In California, regulations are now in place to ensure producers are offering safe and consistent cannabis products to consumers. This includes potency testing—an analytical test performed in state-licensed labs to determine cannabinoid concentrations. Here’s why potency testing is important for the cannabis industry and how testing labs analyze cannabis potency.

Cannabinoid Profiling and Potency

Cannabinoids are perhaps the most important component in cannabis. That’s because these molecules are responsible for the plant’s primary psychoactive and therapeutic effects.

Product labels in California only report the concentrations of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD), the most prominent cannabinoids. However, researchers have identified over 100 chemically distinct cannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant. Some of the other common cannabinoids include:

  • Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA)
  • Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV)
  • Cannabidiolic acid (CBDA)
  • Cannabidivarin (CBDV)
  • Cannabinol (CBN)

Potency testing has clear benefits for the legal cannabis industry. It can tell us which cannabinoids are present in a given strain and at what levels. This information is particularly important for consumers who may be looking for different effects. For example, a strain with high levels of THC will give very different effects than a strain with low levels of THC and high levels of CBD. With required potency testing, consumers know what to expect with every product they buy, whether its cannabis flower, an edible, or an extract.

But the benefits aren’t all on the consumer side of the industry. Cannabis producers have something to gain as well. Potency testing provides useful information to help producers refine their breeding, growing, and harvesting strategies in a data-driven manner.

The Testing Method: HPLC

There are two main methods that cannabis labs use to test for potency: gas chromatography and liquid chromatography. These are both useful methods for separating and quantifying small compounds, but there are some key differences.

As the name suggests, gas chromatography (GC) uses gas to carry the sample through the instrument for separation and detection. Gas chromatography instruments tend to be cheaper and therefore more accessible.

However, many cannabis testing labs prefer high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). HPLC relies on a liquid medium to carry the sample through the instrument for separation and detection. Unlike GC, HPLC can detect THCA and CBDA. THCA and CBDA are precursors to THC and CBD respectively and may have therapeutic properties of their own.

Conclusion

Potency testing helps keep consumers informed and gives cannabis growers valuable data about their strains. With the ability to detect the acid forms of both THC and CBD, HPLC offers a highly sensitive method for determining potency.

At Encore Labs, we use HPLC to test for potency to give you a detailed cannabinoid profile for all of your products. Contact us today for more information.