During cultivation, the cannabis plant acts like a sponge. It absorbs everything it is exposed to, from pesticides, nutrients, and heavy metals present in the soil. For these reasons, it is essential that reputable and reliable third-party labs carry out cannabis testing to assure safety and efficacy of the product.
Lab testing of cannabis products is an essential part of the regulated market’s supply chain. It detects offensive chemicals or contaminants that can lead to adverse health effects when consumed, while additionally providing cultivators and retailers with efficacious cannabinoid and terpene profiles of legal cannabis products.
In Canada’s regulated market, batch release quality control testing is required for potency and product safety, so it is necessary to measure substances like pesticides, mycotoxins, bacteria, and molds. Unfortunately, reports on potency and contaminants can vary from lab to lab, while recalls of contaminated products threaten consumer trust of legal products.
Sigma Analytical Services is a full-service pesticide, elemental, molecular, genetic, and pathogen analysis laboratory for cannabis, hemp, and cannabis-derived products. It delivers reliable science for cannabis products to the cannabis industry and cannabis consumers.
Cannabis Aficionado spoke with Ashton Abrahams, co-founder and COO of Sigma Analytical Services, to learn more about the importance of cannabis testing and Sigma’s strict processes.
Cannabis Aficionado: Tell me about your entrepreneurial journey to cannabis.
I’m a serial entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience in starting and growing several successful ventures. In 2017, when Canada was in the process of legalizing cannabis, my partner and I saw an opportunity to focus on a different side of the new cannabis industry — ancillary testing and quality reassurance requirements. We knew there would be new products in the market, and they would all require testing. So, we started a testing lab that focused on cannabis and cannabis products, and this is how Sigma started.
What sets Sigma apart from other testing labs?
We want to ensure products available in this new market are efficacious and safe, and ensure the levels of both remain consistent. Sigma is the only GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) certified, cannabis-focused lab in Canada and the only cannabis-focused lab with cross-continental operations. We developed and validated our methods back in 2018 and 2019, so we are the frontrunner in Cannabis 2.0 product testing and are set up to test a comprehensive list of cannabis products — including flower, edibles, beverages, and topicals.
Sigma also has validated methods for quantifying and testing 16 cannabinoids and 43 terpenes — one of the highest in the market — and our analytical and microbiology tests are compliant with Health Canada, EU, and US Pharmacopeia.
Additionally, Sigma was awarded the Best Cannabis Lab/Testing Facility in Canada at the Grow Up 2019 awards.
What need does Sigma fill in the global cannabis industry?
Sigma brings reliable science that is already available in food and pharma to the cannabis industry, its products, and consumers.
Cannabis, food, and pharma share certain quality requirements. However, there is a big difference: in terms of quality assurance, food and pharma have decades of testing experience, while cannabis is a new industry, and the science is still being developed.
What kind of samples do you test?
We have developed and validated testing methods for many different types of cannabis products, from traditional dried flower and oils to Cannabis 2.0 products , such as concentrates, beverages, edibles, and topicals. From a testing standpoint, each and every one of these products is different and can have a different matrix. In turn, we develop a testing method for each one.
What should customers be looking for to see reassurance that a product’s been tested?
Make sure their products are purchased through legal channels. It’s the regulatory bodies’ responsibility to make sure the products launched in the market are not just tested, but tested specifically by qualified labs.
Moldy cannabis is a problem in legal markets and there are numerous reports of Health Canada product recalls after customers discovered moldy flower. Can you talk to us about how you test for these pathogens?
From day one, instead of using the traditional culture-based method, Sigma has tested for mould and all microbial contamination using a newer technology called qPCR (quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction). When we first started it in late 2018, nobody was familiar with it in the cannabis industry, so we had to take time to explain to our clients that it was a better, more reliable, and faster process. In the last six months, however, we have seen a huge shift in attitude. Not only have the cannabis producers accepted qPCR, but more cannabis labs are starting to use the technology to test for microbial contaminations.
What are some of the most exciting developments in cannabis testing?
