News & Research

On-site Cannabinoid Analysis with the Orange Photonics LightLab

cannabis • March 25, 2019

Who wouldn’t want one of those orange briefcases?

Once upon a time, measuring levels of cannabinoids (the chemical compounds in cannabis that act on the body’s endocannabinoid system) required either a Ph.D. in chemistry or sending samples out to an expensive external lab.

The percentages of THC and/or CBD in cannabis represent the “magic numbers” many producers (including larger-scale Licensed Producers, micro-cultivators, and small-scale home growers) use to measure the success of the strains they grow.

Important decisions – like determining which plants to keep as “mothers” for cloning new batches, or which growing conditions are best to maximize potency – are largely based on cannabinoid levels.

The problem is, certified lab tests can cost $250 per sample or more. (FYI that’s just for cannabinoid testing, the full regulated test for pesticides, heavy metals, microbial contaminants, and terpenes can cost several thousand dollars).

If GreenSeal only tested for cannabinoids via external labs, measuring the THC/CBD levels of the hundreds of seeds we grow for our genetic selection program would cost us many thousands of dollars every year. 

But thanks to a super-handy piece of equipment GreenSeal recently acquired, we can now measure cannabinoids in-house without needing to hire a full-time PhD or send each sample out to a third-party lab.

Thanks to folks at Orange Photonics – who created a portable, easy-to-use cannabis analyzer called the LightLab – measuring cannabinoids has never been easier!

Let there be light!

“LightLab” refers to the unit’s use of photonics, chromatography, and spectroscopy to determine the presence and concentration of cannabinoids in the cannabis samples it analyzes.

In a nutshell, liquid chromatography is a process that extracts cannabinoids into a liquid for analysis.

The liquid is then pushed through a column that separates and isolates each of the cannabinoids.

Spectroscopy is then applied, which literally shines a light through each of the liquefied cannabinoids. On the other side of the light is a detector to determine how much light is getting through.

Every cannabinoid has its own signature for absorbing light, which allows the unit to accurately measure the quantities of THC/THCA, CBD/CBDA, CBN, and CBG present in the sample.

The unit’s internal computer then runs what is known as a linear analysis, which takes all the data produced by the analysis and crunches it to produce an accurate quantification of the sample’s components.

The results are shown on the unit’s screen in a simple and easy-to-read report that can also be downloaded.  

Technology borrowed from the Mars Rover. We can all thank NASA for developing the portable spectroscopy technology Orange Photonics packed into its iconic orange briefcase: it was first used by none other than the Curiosity Mars Rover (probably not for cannabis though!).

Here’s how it works. Orange Photonics put together a handy video demonstrating the process of taking a sample and analyzing it using the LightLab.

Our test results are “Strictly Confidential.” We can’t share the results of the analyses we’ve run, but let’s just say some of our genetic selection program’s new strains are incredibly promising based on their measured cannabinoid content.

Multiple advantages for in-house testing

Besides being a super-cool toy that every cannabis grower wishes they had, there are many important benefits to using the LightLab to self-analyze for cannabinoids.

Optimizing harvest timing. Many growers have developed a sixth sense for detecting the signs that indicate when to harvest their cannabis for ideal THC levels.

In addition to confirming these gut instincts, the LightLab can also determine the ideal time to harvest for some of the lesser-known cannabinoids (like CBG, for example), which are more prevalent during earlier growth stages.

An invaluable tool for R&D.  At GreenSeal Cannabis Co. we put a lot of our energy into researching the ideal conditions for maximizing the full potential of the cannabis plant.

With the LightLab, we can now compare the impact different lighting formats, environmental conditions, nutrient regimes, growing mediums, etc. have on cannabinoid production.

A yardstick for our genetic selection program. Believe it or not, different seeds from the same seed packet can produce wildly variable results (different plants of the same genetic strain are known as “cultivars”).

With the LightLab, we can germinate literally hundreds of cultivars of a single strain and identify which one performs better than all the others when it comes to cannabinoid production.

The winning plants are chosen as our “Mothers,” which are cloned thousands of times in order to populate the many rows of our production spaces.

Enhanced quality control. With the LightLab analyzer, we’re able to get immediate results which we can then confirm later with a certified lab test.

All Licensed Producers are mandated by Health Canada to have samples of their final product tested by certified labs before the product is sent out to purchasers.

In addition to testing for cannabinoid content, these certified lab tests also measure any potential contaminants and pesticides.

The LightLab isn’t a replacement for the important step of certified lab testing, nor is it as accurate as these official tests (the margin for error is 2% on either side of any given result).

But it’s certainly an advantage to be able to monitor general quality levels in real time, rather than having to wait until weeks after a harvest for the official lab report.

It’s all in the orange briefcase!

It’s a wonderful world we live in where everything you need to measure your plants’ cannabinoid levels can be carried around in an orange briefcase.

We can only imagine how handy an Orange Photonics LightLab is for people who need to test THC/CBD levels in hemp while it’s still growing in a farmer’s field.

We’re certainly enjoying our newfound capability to assess levels of THC, CBD and other cannabinoids on the spot in roughly ten minutes.

Our commitment to innovation and maximizing the potential for the cannabis plant is certainly strengthened with this useful piece of technology.

Just don’t ask to borrow ours, it’s always busy!

Have you had any experience using the Orange Photonics LightLab (or other DIY analysis kits you think the growing community should know about) to measure cannabinoid levels in your product? Let us know in the comments below!

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