Pubdate: Sun, 16 Jul 2017
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2017 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Dan Adams


The compact mass spectrometer shows precisely what's in marijuana.

The compact, high-tech chemical sensors made by the Boston startup 908
Devices are used by emergency responders to scan for toxins after
industrial accidents, and by researchers in the pharmaceutical and
energy industries to profile the composition of drugs and petroleum

Now, the firm has unveiled a new sensor intended to give it a foothold
in a less conventional but fast-growing industry: commercial marijuana.

The sensor, dubbed the G908, is a countertop "push-button" mass
spectrometer designed to identify cannabis compounds. Its designers
say the device approaches the accuracy of traditional "gold standard"
lab equipment but is far smaller, faster, cheaper, and easier to use.

The company hopes to sell hundreds of the machines to marijuana labs,
cultivators, and processors. Executives at 908 Devices, which has
raised nearly $50 million in funding since its founding in 2014,
believe the US market for marijuana testing equipment could soon reach
a half-billion dollars.

"We see cannabis as a growing part of the life-sciences market," chief
executive Kevin Knopp said. "If this is a legal product being brought
to market, we need to be able to tell whether the potency and levels
of solvents are within the requirements."

In states where the drug is legal, regulators typically require
commercially grown marijuana to be tested in professional labs for
potency and contaminants such as pesticides and mold before it can be
sold. 908 Devices is marketing its sensor to such labs, noting that
its speed means technicians can test more samples each day.

"It cuts 80 percent off of the usual analysis time," said Chris
Hudalla, founder of ProVerde Laboratories, a lab in Milford that
analyzes marijuana for dispensaries and which has been evaluating the
G908. "That's hugely advantageous because it can increase our

However, he added, the machine isn't quite sensitive enough to meet
some state standards.

The company is also betting the device will appeal to pot farmers. It
could help them detect problems in the plants and cultivate marijuana
with precise blends of psychoactive compounds without waiting days for
results from an off-site lab.

"If you have cultivation staff waiting around to go to the next step,
you don't want to say, 'Come back in three days when the testing will
be done,' " Hudalla said. "This lets you get an answer in a few
minutes and move on."

Working from a small sample of marijuana flower, the G908 can measure
a plant's potency and chemical profile. It can also test pot
concentrates to ensure there are no residual traces of potentially
harmful solvents some processors use to extract the plant's primary
psychoactive compound, THC.

The typical testing equipment currently used is about the size of a
large basement freezer, costs up to $600,000, and can take 30 minutes
or longer to return a result. The toaster-oven-sized G908, on the
other hand, weighs just 28 pounds, costs under $100,000, and can spit
out an analysis in as little as five minutes, the company said.

The breakthrough at its heart is a series of miniaturized "molecular
traps," which, unlike older technology that requires power-hungry air
pumps to create a vacuum, can detect marijuana chemicals in a tube
kept just below normal outdoor air pressure.

Hudalla noted that the G908 arrives amid soaring commercial and
scientific interest in how different marijuana strains affect the mind
and body.

Researchers have known for decades that pot's distinctive high is
caused primarily by THC, and that related ''cannabinoid'' chemicals in
the plant may have medicinal benefits. But more recent studies suggest
another class of marijuana compounds called terpenes - long assumed to
be simply aromatics that imparted "flavors" but had little
psychoactive effect - may actually play a key role in how users
experience the drug, and account for the differing subjective effects
of various strains.

Hudalla believes terpene-detecting devices like the G908 will become
standard fixtures in cannabis-growing facilities. In part, that's
because a number of states may soon require terpene tests on
commercially grown marijuana. But more important, Hudalla predicted,
increasingly sophisticated pot consumers will come to prefer strains
with particular terpene profiles, just as craft beer fanatics obsess
over hops.

"Different physiological effects, like making you happy or sleepy or
giving you dry mouth, are often terpene-related, not
- -cannabinoid-related," Hudalla said. "You'll have product lines for
connoisseurs who want specific terpenes."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt