Can the ingredients in your edible formulations interfere with your potency results? A 2020 study for the first time explores how chocolate can impact the detection of cannabinoid analytes during potency testing.

Testing Challenges in a New Industry

In the last decade, laws governing the use of cannabis have shifted dramatically in the United States. 14 states have legalized recreational cannabis with leaders in New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New Mexico also calling for legalization in their states.

One downside of this state-by-state approach is the relatively disconnected patchwork of regulations and quality standards that exist across the country. Each state relies on its own network of licensed, third-party cannabis testing laboratories to analyze and evaluate whether products are safe for consumption. And while third-party testing is common, there’s a general lack of standardization across the industry.

After legalizing cannabis for recreational use, California enacted rigorous testing guidelines for cannabis products sold legally in the state. Potency is the only testing metric that must be labelled on product packaging for customers to see. While all testing parameters are vital from a safety standpoint, potency labels are important for providing accurate dosing information and ensuring a positive experience for consumers.

The Trouble With Chocolate

To ensure potency labels are accurate, testing labs must develop precise analytical methods. This already demanding task is complicated by the constantly growing array of cannabis-infused products on the market with no industry-specific, standardized methods to refer to.

Edibles, which contain a long list of ingredients aside from cannabis, can be especially challenging from a testing perspective. That’s because unlike cannabis flower and extract, they contain a varied matrix of ingredients. In food science, a food matrix refers to an edible item’s mixture of constituent molecules and how they interact with one another.

Chocolate, a commonly used ingredient in cannabis edibles, presents a particularly complex food matrix rich in fat, sugars, and more than 70 naturally occurring organic flavoring compounds. This complex mix of compounds has been shown to interfere with the detection of allergens from peanuts, eggs, and dairy in a phenomena known as matrix interference.

Quantifying Chocolate Matrix Interference

Researchers decided to quantify how different levels of chocolate can affect cannabinoid detection. They used stock solutions with known concentrations of THC, CBD, CBN, and CBG. The cannabinoids were combined with varying amounts of either milk chocolate, dark chocolate, or cocoa powder and analyzed using HPLC separation, a standard technique for cannabinoid detection.

The researchers found a clear matrix interference effect. The presence of chocolate consistently caused their testing protocol to underreport the concentration of cannabinoid in each sample. This effect was proportional to the amount of chocolate added to the cannabinoid stock solutions.

Interestingly, the interfering effect was stronger for cannabinoids with certain structural features. For example, cannabinoids with fewer phenol-associated OH groups such as THC and CBN showed greater signal reduction.

Implications for the Industry

The researchers speculate that the interference effect is caused primarily by lipophilic interactions between the fat-soluble cannabinoid compounds and the fat content present in the chocolate. Dark and milk chocolate with 42% fat content consistently demonstrated a greater interfering effect than cacao powder with just 25% fat content.

This is an important finding to take into consideration when testing other high-fat edible products for cannabinoid potency. While more research will be needed, the data represent an important first step in establishing a broader knowledge base for cannabis businesses and testing labs.

In the food, agricultural, and pharmaceutical industries, matrix interference effects on analyte detection are well-studied and have helped establish precise testing methods. Further analysis in this area can similarly help strengthen the analytical methods used in the cannabis industry.

Encore Labs is an ISO-accredited California cannabis testing lab. In addition to cannabinoid potency testing, we offer microbiological screening, pesticide screening, terpene analysis, infused-product formulation charts, and more. Contact us today to learn how you can begin your full service cannabis testing experience.