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“To such an extent does nature delight and abound in variety that among her trees there is not one plant to be found which is exactly like another; and not only among the plants, but among the boughs, the leaves and the fruits, you will not find one which is exactly similar to another.”

- Leonardo da Vinci

HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE TO GET MY RESULTS, and how do I view them?

Our turnaround time for full results entry is 3-4 days from receipt in the lab. For example, if a sample is received on a Monday, traceability results will be entered at the end of business day Thursday, or end of business day Friday. You will receive a notification by email when full results are available at the web site AND in the traceability system. Some results, especially potency results, will be uploaded to our website faster than that

Cannabinoid profiles, terpene profiles, and residual solvents data are typically uploaded to the website within 24-48 hours of receiving your sample(s) in the lab. Microbial data takes additional time and can be expected within 3-4 days of sample receipt. If a pesticide test has been ordered, expect results within 7-10 days. Return times vary for other specialized tests or for custom consulting.

HOW DO I VIEW MY RESULTS on your website?

As test data becomes available from the lab and is moved through QA and approval, it is uploaded to a secure client portal for your company at the Confidence Analytics website. If you don’t already have a login for the client portal, one can be created here:

http://client.conflabs.com/register.php

The login must be activated before it can be used. After choosing a username and password, contact the office by phone or by email in order to activate your login:

(206) 743-8843

info@conflabs.com

Once your login has been activated, you may log into the website at any time to view all available results for your company. Test certificates are also accessed inside your client portal and can be printed or downloaded in PDF form.

I see my results on the website, but my lot does not show QA completed in the state traceability system.

There are a variety of possible reasons for this. If for some reason the steps below do not work, you will need to contact BioTrack. You can open a support ticket with BioTrack here: BioTrack THC Helpdesk.

  • Daily BioTrack entry has not yet been performed – While testing data is uploaded to the client portal throughout the day, results upload to traceability typically occurs toward the end of the business day. Customer notification emails are sent only after results have been entered in traceability. If you have not received an email notification, it is likely your results are not yet available in traceability. Attempt to retrieve results after receiving your notification email.
  • Tests have not been paid for, or invoices for previous tests have not been paid – If you have overlooked payment for tests that were ordered, please call the office to arrange payment over the phone. The best way to ensure timely delivery of test results is to provide payment for testing with your samples at the time of pick up or drop off. If you have contracted for 30-day billing, please ensure all invoices are paid within 30 days. Late payments will delay results entry. 30-day billing terms may also be revoked for late payment.
  • All tests have not been completed – Potency data will generally appear at the website a day ahead of microbial data. State software does not allow for partial results upload, so potency cannot be entered until all required tests (microbial, residual solvents, etc) have been completed.
  • Software has not fully synced with traceability – If you have received a notification that your tests are complete, but still are not able to see your results in the state system, you may need to refresh or resync your connection to state traceability. If using BioTrack, try the “Retrieve Results” function. This is accessed at the Quality Assurance tab in your BioTrack screen.
  • PLEASE NOTE: When attempting to retrieve results, the date range fields must be adjusted to capture the date the QA sample was created in traceability. Page 74 of the BioTrack manual details the use of the “Retrieve Results” function in BioTrack (scroll to the end of the document):
  • There is more than one QA sample pending for the lot – If you have retrieved a result for the lot, but the lot still does not show QA complete, check to be sure there are no other electronic samples pending for the same lot. If one or more QA samples were made in error, simply void the duplicate sample(s).
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what do i do if my lot fails, and how can I prevent that from happening?

When a lot fails, there are usually remediation strategies that can salvage some or all of the value of the material. Depending on the nature of the failure and the type of product, often a failed result can be retested to pass after appropriate treatment and precaution.

Usually, the cause of the failure is systemic within the production/processing facility, and with some critical thought and investigation can be identified and eliminated. Failure rates are different between different manufacturers, and those rates are controlled by underlying factors related to growing environment, handling, and storage.

It is very important that you consult with your lab about the best ways to avoid failures. Every business is different, and if your business experiences failures for any reason, you should ask your lab to help you plan the most effective remediation strategy and -- more importantly -- identify the root of the problem and eliminate or mitigate in future production.

What are the reasons for failing lots?

Lots may fail for a variety of reasons depending on the type of product and process used to make it. The state has determined -- based on recommendations from various advisory groups -- that certain contaminants in marijuana should be limited for public health reasons. These are common concerns for any botanical product intended for human consumption.

The following are reasons why lots might fail the QA screening test:

MOISTURE (Flower)

Fails if >15% moisture by weight

Failed lots for moisture are always granted retests after drying. We highly advise that you check your marijuana flowers regularly for moisture content. The amount of water present in the flower influences the microbial activity, the risk for spoilage, and the shelf-life of the flower. Moisture content also plays a vital role in the general quality of the final product, its shelf appeal, smell characteristics, and grindability/ burnability. The terpene profile is more accentuated in a properly cured flower, and the drying rate influences terpene retention in the plant tissue.

