The modern cannabis lab is constantly evolving, and new portable testing solutions are making a budding appearance.
Katie Ellsworth, MSciCom
Despite 2020 being a challenging year for everyone and 2021 continuing to present its own difficulties, the cannabis industry is thriving. Recent legalization in states like New York just goes to show how much more accepted and mainstream cannabis products are becoming. The hemp industry in particular is growing rapidly, with CBD products growing increasingly popular. All this growth in popularity brings new challenges and considerations to the industry.
One aspect that is being explored more is the importance of access to accurate portable potency testing options. With legal hemp needing to be less than 0.3% THC and concerns for cross-contamination of marijuana strains, on-the-go testing allows for growers to be confident that their product is within the expected ranges while in the field.
Key Considerations for Portable Potency Testing Devices
- Small size: no one wants to lug around a huge, heavy device when out in the field, so being relatively small and light is an important feature; ruggedness is also something to consider depending on how you are planning to use it
- Battery operated: cannabis fields generally don’t have conveniently located power outlets, so a battery operated unit is important; some devices have both battery and direct plug-in power options, for an added level of versatility
- Fast & accurate measurements: if you are going to be testing potency outside the lab, chances are you don’t have time to wait on long process times to get your results (otherwise it would be just as fast to bring samples back to the lab); accuracy is obviously critical, no one wants to waste time with vague or unreliable test results
- Small samples: testing on-the-go often means taking samples from live plants or from valuable processed product, so the smaller sample size required the better; some devices don’t even require a physical sample of the plant and can be just swiped over the leaf
- Easy to operate: overly complicated interfaces lead to increased chance of human error in your testing, so a simple interface not only increases your testing accuracy but also keeps the process speedy and streamlined; many modern devices keep user experience in mind, but the simpler the operation the more people you can have trained to use it
- Easy to read & interpret results: in continuation from the above point, ease of reading and understanding the results given by the device you are using maximizes the efficiency of your operation; some modern devices include smartphone apps that can greatly simplify the collection and interpretation of data
Not all of the above considerations are needed for every operation, so there are a variety of options available based on your specific needs. Here are some products that meet some or all of the considerations for on-the-go testing:
Axcend Focus LC
- Designed specifically to be portable, the shoebox-sized Focus LC comes with a convenient carry handle and up to 10 hours of battery powered analysis
- HPLC testing with Axend’s unique cartridge system requires very small samples and can analyze them with a high degree of accuracy in under 10 minutes
- The cartridge system is easy to use and easy to modify, and results can be easily delivered to your computer, tablet, or phone wirelessly using the Axcend Drive software
BSS 2000/3000 Portable Cannabis/Hemp Analyzer
- Compact and light at only 3lbs and equipped with an 8-hour battery pack, these devices from Big Sur Scientific are highly portable; the only difference between the two is the software they run (the BSS 2000 is for general cannabis analysis and the BSS 3000 is specialized for hemp)
- Using mid-infrared (MIR) spectroscopy, both the cannabis and hemp analyzers can deliver accurate results in 2 minutes using only a few milligrams of sample with no preparation needed; the BSS 3000 only measures CBD levels in dried ground hemp or extracts
- Highly user friendly and simple push-button operation, both systems come with a Microsoft Surface Pro tablet for easy access to results
- Small, stylish design with included carrying case; the GemmaCert is not battery powered but is very easy to transport
- Uses NIR spectroscopy to analyze dried whole flowers, ground materials, and crude oils in under 5 minutes and can test for total THC levels as low as 0.2%; test samples for Total THC: 0.877 THCA + Delta-9-THC, Total CBD: 0.877 CBDA + CBD, and Water Activity (aw): <0.55-0.65>
- Simple operation and user-friendly Android smartphone interface for easy access to results
Sage Analytics Profiler II
- Compact size and relatively light weight (under 10lbs), the Profiler II is not battery operated but is easy to transport
- Uses NIR Spectroscopy to rapidly test cured flowers and concentrates, providing results in seconds without destroying your sample; the Profiler II tests for THC-A, Delta-9 THC, Total THC, CBD-A, CBD, Total CBD
- Very easy to use with clear results output, requiring no specialist training; includes an ASUS tablet as user interface
Another product worth mentioning is the Advion Expression CMS with Touch Express OPSI. While this compact mass spectrometer is not particularly portable, we have included it here due to the unique applications of the Touch Express Open Port Sampling Interface, which allows for sampling of live plants by simply swiping the capillary glass tube over the cannabis leaves or flower.
Of course, not all testing can be completed in the field. For those who need more powerful and nuanced testing, there are numerous other options.
Small, portable potency testing devices already have a variety of applications for cannabis producers and could also prove highly useful to those in the law enforcement side of the industry — an officer with a portable potency tester in their car would easily be able to determine if a load of cannabis plants being transported was legal hemp or not.
Scientific instruments as a whole have been following the path of the cell phone: becoming smaller and more user friendly while simultaneously becoming more powerful and versatile in their applications. It will be interesting to see how the field of compact portable testing options blossoms as the cannabis industry continues to grow.