By Mat Lee
374 Labs, a cannabis testing laboratory certified in the state of Nevada, issued a press release back in December 2016 about being the first and only ISO 17025-accredited cannabis testing lab in the state. What does that mean?
ISO 17025 is the main standard used by testing and calibration labs. Most countries require that labs be accredited by this standard to be considered competent and in many cases, test or calibration results will not be accepted from an unaccredited lab.
What does this mean for cannabis testing labs? It definitely raises the bar for cannabis testing labs in states where some labs have taken the time and spent the resources necessary to attain such an accreditation. Those operating in a state with other cannabis testing labs that are ISO 17025-accredited would be wise to follow suit.
Alec Garcia, Managing Partner at 374 Labs, says, “We were licensed in late 2014. We were the first cannabis lab to certify product in July of 2015 for the first dispensary that opened here for the medical marijuana program. We’re also now the first lab in the state to receive ISO 17025 accreditation for a cannabis testing laboratory.
What motivates a lab to reach for such high standards? Garcia says, “Cannabis testing is a little bit of the Wild West. Everybody is kind of doing it their own way and everybody has their own business incentives for doing things in a certain manner, but the ISO accreditation takes a much more scientific approach to reviewing the validation, the process and the approach that laboratories take.” Alec is hopeful that this will become the norm the more the cannabis industry progresses and matures.
The Nevada Medical Marijuana Program has a pretty robust framework, according to Garcia. They have mandated pesticide and heavy metals testing, as well as mycotoxins, microbial, residual solvent, terpenes and, of course, potency. Garcia says that the more consumers become familiar with products, the more they will start to understand that choosing the right cannabis for them isn’t just about which flower on the shelf has the highest THC number.
“It’s not just that THC number, it is that effect [of] different terpene profiles [on] the product. Can we isolate terpene profiles that give a patient or a consumer a better overall experience?” They should be able to go to a dispensary and ask for a product with a certain terpene profile.
Who is the team behind 374 Labs? Managing Partner and Lab Supervisor Jason Stroll has a masters in chemical engineering from the University of Nevada Reno. Before he started this journey with his good friend Mike Seibert, he worked as a toxicologist. Jason and Mike got together to start 374 Labs built on a passion for science and entrepreneurship. Jason says, “We just wanted to start a business that really benefitted people in our local community. I think this is a good opportunity for us to not only test products for cultivators, but also test for patients to ensure the products they are getting are safe and have the concentrations they need for their medicine.”
Anyone who has ever eaten an edible and found themselves dealing with more of a buzz than they had planned will appreciate having a more standardized set of testing protocols that makes sure the amount of cannabinoids on the package reflects the amount of cannabinoids inside the package.
Jason says, “There’s not a whole lot of science in the industry, so there’s a lot of problems that can be solved. It’s really fun working with some of these cultivators and production facilities to optimize their process and do quality control testing that’s never been done before in this industry, just to ensure their process that is supposed to make a 10 mg edible isn’t flipping up and letting 100 mg edibles go out.”
Alec Garcia’s passion for the plant spans two realms. He got his MBA at the University of Nevada, Reno, so he’s interested in the entrepreneurial side, but but he also has a more personal connection to cannabis.
Garcia says, “My dad had soft tissue sarcoma. He lost a ton of weight and his doctors [suggested cannabis so he could] eat more and put on some weight. My dad, being a 65-year-old school teacher was not really in a position to either grow his own medicine or find it in another realm. So through that I was looking at what other states were doing, and talked to a lot of people that had pretty amazing stories. Either their kids had seen the benefits of Rick Simpson Oil or some form of cannabis. That’s what got me looking at the industry. If you have something that can potentially help somebody feel better, why shouldn’t they be able to access it to improve the quality of their daily life?”
This is huge, especially considering some of the awful side effects that come with certain pharmaceuticals. Garcia says, “In my dad’s case, it wasn’t pain management that he was really looking at it for. But when you see some of the negative side effects of some of these prescription narcotics versus what you can naturally get from a plant that grows in the ground, it’s pretty amazing.”
Michael Seibert, like Alec Garcia, has an MBA, with a background in operations management and project management for some large corporations. Seibert wanted to make a push to get into something exciting like the cannabis industry. But like Garcia, Seibert also has a personal connection to the plant.
Seibert says, “One of my good friends was diagnosed with cancer. At the time he was living in Utah, so he didn’t have access to marijuana that was clean and tested. He could have benefitted from it greatly, but he didn’t want to take the risk of buying it off the black market and potentially having pesticide contamination or other issues. It was really personal for me getting into this and making sure that the patients have the safest possible product available.”
374 Labs uses an Agilent 1260 HPLC UV for potency analysis, as well as a Waters AQUITY HPLC system for pesticide analysis. They also have a GCMS for additional pesticide analysis. They use an LCMS/MS for mycotoxins, and they test metals using Graphite Furnace AAS. Microbial testing is done by traditional microbial methods using plates, residual solvent testing is done by GCFID and terpenes by GCMS and GCFID.
Stroll says, “The way we set up our lab, we set it up with the most redundancy. We can do a lot of different assays on a lot of different equipment to keep ourselves going. If we have an issue with an instrument, we can swap it to another one. It gives us the opportunity to validate every instrument against the other instruments so if we get an interesting result, we can run it against another method to ensure that these are running on different methods and we’re getting the same result with different methods.”
Getting the ISO accreditation shows that 374 Labs is going the extra step. Quality control is done every day, calibration of machines is done on a regular basis and samples get sent to other labs for validation.
Nevada also has something called Round Robin Testing, the first of its kind in the cannabis industry. The Nevada Department of Agriculture facilitated this by obtaining collected samples from cultivators and sending them blind to all the labs for potency analysis. Stroll says all of the labs did great, and he’s interested to see how everyone does with other endpoints, like pesticide and terpene testing.
374 Labs would like to see other labs to also get ISO 17025-certified. Stroll says, “[Minimally] it shows that [the] lab is using the best practices available. Someone who is an auditor experienced in lab methods comes in and looks at all your methods. I think it’s the first start to doing good work, but from there you still have to be resilient and make sure your methods are always good and your [quality control] is always good.”
Garcia says, “We’re firm believers in providing the most accurate data possible. Not these back door deals or things of that nature that you’ve heard of in other states in other situations. We want somebody who sends a sample to our lab, or a patient or consumer who purchases something that has been tested at our lab, to have confidence in what they’re purchasing.”
That’s another cool thing about 374 Labs in Nevada. As a patient with the Nevada Medical Marijuana Program, you can take a sample to them, and they’ll test it for you! For more information about 374 Labs, you can them online at 374labs.com.
Photo Credit: Linda Seibert