Using qPCR for microbial contamination is very new for the cannabis industry. We’re happy and excited about it because we see the benefits and we hope the whole cannabis industry embraces it.
Secondly, the challenges of formulating, developing, and testing new products. The developments in the past six months have been really promising.
Thirdly, discovering more about the cannabis plant and what ends up in cannabis products is really an exciting development. As we progress, we are sure to learn more about the effects of cannabinoids and terpenes.
What’s your pinnacle vision of cannabis testing?
There are two sides to it. There is a regulatory side, and there is the testing side. On the regulatory side, it’s about what needs to be tested, and how it needs to be tested.
A very important part of the quality assurance initiative for cannabis is ensuring the testing sample is representative of that batch. There are different factors in place. Is that batch homogeneous or not? Are the characteristics consistent or not? Cannabis is a plant. It’s an agricultural product. It’s not something that’s coming out of a machine, so we cannot expect all of the plants to have exactly the same characteristics. I believe one key is to limit the size of the batch. Other jurisdictions have clearly defined regulations. For example, in California, it clearly states that each batch cannot be larger than fifty pounds. In the Canadian regulations, there is no definition at all.
Secondly, labs need to get more serious. Some labs are testing cannabis products with outdated instruments or unvalidated methods, meaning their results cannot be truly accurate or reliable. Cannabis labs cannot use a 15-year-old second-hand instrument and expect to get the same results as pharmaceutical labs that use the best, most advanced instruments. Some people might think that testing cannabis products is not as important as pharmaceutical products, but it is just as important.
Cannabis has a very complex matrix which requires complex testing methods. Not all labs have good enough or validated methods. However, I’m optimistic that it’s a matter of years, maybe between five to ten, for cannabis testing to get there.
How is Sigma helping to foster the growth of a responsible and safe legal cannabis industry?
I think everyone active in the cannabis industry has a responsibility to make sure they are doing a good job and providing safe and efficacious products to the consumer. That’s because, if the consumer is not happy with what they’re getting from us, it will translate into unhappiness with the whole legalized framework.
Finally, what’s next for Sigma?
We are going through some expansion at our headquarters in Toronto and we’re about to acquire a lab in British Columbia, which will be our second lab in Canada. Additionally, we have a joint venture in Colombia and are setting up the first GMP certified cannabis lab in South America.
We are also becoming more involved with helping develop formulations for new products, and testing them, especially for the producers that follow GMP requirements either in pursuit of higher quality or for international cannabis markets.
We also recently received our GMP clearance from the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (“TGA”). The approval designates Sigma as an approved testing laboratory for Canadian companies to introduce their products into the Australian cannabis market.
Cannabis Classification System Announced for 2022 Emerald Cup Awards
One of the factors that make the Emerald Cup so important to California’s cannabis market is its continued strive for excellence and innovation. For the 2022 awards, the judging process is undergoing a transformation and with it comes a new cannabis classification system that will classify entries based on terpenes, flavour, and effects for anybody — from customers to budtenders, dispensaries, judges, and cultivators.
Cannabis Is More Than Just THC
The days of just searching out the highest THC totals are rapidly receding as research has now proven that terpenes are at the base of the entourage effect that customers desire are rapidly fading.
Terpenes, on the other hand, have mostly added to the consumer confusion already caused by overly broad Indica/Sativa/Hybrid terminology, whimsical strain names, irrelevant THC/CBD percentages, and other ambiguous factors that make selecting the best or correct strain a less-than-satisfying ordeal for even the most experienced cannabis connoisseurs.
The Emerald Cup competition will serve as a testbed for a new classification system for cannabis flowers. The event organisers and their testing partners at SC Labs decided to further break down the flower categories based on the chemometrics of each cultivar (better known as “chemovar” — the evolution of the term “dominant terpene”) evolving beyond last year’s flower category sorting by primary terpene content, in order to level the playing field and eliminate as much bias as possible in the blind/anonymous sampling done by Emerald Cup judges each year.
This paradigm-shifting insight sparked months of additional research and discussion, culminating in the Emerald Cup Cannabis Classification System based on PhytoFacts® powered by SC Labs.
