Microwave Digestion and Trace Metals Analysis of Cannabis & Hemp Products

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In 1970, marijuana was designated a Schedule 1 drug, under the Controlled Substances Act, making it nearly impossible for laboratories to perform cannabis research. However, medicinal use of cannabis is now legal in Canada and 33 US states. With the passage of the Farm Bill in 2018, it is now federally legal to grow and process hemp in all 50 states. All of this interest in medical cannabis and Cannabidiol (CBD) has highlighted the need for good analysis methodology in this relatively young market. Cannabis analysis is still developing standardized protocols, requirements, and acceptable testing practices. Typical testing requirements for cannabis and its products include heavy metals analysis, pesticide residue, and the potency of active ingredients such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The terpene content of cannabis is also important. Terpenes have been shown to have beneficial uses for treatment of conditions ranging from cancer and inflammation to anxiety and sleeplessness. It is believed that the combination of terpenes and cannabinoids in cannabis produces a synergistic effect with regards to medical benefits.


Certain heavy metals can cause adverse effects on human health. Toxic heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury are persistent once released into the environment and can accumulate in cannabis plants. Since hemp is a strain of cannabis that contains very little THC, it is susceptible to bioaccumulation of heavy metals like its THC-containing parents. Cannabis-based products such as foods, oils, tinctures, and salves should be tested for the presence of heavy metals to ensure patient safety and product quality. Cannabis and CBD-infused products have grown in popularity in states that allow recreational use of cannabis and hemp. This application note details the digestion and analysis of various forms of hemp and cannabis products.

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