The age-old technique of squeezing the bud and bending the stem to gauge moisture content is effective. Buds above 15% moisture are spongy and their stems do not easily snap when bent. While flowers cannot fail for too little moisture, an overly dry flower lacks aromatic appeal, burns too quickly and unevenly, and generally has an inferior effect. Overly dry flowers will crumble when they are squeezed and easily lose trichomes when shaken or knocked.

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MICROBIAL (Flower/Trim/Edibles/some concentrates)

Total Aerobic Bacteria: 100,000 cfu/g
Fungal (Yeast & Mold): 10,000 cfu/g
Bile Tolerant Gram Negative: 1,000 cfu/g
Coliforms: 1,000 cfu/g
Salmonella: Not Detected
E Coli: Not Detected

Failed lots for microbial are automatically granted a retest if the aerobic, bile tolerant/ gram negative, or coliform values are less than 2x the limit and the fungal value is less than 5x the limit.

Before sending a new sample for retest, feel free to contact us for tips about prevention and/or treatment of microbial contamination. We have reviewed a peroxide wash method that can effectively reduce the microbial bioburden on your plant material, and we are happy to share the details of this with you. We are also happy to consult with you about grow conditions and product handling to troubleshoot any microbial problems you might be experiencing and to prevent contamination in the future.

In general, solvent-based concentrates do not fail for microbial. This is because the solvents used are steralizing. Natural hashes like kief, bubblehash, and -- to a lesser extent -- rosin do fail for microbial. These failures are best avoided by starting with clean flower, drying the final product quickly, and keeping the final product dry.

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RESIDUAL SOLVENTS (Solvent-Based Extracts)

Fails if >500 ppm

Failures for residual solvents are typically granted retest permission except in extreme cases of solvent misuse.

Possible reasons for failing residual with well-maintained equipment:

  • The 3-dimensional shape and viscosity of a product affect how well and how quickly it can purge. A product with consistency typically termed "honeycomb wax" (which has very high surface area per gram) will purge relatively quickly. In contrast, products with consistency like "shatter" or "sugar wax" (which have much less surface area per gram) will require a little more aggressive purge program: a little more heat, deeper vacuum, or more time.
  • Variance between batches can affect outcomes as well. Even two runs from the same harvest on different days can produce different results as far as the precise chemical make-up of the extract. This can be caused by differences in starting material or differences in other variables such as temperature, pressure, solvent makeup, steep time, etc. We do not test for every compound in the extract, and picking up more or different impurities can affect product viscosity – which in turn affects behavior during purge. Moisture level and terpene content can also affect impurity makeup and purge time, as both terpenes and water can act as co-solvents. Even the physical structure of the buds, and how they are physically packed into the extraction chamber, can affect the outcome of the run. No two extraction runs are identical, but we can help you mitigate the variability in your extraction process - resulting in a more consistent product.
  • Even the most refined and consistent extraction and purge protocol cannot account for minor differences between batches of naturally variable product. A skilled oil maker is aware of these nuances, and adjusts protocol slightly to meet the needs of the starting material. Some protocols are inherently more robust than others, but the key message here is that there are more variables in extraction than first meet the eye. Many of these nuances are trade secrets, and so it is up to you to discover what extraction technique works best for you. As always, your lab is here to help.
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Pesticides (all product types)

Pesticide burden is a relatively new topic in cannabis testing. At Confidence Analytics, we operate an LC-MS/MS instrument to measure pesticide levels. The LC-MS/MS is designed specifically to look for very low levels of many compounds in a short amount of time. We've found that pesticides occur at trace levels on most samples submitted for pesticide testing, but relatively few samples have alarming amounts of pesticides present.

There are generally three ways pesticides can wind up on a cannabis plant.

  1. Obviously there is direct application, which in most cases is a very bad idea; direct application would result in levels far exceeding the action levels enforced by the state. Our current record is over 200 ppm of Pyrethrin I. Direct application of pesticides during the early vegetative period will retain lower levels than if applied during late flower, but any direct application is likely to cause a failing result.
  2. Next, there is indirect exposure where plants are grown in a space that once had pesticides directly applied – bug bombs, preventative spraying, etc. Indirect exposure usually results in levels that hover around the action level enforced by the state. Most often, we see quantities in the 0.1 to 0.5 ppm range from this.
  3. Finally, there is incidental exposure. This is most common for outdoor crops grown in areas near other agricultural operations. Wind-blown pesticide dust can slowly accumulate on your plants without your knowledge. Fortunately, incidental exposure results in very low to trace levels of pesticide residue well below the action level, and most people do not consider it a hazard to human health. In about one third to half of samples, we see less than 5 ppb (0.005 ppm) of pesticides that are more commonly used on apples, cherries, peaches, grapes, and many of the other crops grown commercially in Washington.

