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Testing & Processing Potency testing, Pesticide analysis, Terpene & residual solvent analysis, Cannabinoid analysis

The (Analytical) Problem With “Cannabeverages”

What trends are you seeing in cannabis beverage analysis? 

In US states where cannabis is legal for recreational use, beverages make up around 15 percent of cannabis products – and the market is growing. It attracts everyone from the largest beverage brands to smaller niche players. So it’s not surprising that there is an increasing interest in cannabinoid-containing beverage testing and analysis technologies, particularly from contract labs.

What regulations apply to these beverages? 

In the USA, regulations, and standards for cannabis beverages are defined by the local state regulations and standards for cannabis testing. There is no separate category for beverages at the present time; however, the FDA is constantly reviewing regulations, particularly those around CBD. 

Stability is a big challenge for cannabis beverages, as cannabinoids are not soluble in water.

Meanwhile, Canadian beverages and edibles producers are working to comply with Health Canada’s three-month stability test requirements for these products. We expect that cannabis and cannabinoid-containing beverage regulations will continue to evolve as the market does.

What analytical challenges are specific to beverages?

Cannabis- and hemp-infused beverages present unique analytical challenges given the already complex matrices of cannabis and hemp testing, plus stability concerns with liquids. Add in the wide range of hot, cold, carbonated, brewed, or non-brewed beverages and the analytical picture becomes even more complicated. 

For instance, with cannabinoid-infused hot drinks, the brewing process may not transfer all cannabinoids from the infused products (e.g., teabags) into the hot water, resulting in significant discrepancies in cannabinoid concentration compared with the label claim. Likewise, carbonation has been shown to impact both potency and stability.

In general, stability is a big challenge for cannabis beverages, as cannabinoids are not soluble in water. Therefore, you need to use a surfactant, emulsion, or “nano” formulation to get a stable product. 

Large sample volumes (300–750 ml) are also required in cannabis beverage testing and analysis so there are more preparation steps required in the lab.

How can these challenges be overcome?

The industry needs powerful yet easy-to-use analytical technologies, as well as validated methodologies and optimized workflows. 

For example, to produce a drink that matches the labeled potency of THC or CBD, high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) is typically used to conduct accurate cannabinoid measurements.

To test for pesticide residues, many processors are leveraging liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS.) Given its high selectivity and sensitivity, as well as the ability to separate complex matrices, LC-MS/MS allows the rapid and complete identification of pesticides and mycotoxins at extremely low concentrations.

It is also important to employ robust and accurate analytical methods and technologies for the determination of harmful contaminants in beverage products. Here, headspace gas chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry (GC-MS) for residual solvent analysis, inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) for heavy metal quantitation, and LC-MS/MS for mycotoxin (and the aforementioned pesticides) analysis are often used.

To help align the flavor of beverage products with quality expectations, GC-MS with headspace sampling can be used to identify a large range of terpenes. An olfactory port accessory configured with the GC-MS can evaluate separated compounds in cannabinoid beverage products. By capturing and correlating human sensory data with analytical data, you can obtain a complete aroma characterization. 

What’s your advice to anyone launching a new cannabis beverage?

Seek out testing and analytical solution providers who have proven expertise in cannabis and hemp testing and are plugged into the complex and ever-changing regulatory landscape both at the state and federal level. 

Pay particular attention to the stability of your products and conduct long-term studies and testing. When companies try to bring new products to market (too) quickly, these long-term stability studies can sometimes be overlooked. However, instability can strongly impact a products’ potency over time and lead to inaccurate label claims. Plus, without stability studies, manufacturers have no way of ensuring that products will meet quality requirements once they are in the hands of consumers.

View our infographic on cannabis beverage trends - click here

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