Alphabet Soup and the Modern Cannabis Lab
Hyphenated laboratory techniques have received ever-increasing attention as a principle means to analyze compounds of interest within complex matrices. On the one hand, chromatography is capable of separating and purifying fractions of the chemical components. On the other hand, spectrometry produces selective information for identification of the components by comparing against known standards or library spectra. By combining the two, hyphenated techniques exploit the advantages of each for both quantitative and qualitative purposes.
In today’s modern cannabis lab, it won’t be unusual to find the alphabet soup of instrumentation – techniques like Liquid Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (LC-MS), Gas Chromatography (GC-MS), Liquid Chromatography-Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (LC-FTIR), Liquid Chromatography-Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (LC-NMR), Capillary Electrophoresis-Mass Spectrometry (CE-MS) and others will be commonplace. Particularly given the complex nature of cannabis, comprising more than 500 known constituents, hyphenated techniques provide the necessary resolving power to analyze such a complex mixture.
The same is valid for cannabis extraction. No longer are we bound to employing the mode de jour of solvent extracting techniques – which is better, butane vs. carbon dioxide or ethanol, or perhaps a known solventless extraction technique. Or maybe a combination of solvents could work best. Understanding how extraction technologies can co-exist is the basis for hyphenated technology. Hyphenated extraction techniques offer the same possibilities to be highly selective for ingredients to develop specific, and possibly unique, products for medical patients and recreational consumers.
Alternative techniques can be explored elsewhere in the cannabis product process as well – plant drying, trimming, grinding, loading of extraction instrument, and disposing of the biomass post extraction. For example, I have come across many different technologies that provide the ability to give energy pulses to break open the cell wall of the trichomes. This makes the contents of the trichome more readily available for extraction and subsequent transfer to collection vessels.
There are many other technologies readily available to help with each step. Examples such as ultrasonic-assisted extraction (UAE), microwave-assisted extraction (MAE), pulsed electric field and cavitation-assisted are all well documented in peer-reviewed science journals.
In the course of my career, I have spent much time studying ways to improve batch, continuous batch, and truly continuous processes. Much like the quest to find the Holy Grail, perhaps one day we will have developed the “Willy Wonka” process for the cannabis industry. Choose the formulation, and the instrument(s) select the optimum process to provide the ingredients of the desired formulation. Stay tuned.