The current list for pesticide action levels is here. Several of these listed compounds are found in natural products – specifically Pyrethrins (found in some species of Chrysanthemum), and Abamectin and Spinosad (derived from the natural fermentation of different species of bacteria). The most common pesticide compound we see isn't technically a pesticide, but a potentiating agent that increases the insect toxicity of certain classes of pesticides – piperonyl butoxide.

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How do I prevent failing lots?

As far as our scientists can tell, all failures in this industry are preventable. Depending on the situation, it may be difficult to identify the cause of the failure, and fixing the problem may be costly. It is our experience that failures are not random, they are a result of the process and the environment in which it takes place.

MOISTURE (Flower)

It definitely does not pay to send overly moist material to the lab. Despite pressures to get flower to market as quickly as possible, your QA sample should represent the fully cured product you are bringing to market.

If you are unsure about the moisture content of your flowers, an inexpensive moisture meter can be helpful for taking estimations during cure. While not terribly accurate, moisture meters available at construction or home improvement stores will suffice for this purpose. Make sure to test a variety of bud sizes and structures to get a good idea of average moisture across your lot. To get a good reading, insert the meter probes into the innermost portions of the buds. Caution is advised if the moisture reading is greater than 12%. Many producers/processors aim for the 3-6% moisture range.

The approval and retest process for a moisture failure is certainly more disruptive than simply allowing your product time to cure before sending it out for QA.

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MICROBIAL (Flower/Trim/Edibles)

When samples are failing, it’s usually caused by a systemic problem in the facility of production or processing. In our database, microbial values are highly correlated with producer name, indicating that different marijuana production and processing facilities have different average levels of contamination and therefore different probabilities of failure. Some growers never fail… they never even come close to failing. Others struggle with it repeatedly.

In our experience, outdoor grows do not experience an elevated risk of microbiological contamination compared to indoor grows except when livestock are kept on the property or on an adjacent property, or when severe dust storms are experiences. Driving wheeled vehicles near the plants can also cause contamination from soil dust.

As a general rule, contamination is most often occurring after harvesting in the curing and trimming stages, which typically happens indoors regardless of growing conditions. Sometimes outdoor grows experience fungal failures due to prolonged rain, moisture, or dust, but indoor grows can be similarly burdened by mold contamination on walls or on floors when conditions get too wet. Indoor grows can also experience failures due to kicked-up particulates when soil or waste piles or dirty surfaces are agitated.

Below is a breakdown of common causes of microbiological contamination:

Total Aerobic Bacteria. It is rare for a sample to fail on total aerobic without also failing for one of the other microbiological categories. If it happens to you, talk to your lab about it. Such a result deserves attention, and it is very possible that the cause is obvious (often a foliar spray), and that remediation and abatement will be easy. Total Aerobic Bacteria refers to a count of all bacteria present on the sample that can grow on an agar media.

Total Fungal (yeast and mold). Fungal failures typically come from an airborne exposure. Fungal spores can travel great distances through the air and can live for long periods of time in a dormant state. Outdoors, fungal failures often come from dust on windy days, though this exposure is typically not that severe. Indoors, a fungal contamination is usually coming from the building itself. We’ve seen it on walls, inside walls, in crawl spaces, on dehumidifiers, on air-conditioning units. Fungal bodies on any of these surfaces can put out spores into the air and blanket your crops. Be on the lookout for standing water and condensation. Anyplace that is continuously wet can be a source. Even the soil. It is wise to let the top of your soil dry before watering again but that depends on drainage and vapor pressure deficit.

Enterobacteria (bile-tolerant gram-negative and coliform bacteria). This is the most common cause of microbiological failure in this industry. These failures are the most elusive and the most dangerous to consumers. Enterobacteria are bacteria that can live in an animals gut, and while many of them are harmless, some of them can be pathogenic to humans, even deadly. This group of organisms includes E coli and Salmonella spp. Contamination can come from soil, insects, or humans. Driving vehicles or heavy foot traffic can kick up dust onto the plants, and that soil dust almost certainly contains Enterobacteria. Insects can also lead to failure. Insects leave their droppings -- which contain Enterobacteria – wherever they go. Even predatory insects. Finally, human exposure can be cause for failure. Enterobacteria live in your mouth and other orifices and are usually present on our hands. Excess touching and smelling of the buds can often be the source of the exposure. Be mindful of products you apply to your plants that may contain enterobacteria. Guano based fertilizers, compost teas, and active microbial products on the PICOL list can cause failures as well. Remember that standing water (even water in a container) can develop micorbial contamination over time.

