The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has launched a program to help laboratories accurately measure key chemical compounds in marijuana, hemp and other cannabis products.

The program aims to increase accuracy in product labeling and help forensic laboratories distinguish between hemp and marijuana.

Another goal, said NIST research chemist Brent Wilson, is to help labs produce consistent measurement results and encourage best practices in lab testing.

“When you walk into a store or dispensary and see a label that says 10% CBD, you want to know that you can trust that number,” Wilson said.

With all of the hemp, CBD and cannabis products floating around dispensaries and hopefully research labs now that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released new guidelines on cannabis research, exact measurement of THC content in hemp is essential. 

As part of its Cannabis Quality Assurance (CannaQAP) program, NIST will send hemp oil samples to participating labs, which will measure the concentration of the various compounds and report back to NIST, which is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

For the time being, the program will focus on hemp-derived oils like CBD and later intends to do the same with marijuana flower, concentrates and edibles.

As for dispensaries, labels on most cannabis products normally list the concentration of THC, tetrahydrocannabinol, and CBD, cannabidiol, though it is no secret that most laboratories are not equipped to perfectly ascertain those measurements.

Producing accurate numbers at levels as low as 0.3%, the federal definition of hemp, can be challenging, especially when police or highway patrols are unaware of what sort of leafy plant the truck they just stopped is hauling.

Such was the case in Amarillo Texas when state troopers stopped a U-Haul and said it was carrying more than 3,000 pounds of marijuana, which turned out to be hemp.

How Does the Cannabis Testing Program Function?

NIST will send hemp oil samples with identical concentrations of THC, CBD and more than a dozen other cannabinoids to participating labs.

“Those labs won’t be told the concentrations of those compounds but will measure them and send their results back to NIST, along with information about the methods they used to do the analysis,” according to a NIST press release.

“After collecting responses, NIST will publish the measurements the labs obtained,” without naming the individual labs. They will then publish the correct measurements so that each lab can see how accurate it was.

 “Our goal is to help labs improve, not to call them out,” NIST research chemist Melissa Phillips said.

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