Cannabis Testing in the Legalization Era

Attitudes towards cannabis have shifted dramatically over the last two decades, and this has been reflected in recent changes to the law in many countries around the world. Just this November, an additional four US states voted to make recreational cannabis use legal, bringing the total to eight, (plus Washington DC). And over half of US states have legalized medicinal cannabis use.

But, given that cannabis was previously a prohibited drug in almost every country, regulators face major challenges in getting to grips with what is now a flourishing legal cannabis industry. And in the USA, with individual states making their own laws while the drug remains illegal at the federal level, the situation is further complicated.

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What standards will cannabis producers be held to? How do we ensure cannabis is safe for medical use? And, in spite of increasingly liberal cannabis laws, is research into the potential medical benefits of the drug being held back?

At Pittcon, taking place in Chicago from 5-9 March, 2017, we will be asking these questions as well as hearing some of the possible answers from leading experts in the field. Attending the conference will be many of the companies who are at the forefront of innovation in cannabis analysis, regulation and detection, such as Bruker, Shimadzu, PerkinElmer, Sigma-Aldrich and Restek.

Quantifying active ingredients

The main psychoactive compound in cannabis is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). But cannabis actually contains over 300 active ingredients including the cannabinoids, such as THC, and terpenes, which give cannabis its distinctive flavor and aroma. Determining cannabis potency, which can be very high in some modern cannabis strains, is a key function for cannabis testing lab

This is commonly done through LC and GC methods, but another approach that could make the process quicker and more accessible is infrared spectroscopy. For example, PerkinElmer, who will be presenting their devices at this year’s Pittcon, showed that Fourier transform mid-infrared (FT-IR) spectroscopy can accurately quantify quantities of cannabinoids in intact and ground cannabis bud samples. They say the method could be used by cannabis producers as an on-the-spot method that could inform growing conditions and optimize harvest time through cannabinoid concentration monitoring.

Methods of extraction

Following the growth of the cannabis industry is an increasing interest in cannabis extraction, which is used to isolate purified cannabis forms as well as producing oil and wax consumables. The most common method of cannabis extraction is by solvent. But any residual solvents following extraction must be removed as they can be harmful to human health.

Both Shimadzu and Sigma-Aldrich, who provide GC-based solutions for residual solvent analysis will be at Pittcon 2017. And the conference will also hear from Rober Driscoll of Robatel Inc., who will explain why an alternative approach – fast centrifugal partitioning chromatography – could have advantages over traditional methods.

Centrifugal chromatography is already used in the pharmaceutical industry and academia as a way of fractionating complex mixtures of organic components. Driscoll will discuss recent advances in the design of the technology and its use in isolation of cannabis as well as tobacco, opiate derivatives and nutraceuticals.

Eliminating pesticides and contamination

In the USA, because cannabis is illegal at the federal level, there are no FDA standards for the drug, even when it is prescribed in states that have legalized medical marijuana. This presents a risk that consumers could receive cannabis that is contaminated, for example by pesticides, or molds and fungi.

Such contamination is especially critical to eliminate for patients receiving medical marijuana who may already have compromised immune systems. Fortunately, several chromatographic methods are available to confirm the presence or absence of pesticides and contaminants.

At Pittcon 2017, Julie Kowalski from Restek will outline how a method already widely used in food and agriculture – QuEChERS – could be applied to cannabis pesticide testing. The technique uses LC-MS/MS to analyze pesticide residues and has so far been applied to over 200 pesticide types.

Jack Henion from Advion will also explain how compact mass spectrometry could be used as a screening method to detect pesticides and contaminants in cannabis samples as well as verify the quality and purity of cannabinoid products.

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Cannabis testing advances at Pittcon 2017

At this year’s Pittcon, taking place in Chicago, March 5-7, 2017, you can hear directly from industry leaders about the latest advances in cannabis testing and analytical methods. The conference will also explore recent developments in research into medical cannabis, as well as legal and ethical dimensions.

For example, the symposium “It’s legal! Now what?” will feature a presentation from Heather Krug from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment who will detail the challenges the state has faced since legalizing recreational cannabis. All of the major industry players will also be there to demonstrate how technological and methodological innovation are making leaps in cannabis analysis and detection.

To find out more about developments in cannabis analysis and regulation, and what’s on offer at Pittcon 2017, check out the free industry guide: “Cannabis Testing”, available to download from the Pittcon website.


About Pittcon

Pittcon® is a registered trademark of The Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy, a Pennsylvania non-profit organization. Co-sponsored by the Spectroscopy Society of Pittsburgh and the Society for Analytical Chemists of Pittsburgh, Pittcon is the premier annual conference and exposition on laboratory science.

Proceeds from Pittcon fund science education and outreach at all levels, kindergarten through adult. Pittcon donates more than a million dollars a year to provide financial and administrative support for various science outreach activities including science equipment grants, research grants, scholarships and internships for students, awards to teachers and professors, and grants to public science centers, libraries and museums.

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Last updated: Feb 1, 2024 at 6:11 AM


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