Be mindful of products you apply to your plants that may contain enterobacteria. Guano based fertilizers, compost teas, and active microbial products on the PICOL list can cause failures as well. Be consious also of any water you may be spraying on your platns, even if the water has no addatives. Water stored in a closed container can still culture microbes, and we've seen contamination coming from water storage, and from nozzles used to spray the water.

Microbial failure can be one of the more troubling and frustrating problems to troubleshoot. This is largely due to the wide variety of possible sources for contamination. The following practices should go a long way in preventing or remediating microbial failures:

  • Handling – Hygienic handling practices are of paramount importance. Every surface, tool, machine, container, and (hopefully gloved) hand that contacts your harvest should be clean and sanitized. Any employee experiencing allergies or illness should wear a mask to avoid contributing bacteria through coughing or sneezing.
  • Facility maintenance – Keeping a sanitary environment inside your facility can stop microbial problems before they get started. Ensure proper ventilation throughout the facility and consider installing a positive pressure system, especially if the environment outside your facility is likely to contribute microbes (for example, if there are animals present or the surroundings are prone to dust). Check and change air filters frequently. Dispose of trimmings and other wastes immediately, to avoid any buildup on floors. Avoid activities such as sweeping, which can stir up dust. Dust that settles on your plants or buds can harbor a significant load of microbes.
  • Treat pest infestations promptly. The bodies and droppings of insects and other pests can contribute significant microbial contamination. If you choose to use predatory insects to treat an infestation be aware that their dropping will also leave microbial residues behind and remediation to prevent failure such as washing your product prior to cure may be necessary.
  • Before use, consider the microbial content of fertilizers and other soil amendments, as well as any foliar sprays available. These products can be very beneficial to your plants, but can, unfortunately, elevate microbial counts beyond the current LCB limits, particularly guana, worm casing, and compost based products.
  • Consider washing your plants! Even with good practices, some amount of dust and debris is bound to settle over time. After cutting down a plant, submerge the plant in a clean basin or trough of water (or water/peroxide solution). Provide gentle agitation. Before bringing the plant back up, skim the scum of dust and debris from the surface of the water. You might be surprised how much has accumulated! After bringing the plant back up, make sure to dry it down with plenty of airflow. Here are those instructions in more detail:

    Ingredients:
    Hydrogen Peroxide 3%
    Water

    Technique:
    Mix at a ratio of 1 cup of H2O2 per 5 gallons of water. Make the mixture up in a tub large enough to submerge the material to be washed. Add the plant or buds to the bath and submerge for 3-5 minutes. With the plant matter still submerged, use a sponge to skim the "scum" off the top of the water to prevent it re-attaching to the buds when you take them out. After removal from the bath, hang or rack the plant material with plenty of airflow. The goal is to dry it down as quickly as possible without adding any heat.

    Notes:
    1. The best time to wash is just after harvest, as trichomes and other plant structures are pliable and less prone to damage.
    2. If washing dry/cured product, be as gentle as you can to prevent trichome loss. Please note with already dried product some browning/oxidation may occur. Uncured product should not experience significant browning/oxidation.
    3. Treat the process as a surgical operation, being sure employees are gloved up and all contact surfaces are cleaned (10% bleach/90% water solution for table tops, trays, fans, etc).
  • Try a longer Cure. Studies have shown that over time desiccated material left to cure will reduce in microbial burden. So a product that is fully dried and left to cure will have fewer and fewer microbial as time passes. With no water, microbial growth slows. Eventually many bacteria will die without water. Fungal spores are more resiliant to desiccated conditions.
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RESIDUAL SOLVENTS (Solvent-Based Extracts)

The following are considerations that may help you prevent failing for residual solvents:

  • Ensure you are purging completely by getting a residual solvent R&D test before submitting the full I-502 sample. The extra $40 is worth saving the headache of having to get LCB approval to re-purge and re-test the lot. You can always check your purge by sending in a quick sample. We can usually turn those results within one day.
  • Maintain your purge system effectively. Monitor the actual pressure inside your vacuum oven, instead of assuming that the system is operating as it should. Even a small air leak can result in a lot failure. Remember: vacuum gauges are typically unreliable when the needle is near the extremes of the graduations.
  • Consider producing the honeycomb wax consistency instead of the shatter or sugar consistency, as the much higher surface area of the foam (honeycomb wax) enables a faster and more thorough purge. Several processors that test with us routinely come in less than 10 ppm by using the honeycomb wax method.
  • Unless you have a vacuum oven with absolutely perfect seals (and none are perfect, so don't kid yourself), do not turn off the vacuum pump during purge to save pump life or energy. As a general rule: you're only purging when your pump is pumping. Also keep an eye on pump oil levels and condition of any pump seals that may fail.
  • Increasing the heat level won't necessarily decrease your purge time. Melting down the slab (as compared to allowing it to have bubbles) reduces it's surface area, slowing down purge. The more bubbles the slab can maintain, and the smaller those bubbles, the more efficient the purge will be. It is important to watch the slab/muffin, and make sure that each slab behaves as expected. Melting down too rapidly may cause more solvent retention.
  • Consider solventless extraction (traditional hashish, "rosin technique") or alternative solvents (CO2, ethanol).
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Pesticides (flower)

As with everything in agriculture and processing, there are things in your control and things that are out of your control.

