Pubdate: Sun, 01 Mar 2015
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Copyright: 2015 San Jose Mercury News
Author: Lisa M. Krieger


Labs Can Tell You What's In Your Pot, From THC to Contaminants

Cannabis used to be what moonshine is to alcohol, its content as 
murky as a cloud of smoke lingering over a Phish concert.

Now a cadre of Bay Area laboratories can tell you exactly what you're 
getting for your money - creating reliability, safety and 
standardization in a business that long relied on the casual 
assurances of a skanky friend from Stonerville.

Gone are the days of being ripped off with a nickel bag of dusty 
oregano. Or eating a cookie that delivers manic euphoria, when all 
you wanted was to ease a little nausea.

"We are providing quantifiable data on the safety and quality of the 
medicine," said Santa Cruz-based organic chemist Josh Wurzer, 
co-founder and lab director of SC Labs, which tests 8,000 samples a 
month, from Humboldt and Tahoe to inner city Los Angeles.

"Our integrity is critical," said Wurzer, a blonde and clean-cut 
Midwesterner. "It's all we have. If our numbers aren't reliable, then 
what is there?"

This new generation of science geeks - with backgrounds from places 
like Samsung, Kraft Foods, UC Davis, USC and Cisco - stand at the 
nexus of growers, medical dispensaries and consumers, issuing 
certificates of analysis for commercial medical marijuana in an 
increasingly potfriendly state.

And if the campaign to legalize marijuana in California in 2016 
succeeds, as expected, their role in this multibillion-dollar market 
will expand.

In this modern-day gold rush, they play the assayer who inspected the 
precious mineral and stamped each bar with weight, serial number, 
fineness and value.

Here's the catch: Their role is completely unofficial. Unlike food 
and drink, most medicinal cannabis can be sold in California without 
any testing. And their techniques and protocols vary.

But there is growing recognition that tests - ranging in price from 
$120 to $250 - can help legitimize the drug, protect patients, 
promote sales and improve breeding programs.

"Look at your sambuca, peanut butter or ibuprofen - there's a label 
telling you what's in it. When you buy cannabis, you have no idea," 
said Los Altos Hills-based Randall Kruep, formerly of Cisco and now 
CEO of Sage Analytics, which just unveiled a new test device.

For instance, testing reveals why the "Sour Diesel" strain is so 
popular at parties: While it's low in therapeutic cannabidiol, it's 
high (24.05 percent average in posted SC Labs test) in psychoactive 
THC and packed (20.1 milligrams per gram) with terpene hydrocarbons - 
especially limonene, beloved for its citrus fragrance.

It also explains why "Cannatonic" is preferred for children with 
epilepsy. Lower in THC (3.73 percent), it is high (12.56 percent) in 
seizure-reducing cannabidiol, with an earthy, pine-scented smell.

Legally, these labs navigate tricky waters. Although the state allows 
medical marijuana, the federal government still classifies it as a 
prohibited Schedule 1 drug - so they're testing something they're not 
allowed to have. (They've put their faith in more permissive local 

Cannabis testing started years ago in what Wurzer calls "jokester 
labs," with untrained people running unreliable equipment in the back 
of VW vans.

Now labs compete on the sophistication of their analyses, using tools 
such as gas chromatography, liquid chromatography, mass spectrometry, 
Petri film and plate counts and polymerase chain reaction for genetic analysis.

They also strive harder for customer service, through special courier 
services, Web-linked 2D bar codes, colorful websites, links to 
popular apps like and competitive pricing.

Innovative new niche tests are emerging, as well, offering greater 
speed and convenience.

In his grand house atop Los Altos Hills, Sage Analytics founder Kruep 
demonstrated his "Luminary Profiler," a desktop cannabis measurement 
device, made in Fremont, that enables quick, cost-effective potency 
and freshness testing.

Commonly used by pharmaceutical laboratories, spectroscopy produces 
accurate results, but it has been too expensive and complicated for 
the cannabis market. His tool is small, portable and easy-to-use - 
perfect for harvesters, dispensaries and the baking of 
cannabis-infused pastries.

On his dining room table, he gently rests a golden bud of "Girl Scout 
Cookies" on the device, covers it with a black cap, flicks on a light 
and - presto! - a digital reading of THC content appears: 26.3 percent.

"Boom - done. Four seconds," crows Kruep, an entrepreneur who also 
helped launch Redback Networks, Stoke and other tech companies.

"There is no reason," he said, "that we can't give people a profile 
of their cannabis the same as we provide information about food, 
drink and medications - a label that says, 'Here is what you're about 
to consume.' "

In Oakland, microbiologist Robert Martin cofounded CW Analytical 
Laboratories after three decades at Kraft Foods and research and 
development at Dreyer's Ice Cream.

His six-person team specializes in microbiological safety, especially 
in cannabis-based foods - screening for mold, bacteria, fungus and 
other contamination that results from poor handling, lousy hygiene, 
improper storage and dirty instruments.

"I'm 63 - an old guy - who's smoked pot my whole life, but started 
seeing friends get seriously sick," said Martin, who grew up in 
Huntsville, Alabama. "They asked me about the quality of cannabis, 
and I didn't know.

"Now, it's improved. I am really pleased with how much cleaner 
products are. Growers changed," he said. "It's a direct response to 
quality assurance being brought into an industry, raising awareness."

SC Labs' Wurzer, 36, got his start synthesizing small molecules for 
pharmaceutical companies, then made silicon polymers for Samsung. But 
he enjoyed growing marijuana and yearned to work with safer 
chemicals, so he started SC Labs with three friends, $120,000 and 
maxed-out credit cards.

With a focus on high-end analytics, one of their tests can detect 
one-trillionth of a gram of DNA for cannabis sex determination and 
strain verification. "There is a connoisseur market of consumers who 
really know their compounds and know what they like," he said.

The company tested 300 to 400 samples in its first few months, and 
the owners didn't take a paycheck for three years. Now it has 32 
employees and labs in Santa Cruz and Santa Ana that test 8,000 
samples a month, with volume doubling annually. This month they'll 
open a lab in Seattle, where recreational pot is legal.

"We're small startups with big dreams," he said. "It's exciting, like 
being at IBM in the '80s."



1. A courier carries a sample to the lab in a locked ice chest.

2. At the lab, it is photographed, assigned an ID number and logged 
into a database, ensuring "chain of custody" to prevent errors.

3. The sample is ground into a powder.

4. For chromatography or spectrometry, the sample is diluted with a 
solvent. For microbial or fungal testing, it is plated directly into 
a petri dish.

5. Analysis by a $35,000-to-$45,000 (used) gas chromatograph with a 
flame ionization detector can detect the quantity of aromatic 
terpenes, which give cannabis its taste and smell. It can also 
identify unsafe solvents such as butane in hash oils and other extracts.

6. Analysis by a $65,000 (used) liquid chromatograph to assess an 
assortment of cannabinoids by molecular weight.

7. Analysis by a $200,000 (used) mass spectrometer for pesticides.

8. Sample cultured in petri dishes to see if it contains yeast, mold, 
fungus or bacteria such as E. coli.

9. Sample tested to identify its genetic strain using polymerase 
chain-reaction to amplify its DNA.

10. All samples are destroyed.

11. Client receives a certificate of analysis and bar code, which can 
be put on each product sold. Buyers can scan the code to learn about 
the product.

Some California Labs

SC Labs, Santa Cruz and Santa Ana: (

CW Analytical Laboratories, Oakland: (

Steep Hill-Halent Lab, Oakland: (

The Werc Shop, Los Angeles: (

For more information: California Cannabis Industry Association: 
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom