If (for whatever reason) you had to convince someone about the legitimacy of the burgeoning cannabis industry, show them some of its products.
Twenty-nine states have implemented some sort of legal marijuana measure in the past 20 years and entrepreneurs and growers there have had time to test out some cool gadgets related to the business.
To me, the use of these — often scientific — tools speaks to the seriousness of the cannabis industry; it’s clear from the level of technology utilized in these cannabis operations just how mature the business has become. For example, last week I learned of a device made by Sage Analytics out of California that lets people test the potency of cannabis right from their own home. Want to know exactly how dank your strain is? Now you can, right down to the molecular level.
Typically if you want to find out how much THC (the compound that gets you stoned) or CBD (the non-psychoactive compound with medicinal benefits) is in your weed, you’d have to send a gram of it to a lab, pay the fee, and wait for results. There’s a facility down in York called Tested Labs that seems to be the closest place Portland area people could send to, and they charge $40 per sample and per profile. If you’re a big-time supplier with many strains to test out, that can add up.
Some are completing the process themselves inside their own home or business with a new machine called the Humboldt Profiler II. It’s a rugged-looking box that you plug into the wall and wait beside for 20 minutes while the light warms up. After that, you grind up some bud, place it in the special container on top, seal the lid, and hit a button that says calculate. The machine will then do just that and provide full details on the levels of THC and cannabinoid levels in your sample. From there you can print labels to stick onto your bottled cannabis product.
These home potency calculators are allegedly selling well all over the world, including here in Maine, but are doing best in places like California and Colorado, states that have had a head start on both recreational and medicinal marijuana markets.
I spoke with Lauren Wilson, who lives in California and works at Sage Analytics to learn more about the science behind this fairly new portable technology.
According to Wilson, the Profiler II uses near-infrared spectroscopy to analyze a marijuana sample. There’s some hard science behind this, which involves measuring the overtones and combinations of bond vibrations in molecules. The cannabis sample is bathed in near-infrared light and by measuring and comparing the wavelengths of what's reflected and what's absorbed by the sample, an observer can calculate exactly what's in it. Light particles, known as photos, contain a lot of information. Thankfully, you don't need to know anything about the electromagnetic spectrum, because the machine does all the heavy lifting, spitting out data after about 10 seconds. Near-infrared technology is a fast, reliable, and non-destructive technique used already in the agricultural and pharmaceutical industries.
The technology is typically only available for people in scientific careers priced at hundreds of thousands of dollars, however, it has been used through these smaller devices by growers, extract producers, edible manufacturers, and dispensaries for a couple years now.
“We took the same technology that was being used in pharma to test drugs and designed it to test the potency of cannabis,” said Wilson. “It’s an FDA approved technology and it’s very inexpensive.”
Wilson says the applications for the Profiler II are varied. Growers can use it as a tool when monitoring their plants — pulling plants exactly during the moment when its buds have maxed out of its THC content. They can later use potency testing as a way to help negotiate their prices when it’s time to sell a harvest. Dispensaries can use the device to provide testing for customers on the spot, possibly assuring them of any concerns they have about dosages.
“It can give you information so that you can calibrate and grow the best possible plant,” said Wilson. “Before you had to be very skilled to be able to do this.”
But, as Wilson made sure to point out, in-house potency testing should not be perceived as a replacement to third-party testing. “Growers still need those,” she says, because only at a laboratory can the cannabis be tested for things like heavy metals, solvents, pesticides, mold, and fungus.
Plus, under Maine’s Marijuana Legalization Act, which is currently being re-worked by a special committee, recreational and medicinal operations are required to have their product tested by a third party for contaminants and THC potency.
While devices like the Profiler may still prove far too expensive or superfluous for some, its growing popularity shows just how committed many marijuana professionals are about putting out a safe, quality product. And that’s a good sign.