If you've been in your indoor or greenhouse facility for a while and just recently started spot-checking yourself with a few pesticide tests, you may be alarmed to see pesticide levels approaching the action level – even if you've never personally applied pesticides anywhere in your facility. Since pesticides of many kinds are in use in many ways, consider the following routes of accidental contamination:

  • If you've purchased, leased, or rented used equipment for handling liquids, solids, or plants (foliar sprays, feed mixers, mechanical trimmers) be sure that this equipment has been thoroughly cleaned before use.
  • Some "natural" pesticide products actually contain one or more of the controlled pesticide compounds. The WSLCB periodically sends updates about products containing unapproved pesticides to producers/processors on their mailing list.
  • Temporary hired help may track in pesticide residue on their hands, shoes, or clothing. Be sure any hired help coming from other agricultural operations shower and change clothes and shoes before handling any cannabis for wholesale.
  • Even indoor facilities can be threatened by wind-blown incidental exposure. While unlikely, it is possible that incidental exposure can reach significant levels in the air outside your facility. To minimize this risk, ensure than any air drawn into the building is well-filtered on the way in, and that doors are left open for a short time. An extra door in an entry path can do a lot to minimize unfiltered air exchange with the outside.
  • If you have shared water rights and are irrigating your plants downstream from other agricultural facilities there may be pesticide residue in water from that source that hasn’t been further filtered or treated to remove any pesticide residue.
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Pesticides (solvent-based extracts)

The general rule-of-thumb for pesticides in concentrates is this: expect about a 10-fold increase in pesticide burden versus the flower used for extraction. Meaning that a flower lot tested at 200 ppb of piperonyl butoxide (PBO) will have an expected concentration of 2,000 ppb (or 2 ppm) of PBO in the extracted form. It is for this reason that we highly recommend that processors and producers submit samples for pesticide R&D prior to the LCB requiring it. Staying ahead of the curve will save you money and time in the long run.

First and foremost is prevention: avoid using pesticide-laden flower or trim (especially trim!) for extraction. If you don't know or don't yet trust a certain grower, a single pesticide test ($250) is much cheaper than the time and money lost if a seriously contaminated lot contaminates your system. When in doubt, test before you extract! We encourage savvy processors to request to test for pesticides before purchasing a lot from a grower, to further mitigate your risk.

Most pesticides that we test for would be soluble in your extraction solvent (that includes CO2, ethanol, and alkanes), and even with warm-pressing ("rosin technique") the cannabinoids and terpenes can act as solvents themselves and pull more than their share of pesticide residue out of a lot. Additionally, vacuum distillation isn't guaranteed to remove all pesticide residue either – most short-path and wiped-film distillation systems currently in use do not have the resolving power ("theoretical plates") to completely separate THC and CBD, much less pesticide compounds with similar volatility to cannabinoids.

We provide the following hypothetical story to help illustrate the path that pesticides might take from application to presence in the final product. The assumptions and assertions in this passage are plausible, but have not been explicitly proven with data.

Consider the following:

A row of plants at a cannabis farm had a natural pesticide blend (including Pyrethrin, Spinosad, or Abamectin) applied directly to them during early vegetative growth. These plants were then treated normally through the rest of the growth cycle with no more pesticides applied until harvest. The plants are harvested. Any residue still stuck to the fan leaves is mostly removed during harvest and curing, unless the residue is released as dispersed dust and lands back on the buds. Ideally, there is relatively little pesticide residue left on the plant.

You purchase that lot after cure for an extract run. The farmer offers to give you the trim for free, and you take her up on it. You want the best material extracted, tested, packaged, and in the store first (the trim is just extra), so your oil processor performs the "nug runs" and resolves a high yield of high-quality finished product. (product A) Your next flower wholesale purchase from an organic grower that you trust is a little behind, so your oil processor runs the trim in the meantime, resolving a low yield of low-quality finished product (product B). Your next wholesale purchase finally goes through, and your oil processor runs the flower and repeats the performance for more high-quality finished product (product C).

You decide to get a pesticide test on all three products, A, B, and C. You are astonished to find that while product A has a significant but small amount of Pyrethrin residue, product C from the organic grower has three times as much residue, and more different compounds detected! Of course, product B turns out very hot and nasty, but you didn't lose too much money on that lot so you're OK throwing it away. But product C? How could an organic grower be putting pesticides on her plants?!?