The all-new classification system builds on last year’s approach of sorting flower entries by primary terpene content, leveraging a decade of Cannabis phytochemistry research between PhytoFacts®, developed by Napro Research in 2013, and a powerful database of over 250,000 terpene tests aggregated by SC Labs, dating back to their launch of terpene testing on Cannabis in 2013. The key class names were chosen to represent current terminology, are widely used in the business and are familiar to dispensaries and consumers. Each class is further explained using taste notes, effects, and popular strains or cultivars to promote understanding and acceptance.
The New Cannabis Classification System
The classes of the Emerald Cup Cannabis Classification Based on PhytoFacts® powered by SC Labs include:
“Jacks + Haze” Class
- Mostly ‘Sativa’-leaning varietals
- Tasting notes – Fruity, Pinesol, Haze
- Effects – Energizing, Cerebral, Artistically Inspiring
- Common Cultivars – Classic Trainwreck, Jack Herer, Durban Poison, Super Lemon Haze
- Terpenes Profile: Terpinolene, Caryophyllene, Myrcene
“Tropical + Floral” Class
- Mostly ‘Indica’-leaning varietals
- Tasting notes – Sweet, Floral, Tropical Fruit
- Effects – Calming, Soothing, Relaxing
- Common Cultivars – Super Skunk, Hawaiian, In the Pines, Dream Queen
- Terpenes Profile: Ocimene, Myrcene
“Sweets + Dreams” Class
- Mostly ‘Indica’-leaning varietals
- Tasting Notes – Fruity, Sweet, Woody, Hoppy, Herbaceous
- Effects – Relaxation, Couch Lock, Analgesic
- Common Cultivars – Blue Dream, Tangie, Forbidden fruit, Grandaddy Purple, Purple Urkel, Grape Ape, Cherry AK, God’s Gift, Purple Punch
- Terpenes Profile: Myrcene, Pinene, Caryophyllene
“OGs + Gas” Class
- True ‘Hybrid’ varietals
- Tasting Notes – Gas, Fuel, Sweet, Citrus, and Pepper
- Effect – Uplifting, Stimulating, Analgesic, Relaxation
- Common Cultivars – Classic OG Kush, ChemDawg, Sour Diesel, Gorilla Glue
- Terpenes Profile: Any combination or shifting codominance of Caryophyllene, Limonene, Myrcene
- True ‘Hybrid’ varietals
- Tasting Notes – Deserts, Doughs, Citrusy & Spicy
- Effects – Stimulating, Racy, Uplifting, Comforting
- Common Cultivars – Classic Bubba Kush, GSC, Gelatos, Cakes
- Any shift in codominance of Caryophyllene & Limonene
“Exotics” (Rare Terpene Combinations) Class
- True ‘Hybrid’ varietals
- Tasting notes – varied based on chemistry of entry
- Effect – varied based on chemistry of entry
- Common Cultivars – rarest terpene profiles entered into the Emerald Cup Competition
This game-changing development in cannabis classification levels the playing ground for the 2022 Cup as well as market competitiveness amongst brands. The system seeks to become an open-source, globally recognised grading solution for Cannabis, with six simple classes/names/descriptions. In the same way that a Chardonnay would not be tested against a Merlot in the wine business, this new system permits strains with comparable profiles to be judged against each other. This new classification system will also be used at the California State Fair Cannabis Awards in July 2022.
The 2022 Emerald Cup Awards will be presented live on stage on May 14th at the Green Street Festival in Downtown Los Angeles, California.
The Sativa Preservation Society Project Will Protect Rare Haze Genetics
Space Coyote, the totally cosmic cannabis company, has launched the Sativa Preservation Society Project — a movement that protects Haze genetics while paying homage to the custodians and cultivators who kept the seeds alive.
Celebrators of the cannabis culture’s stoner heritage, Space Coyote’s aesthetic and ethos embraces the vibes and psychedelic Seventies scene, where the creativity and community of cannabis intersect.
