Field Testing Hemp Flower for CBD & THC
Hemp Analysis – It’s All About Testing
A word to the wise is sufficient; learn your state’s regulating agency hemp testing protocols. Buying feminized hemp seeds with low THC may be the first step in growing CBD strains, but when the rubber hits the road, your testing procedures have to match those of the state agency that licensed your business. Otherwise, you might be thinking everything is great when it’s not. In the end, it doesn’t matter what the ‘real’ levels of THC are in your hemp flower either, it only matters what your state’s testing lab says they are.
The laws written by legislatures don’t typically spell out testing protocols determining THC levels for industrial hemp. In Colorado, the Director of the Colorado Department of Agriculture writes the specific rules for potency testing. It includes what parts of the plant to sample, how the sample is packaged, who takes the sample, what clothes have to be worn when taking a sample, controls on the chain of custody, what level of desiccation is required, what kind of machine will test it and at what settings and calibration levels, and many more hemp analysis procedures, processes and rules. This extremely complicated process is begrudgingly revealed by these authorities but it is our right to know precisely how we are being tested, and is critical to a grower’s success. Before you ever begin growing, ensure you do your research and go through the pre-flower hemp cultivation information to ensure optimal results.
Part of the hemp testing process takes place in the field, the other part in the lab. It’s the grower’s job to replicate both; first with proper sampling procedures, second by working closely with a testing lab that operates at the quality standards of your state agency’s testing lab, which will typically be very high.
There are many factors to consider setting up a sampling process for hemp analysis so the test results will closely mimic if not duplicate the test results of your regulating agency.
What parts and sections of the plant will be cut for the test batch? How many different plants should be part of the test batch for a strain? Is the sample ground or chopped up? What percentage of water by weight is mandated for a test batch?
Finding a good testing lab, with scientists that know what they are doing, was difficult in Colorado, even though many licensed labs have been operating for years. Understanding what services a testing lab offers and how it operates involves subtleties and nuances, so learn as much as possible.
Hemp Testing in Colorado
For example, in Colorado the Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) has required the labs it certifies for testing operate machines that use a ‘cold’ process, which leaves all the acidic forms of the cannabinoids tested intact. When Colorado hemp growers test their own hemp, they are required to use these MED certified labs for their hemp analysis. Test results report the percentages of both Delta9 THC and THCa, as well as CBD and CBDa and so on.
The problem is, the Colorado Department of Agriculture tests our crops with a machine that uses a ‘hot’ process. The problem with that is the testing process itself converts the THCa and CBDa into Delta9 THC and CBD. Most are familiar with the process called decarboxylation, whereby the acidic forms of cannabinoids are converted to their stable forms by heating, which releases carbon atoms in the form of CO2. Problem with that is that the government’s machine converts THCa into Delta9 THC with an inefficient process, how much THCa it converts in your sample to Delta9 THC is anyone’s guess. No kidding. That level of Delta9 THC of course determines pass or fail.
The hemp analysis lab we use in Colorado calculates the amount of THCa that would convert to Delta9 THC if the decarboxylation process were perfect (.877) and reports a total THC level that should theoretically be above what the government could actually test. We can gauge our risk accordingly. This is only one example of the many complexities involved in testing.
Testing should be done early and often. Please start hemp testing in week one of flower. Then test at least every week subsequent. More data, better decisions. Your hemp field layout also affects the testing process. A twenty acre field planted with four strains can be cannabinoid profile tested in Colorado for around $150. As the THC levels rise, test with more frequency, twice a week. This part of the hemp analysis process is more common sense than anything. I will tell you, don’t risk your crop for the price of a test, you may come to regret it.
Our experts at Cheyenne Mountain Seed Company suggest you keep the hemp testing program organized and on a tight schedule, really it’s the most important thing. Besides the economic disaster, a failed test would put your license in ‘trouble’ with the regulating authorities. That’s the last thing anyone wants, you or the regulators. In my experience, the field agents aren’t out to hurt people. Learn the rules for analyzing hemp and follow them, it keeps everyone out of trouble. Compared to the regulations in the medical or recreational marijuana business, its the difference between a pebble and a boulder. Licensed hemp growing can be really easy and super profitable if you follow these procedures to stay compliant.