Slow it down! Unlike microbial burden, which can be mitigated by sterilization, pesticide residue does not go away. Furthermore, the ratio of cannabinoids to pesticide residue is much more favorable in the flower than in the trim; think about it, the juicy buds with all the resin in them have only so much surface area to catch pesticides, where the sugar leaves and fan leaves have lots more surface area but very little resin.

Not only that, but pesticide residue stays behind much like leftovers from a previous extraction run. Cleaning your extraction rig will certainly help minimize the amount of cross-contamination, but considering that even one part per million of most unapproved pesticides constitutes a failure, very thorough cleaning would be needed to restore a contaminated rig to cleanliness. In the above passage, the residue found in product C came directly from product B, where product A's contamination level was relatively small and donated little to the system.

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Why are my results so inconsistent, and how can I improve consistency?

Any biological parameter that is measured in your strain needs a defined physiological or ‘normal’ range. The difficulty is, every test is also affected by pre-analytical variables like sampling technique and timing of collection, conditions of the grow environment, nutrient and amendment selection, etc. Plant material such as cannabis flower can vary a surprising amount, with a general normal variation between samples 4-7% within the same loci, and as much as 12-15% across the plant. All these variables have to be taken into account while defining "normal" values. Additionally, since samples are not typically collected from their lots by a representative of the laboratory, it is difficult to be certain about the homogeneity of health and conditions of the harvests from which they came. Because it is crucial that you receive accurate data about the nature of your harvested lot, it is crucial that you do all that you can to ensure the samples you send are truly representative of that lot for the purpose of obtaining data from which your strain's "normal" ranges can be established. As a greater number of samples of each strain are tested, reference limits arise between which the normal range (reference interval) emerges. The greater the percentage of a lot is tested, the more refined this range becomes. The value comes when a sample is tested that falls unacceptably outside of the reference interval for that strain, and it is recognized for further analysis to decide if that sample's result is erroneous lab data, non-representative sample of the lot, a shift in genetics, a single plant pathology issue, etc.

Being sure your results are accurate requires a strong communicative relationship with your laboratory. Best practices on both sides of the testing bench rely on excellent communication between the farmer and the scientist. Cherrypicking your samples only acts to convolute an already complicated reality, and causes confusion and mistrust between your business and your buyers.

Has something changed at the lab? Because nothing has changed on my end.

Here at Confidence, we don't make changes to our protocol very often, and when we do we take it very seriously. Before we make a change to any of our methods, we first run extensive validation studies to be sure that the change won't negatively impact results. In fact, we have an entire protocol just for assessing the feasibility, validity, and practicality of new method or a modification to existing method. In all cases, we are chiefly concerned with demonstration and documentation that a new method produces equivalent results to a previous method. We compare the proposed new method side-by-side with the existing method, and before we will adopt a new method it must either demonstrate equivalency with the existing method, or we must have concrete evidence that the new method delivers a more accurate result.

Few things in the laboratory change meaningfully without our control. By far, the most important instrument to our accuracy and precision is our balance, the calibration of which is checked daily with NIST traceable weights that bracket our measured values. We also check the temperature of our fridges, freezers, and incubators daily to ensure consistent temperature of storage and incubation. Our liquid dispensing devices are checked routinely using our balances and the known density of water. Our chemical analytical equipment is recalibrated every time a wrench is turned, we check our chromatography calibrations daily with standards, and every sample is spiked with an internal standard to monitor the response of our detectors and to correct for any solvent evaporation or error in dispensing. As controls, we run multiple method blanks every day, and for our microbiological, pesticide, and toxin assays we additionally run spiked-blanks, sample-negatives, and spiked-sample-negatives to ensure that our method is still sensitive, is free of false-positives, and is free of cross-contamination.

We monitor our results continuously -- always looking for outliers -- and we interrogate samples with strange results on a very routine basis.

Our scientists cringe when marijuana growers tell us that "nothing has changed on [their] end". When growers say that, it is a clear indication to us that the grower hasn't thought critically about what -- in fact -- has changed. Growing an agricultural commodity means coping with the undeniable fact that factors outside of your control influence the performance of your plants. Even if you haven't consciously changed anything about the process by which you farm and process, things do change. This week (2016-09-04) was wetter than last week, and last month was hotter than the month before. Change is natural, and so are Cannabis plants. The seasons change, and with them changes the temperature, the humidity, the barometry/ air pressure, the insect exposure, the chemical exposure, and the circadian rhythm of all of those things. Even when you grow indoors, the outside environment has impact on your indoor environment. The world's greatest closed ecological systems (biodomes) are still influenced by Earth's rhythms.

Plants also change over time; there is diversity within and between plants and that diversity changes. Even if you're cloning, your clones are not identical and your mothers change with time. The differences between clones can be partly explained by epigenetics, and the mother's own DNA is not immune to the realities of Muller's ratchet. This diversity and evolution is what makes crop sciences so fun and exciting. Marijuana growers shouldn't balk at the idea that their outcomes are variable. The savvy grower will think critically about what factors under his or her control can influence these outcomes and how best to manipulate those variables to their greatest advantage.

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Why does my potency vary so much between harvests?

“To such an extent does nature delight and abound in variety that among her trees there is not one plant to be found which is exactly like another; and not only among the plants, but among the boughs, the leaves and the fruits, you will not find one which is exactly similar to another.”

- Leonardo da Vinci

It is astonishing how many variables appear to lend effect to the cannabinoid production properties of a cannabis plant, bud, or even a single trichome. While the genetic makeup of a plant does greatly influence the physical and chemical properties of the tissues it associates, environmental variables also play a profound role. In our experience, the cannabinoid ratios of a strain are largely conserved between harvests and between growers, while the cannabinoid concentrations are what vary. At the end of the day, it is the cannabinoid and terpenoid ratios – also called the “chemotype” or the “profile” – that are significant about a strain. In terms of “quality” of the product, marijuana is a lot like wine, “it’s good weed if you like it, it’s not good weed if you don’t like it.” In this respect, higher is often not better. From an analytical perspective: it’s really the terpenes that are telling about your strain and your cure quality. By-and-large, you can tell good cannabis flower by looking at it and smelling it. To know if you enjoy the high… there’s only one way to find out. Confidence Analytics is using our collective data to identify what it is that gives different strains different effects. It is an infinitely complex question and if you’re interested in joining our efforts, please call to inquire about how the truth is in your plants. One thing’s for sure: it is the ratios of the chemical constituents that hold the meaning, not the absolute concentration of THCmax or cannabinoid total.

Okay, so you’re still concerned about your total cannabinoids. You want higher numbers because your buyers want higher numbers, because the consumers want higher numbers, because many of this industry’s transactions do not assess quality in a sophisticated way. Again, we at Confidence are ready to partner with you on changing this paradigm, and all interested parties will benefit from better communication about quality.

How to get higher THC results on a flower harvest: There appear to be many variables that affect cannabinoid production by weight. Obviously, the plant won’t produce well without good nutrients and lighting, so those two factors are important to the point of being essential. The cannabis growing community employs a wide variety of methods for providing nutrients and lights to plants, and each strategy appears to perform differently; the strategies perform differently compared to eachother and compared to themselves over time. The importance of water is often overlooked, and many fail to see how nuanced is the role of water in marijuana production and processing. Most marijuana farmers could get higher THC results by watering less (notice we said “water the plants less” not “dry the samples more”. Don’t over-dry your samples. It doesn’t help your potency that much, and it hurts your terpenes. Send us the final product as you would package it). When everything else is going well for the plant, the more water it gets the faster it will grow. Slow growing plants tend to test higher because they are putting more of their energy into cannabinoid production and not flower production. This means they yield less but test higher. Watering less not only stunts the plants, it can also cause the plant to produce more resin per gram to avoid desiccation, but it won’t work unless the vapor pressure deficit in the plants is adequate. Without enough humidity they’ll dry up quickly and you’ll be forced to water them more often. When it’s all added up, plants tend to produce more cannabinoids per square foot per year when you water them adequately; despite testing lower they make more flower when they are watered more, and thus more total resin. The techniques by which some producers get higher test results than others on their flower are highly varied – some nefarious – and is a subject that has been and will continue to be extensively investigated, scrutinized, and in some cases patented. As always, your lab is actively investigating the issues that are relevant. Call Confidence if you have research questions you’d like to investigate.

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Why does my potency vary so much between extraction batches?

The short answer: non-quantified compounds can make up significant and varying amount of an extract. Extract content can vary within the same strain, same harvest, and even same day of extraction if all variables are not perfectly controlled. No two buds are the same!

At Confidence, we routinely measure the cannabinoid content, terpene content, and residual solvent content of extracts. For many extracts (especially ethanol soaks and CO2 oil, but also some BHOs) there are significant amounts of impurities in the product that we do not routinely quantify. The list of all the possible impurities would fill up pages, and we only know the identity of some of these impurities (like chlorophylls and associated protein complexes, various types of waxes [not all of which are winterizable], phytosterols, anthocyanins, and even water in some cases). These impurities come from the cannabis plants being extracted from. For example, in order for extraction to work, the extraction solvent must partly dissolve trichomes in order to get at the cannabinoids inside. Some of the trichome structure is then dissolved in the solvent and ends up as an impurity in the final product; this set of impurities is normally called "plant waxes", "plant lipids", phytolipids, etc., and many of them can be avoided or removed by using colder extraction temperatures, shorter extraction soak times, and winterization. Techniques for further impurity removal or avoidance are being regularly investigated by Confidence Analytics employees.

