a conversation with anyone interested via our new Virtual Environment Technology Center.

This is a virtual environment where visitors can virtually pick up the reagents, look at the instruments and weigh the cannabis, all from the comfort of their home or office.

I would encourage anyone interested in learning more to follow us on social media. We have cannabis-specific social media channels across LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram, and readers can tag us to show us their work or highlight anything they would like us to amplify in the industry for education purposes.

About Dr. Toby Astil

Dr. Toby Astill is PerkinElmer’s Global Market Manager for Cannabis & Hemp. Dr. Astill has a Ph.D. in Chemistry and has spent the last 10 years working in Science, Technology and Business Roles for leading technology companies.

For the last 9 years he has worked for PerkinElmer, based in locations across the West Coast of Canada & US. Dr. Astill is now focused on driving PerkinElmer's global cannabis and hemp initiatives; including but not limited to new product development, market & industry research, collaboration agreements with customers, application content development and field marketing initiatives.

About PerkinElmer Cannabis & Hemp Testing Solutions

With the cannabis and hemp markets continuing to grow rapidly and regulations strengthening, labs increasingly need streamlined access to best-in-class testing solutions geared toward the unique requirements of the industry. Whether your lab is well established or just starting up, PerkinElmer is a single-source vendor for instruments, methods, reagents, and consumables on hand to help enhance your testing capacity and get ahead of the competition.

PerkinElmer help drive analytical best practices and operating procedures and commit to ensuring your laboratory has maximum uptime. Learn about their various instruments, testing methods, and applications for cannabis analyses. Let them work with you to build an efficient workflow, so you can focus on growing your business.


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