Co-founder and self-confessed ‘Sativa Diva’ Libby Cooper calls it the “ultimate passion project”.
“We’re truly passionate about saving these genetics that are the actual grandmothers of every modern-day sativa strains that people love — all of these desert strains, all of the fruity strains,” Cooper tells me from the Space Coyote van en route to Hall of Flowers.
Founding the Sativa Preservation Society Project
The concept of the Sativa Preservation Society Project was years in incubation as the Space Coyote team deliberated over how to bring it to life. It was important for them to give back to the community while helping to educate about the history of cannabis culture.
The stars aligned earlier this year when the team met Bam Vachher-Gnanathurai, nursery and plant breeding manager from the Posibl Project in Salina. A mutual love of the unique effects of Haze genetics made for a truly cosmic outcome.
“Bam is super passionate about sativa,” said Cooper. “When we went and met up with Bam for the very first time, he rolled a blunt from Cuban Black. It was such an amazing experience to smoke that flower.”
“The initial conversation of the Sativa Preservation Society coming to life happened during that smoke session. It was like, ‘holy shit, we could actually do this.’”
The Haze Experience
The Sativa Preservation Society Project is launching with three incredibly rare cultivars — Cuban Black Haze, Uptown Haze (also known as A5 Haze), and C5 Haze — all of which were originally cultivated in the 1980s by legendary grower Neville Schoenmaker. The flower will be available as bagged eighths and as infused prerolls.
Cooper likens the Haze experience to being “a bit like mushrooms” — colors are brighter, your smell is enhanced and your hearing is sharper.
“It’s really like a cup of coffee without any jitteriness or anxiety usually associated with sativas. This is pure energy without any sort of adverse effects,” explains Cooper. “You really feel as if your eyelids are getting peeled back — you’re awake, you’re uplifted. Basically, I smoke it and I immediately start stretching.”
“Many sativa genetics are dying out due to a number of reasons,” says Cooper. “Typically, they are more difficult to grow, have a longer curing time, and the fluffy buds are easily crushed in transit.” All of which makes sativas less cost-effective in California’s highly competitive legal market.
“This truly is the first time these original sativa strains are going to be commercially grown,” says Cooper. “It really wouldn’t have been possible, funnily enough, without this group named Posibl.”
Learn more about the Sativa Preservation Society Project in the video above. While you’re at it, find your nearest Space Coyote here.
Peach Oz: This Sweet And Juicy Cultivar Will Stimulate Your Creativity
If you’re looking for a premium cultivar with legendary genetics and a euphoric high, look no further than Peach Oz, the latest addition to Wonderbrett’s stellar strain menu.
A cross of Peach Rings with OZ Kush and a descendent of Zkittlez, the sweet, stimulating citrus taste profile of Peach Oz will get your creative juices flowing.
While the cultivar may be new to the public, according to Wonderbrett Co-Founder and famed Breeder Brett Feldman, it’s five-years-old in the world of genetics.
“There’s only a small handful of heady smokers who follow these things,” says Feldman. “I wanted to bring it to the masses to share the experience with everybody. That’s where my passion comes from with this strain. Similar to an amazing dish at a restaurant, you want to share it with your friends.”
Grown in small-batches at scale from the company’s state-of-the-art Long Beach cultivation facility, the strain was first created by Dying Breed Seeds, then perfected by Cannabis By Corey, before making its way to Feldman.
Bursting with flavors and aromas that bring to mind the sweet ocean breeze and fragrant fruit orchards of the California sunshine state, Peach OZ’s four dominant terpenes: Caryophyllene, Linalool, Limonene and Humulene, create a distinct sweet taste of ripe peaches, citrus candy and cream.
“When any strain has that unique, recognizable consistency in its flavor, whether that be peach, lemon or orange, that’s what myself and other breeders appreciate most and look for when bringing a genetic like this to market. It’s mind-blowing what Peach OZ can do that, translating a fruit flavor to a smoking experience,” explained Feldman.
Peach OZ is available at select dispensary and at Wonderbrett’s flagship dispensary in L.A.