Additionally, there are normally trace-level cannabinoids in every flower and concentrate sample, but sometimes they are present in more than trace quantities. Since we do not measure these uncommon cannabinoids (like CBL, CBA, and a slew of other things nobody is looking for), it is possible that certain strains with lots of these may always have lower potency.

Lastly, while we believe it is unlikely to be a major contributor, water content in extracts may contribute to lower potency.

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Why did I fail for microbial? I've never failed before.

There are a wide variety of possible explanations for microbial failure. When troubleshooting elevated microbial counts, consider the following:

  • If you did not personally handle the product from start to finish, it may be well worth your time to review security footage from your facility to ensure no handling protocol was violated in your absence. Every surface, tool, machine, container, and (hopefully gloved) hand that contacts your harvest should be clean and sanitized. Any employee experiencing allergies or illness should wear a mask to avoid contributing bacteria through coughing or sneezing. More than one of our clients has experienced microbial failure – not because there was no protocol to prevent it – but because protocol was not followed in production, processing, or sample selection.
  • Critically evaluate the health and cleanliness of your facility. Any dust or debris that accumulates on wall, counter, or floor surfaces over time could be a source of contamination if disturbed. Measure and monitor the humidity and temperature of growing, processing, and storage areas. Sudden failures could be caused by storage conditions that favor microbial growth, for example.
  • Look carefully for signs of pests. The bodies and droppings of insects and other pests can contribute significant microbial contamination. Even beneficial insects carry a significant microbial load.
  • Carefully review the ingredients of any fertilizers and other soil amendments, as well as any foliar sprays that may in use in your operation. These products can be very beneficial to your plants, but some contain active microbes that, unfortunately, can elevate microbial counts beyond the current LCB limits.
  • Investigate your water sources, containers, and hoses. Hoses, in particular, are prone to build up bacterial growth if not regularly sanitized.
  • If the cause of failure is not readily apparent, we are happy to consult with you to further investigate the source. We can put together a swab kit for your facility and also run microbial screens on any products in use. We do not recommend microbial screening for soil, unless E. Coli or Salmonella are suspected. The presence of other microbes is normal and expected in healthy soil.
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Why did I fail for residual solvents? I've never failed before.

Vacuum seals can fail, valves in your vacuum system could be left open or closed, batches can get mixed up in processing and be under-purged, vacuum oven heating elements can fail. Different extraction solvents have different volatilities, so if you recently switched from iso-butane to n-butane you will need to lengthen your purge time.

There are several variables you can manipulate to improve the thoroughness of a purge program, the most important of which is surface area per gram, or "specific surface area". Like most physical and chemical processes, more surface area makes things go faster. Second to surface area is viscosity. Viscosity can work for you or against you. A more viscous product will tend to purge slower due to its slow flow rate. That said, a highly viscous product can be given a shape (through kneading or bubble addition) to increase its surface area and will hold that shape during purge. Viscosity depends both on the purge temperature and the product's chemical make-up. A product with low viscocity and enough added heat will convect, which will expose new surface area and purge faster than if not heated. The following is a list of common names for concentrate consistencies ranked roughly in order of increasing surface area per gram (not comprehensive): shatter and pull-snap, sugar wax or "budder", large-bubble honeycomb wax, small-bubble honeycomb wax or snap-wax.

If you're trying a new purge process, a new product consistency, or you've changed your gas, or are in any way unsure if you've passed residual solvents, send in a sample for R&D residual solvent testing before you go for the I-502 test package. It is better to spend the extra $40 for one residual test than it is to go through the hassle of getting an LCB-authorized retest for the I-502 product.

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WHY DO I HAVE SO MUCH ALCOHOL IN MY EXTRACT?

All extractor systems need to be cleaned periodically. Some of this can be done by a "dry run" – running solvent through the system with no cannabis material loaded – but the deep cleaning requires disassembling parts of the system and using effective solvents to get all the gunk out. The most common solvents used for this purpose are isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol), acetone, and ethanol. When using these solvents, it is important to note that any solvent not removed from the system will show up in your extracts at some level. Alcohols and acetone are significantly less volatile than butanes or propane and will remain in your extract at a higher level after a good purge.

To minimize this, simply wipe any exposed surface dry with a fresh dry towel, and then leave the cleaned parts to air-dry for an hour or so. Even if it appears that the solvent has evaporated, there is some left behind. Considering that most yields for extract are in the range of 100 g to 500 g per run (some large systems can beat this), even an invisibly small amount of solvent will contaminate your extracts at levels that can exceed 1,000 ppm. The amount of solvent needed to contaminate a 100-gram slab with 1,000 ppm is only 100 mg, or a few drops.

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