The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has announced that a new program launched to standardize Cannabis testing methods and to aid commercial and forensic laboratories to accurately measure chemical compounds in marijuana, hemp, and other cannabis products.

The aim of the Cannabis Quality Assurance Program (CannaQAP) is to achieve accuracy in product labeling and help laboratories to distinguish between hemp and marijuana. 

While the labels on most cannabis products illustrate the concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), without official testing methodology, laboratories can often differ in their testing techniques, in turn, providing ’unreliable’ results. 

It is therefore primarily the inconsistencies in testing results that the researchers at NIST are looking to address in the course of the program.

“When you walk into a store or dispensary and see a label that says 10% CBD, you want to know that you can trust that number.” —NIST research chemist Brent Wilson

To achieve the program’s objective, NIST is looking to partner up with a range of hemp testing laboratories. The first point of the CannaQAP effort will consist of NIST sending out hemp oil samples to the participating laboratories and asking them to measure the total of CBD and THC using their routine testing methods. Each lab will then test the oils and relay its results and techniques back to the NIST researchers. It is expected that further exercises will include the testing of plant material samples.

The data collected from the participating laboratories will then be evaluated. NIST is looking to publish the data anonymously so that the participating laboratories’ names are not revealed. Research chemist Melissa Phillips has stated: “Anonymity means that labs don’t have to worry about how their performance will be viewed. Our goal is to help labs improve, not to call them out.”

While the laboratories will not be named, the results will show how much variability there is between them. Furthermore, NIST is looking to publish the correct measurements, so that each laboratory can see how accurate its measurements were and how it performed compared to its peers.  

Once NIST researchers can review the results, and evaluate the scope of the inconsistencies, they will be in a much better position to issue guidance on best practices for cannabis testing. 

NIST has said it will be developing a standard hemp reference material, which will provide accurate measurement values that labs can use to validate their testing methods. One reason these measurements vary so much is that there are currently no reference materials for cannabis.

Finally, it is understood that the new federal CannaQAP endeavour might go beyond legal hemp products. “NIST is also planning to conduct future exercises with ground hemp and possibly marijuana,” the agency has indicated. “Those exercises will involve measuring a larger number of compounds, including terpenes—the chemicals that give different strains of marijuana their distinct aromas—and compounds that people don’t want in their cannabis such as fungal toxins, pesticides, and heavy metals. Future exercises may also include extracts, concentrates, distillates, and edibles.”

We will continue following the program and will provide updates as soon as new data comes to light. Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to stay in the know.  Laboratories that are interested in participating in the program can find more information and register online