Monitoring Hemp THC Levels: A Constant Struggle
By Hemp Benchmarks
Last November, Hemp Benchmarks published the results of their survey regarding the 2020 hemp harvest that sheds light on the need to monitor hemp THC levels. The survey received several hundred responses from across the United States. Over 90% of producers who responded said their hemp crops came in under the maximum 0.3% THC threshold allowed by law.
That statistic was largely in line with reports from state agriculture officials. Although, as we have documented in our monthly Hemp Spot Price Index Reports in the wake of last year’s harvest, the percentage of crops testing above the legal THC limit ranged higher in some states, including in Indiana where 20% of the state’s crop reportedly tested “hot.” Many hemp cultivators, as well as those working at laboratories that test hemp for THC, say efforts to keep hemp crops from going hot – that is, exceeding the 0.3% THC limit – is a constant struggle.
Veteran farmers in America’s agricultural belt who have tried their hands at growing hemp for the first time in recent years have discovered that the plant can quickly increase both its THC and cannabidiol (CBD) levels as it matures ahead of harvest. In Nebraska, Rory Cruise, owner and CEO of the Sweetwater Hemp Company, comes from a multi-generational farming family. He was shocked in 2020 when all 900 of the hybrid hemp plants grown in his family’s greenhouse tested hot at harvest time. Cruise told the Kearney Hub this past March: “The experience of having a crop go hot and how fast it changed, that was an eye-opener for me. And discovering how each (hybrid’s) genetics are different.”
Labs Still Trying to Figure out Standards
Laboratories that test THC levels in hemp are the lynchpin when it comes to ensuring that crops remain compliant. The cannabis industry’s recent boom and a lack of uniform regulations, however, have created discrepancies in the test results produced by labs; results that cannabis companies increasingly depend on when it comes to determining a product’s cleanliness, potency, and legality.
“It’s not really at all like any other industry I’ve worked in, in that they’re still trying to work out proficiency and certification standards,” Frank Conrad, an analytical chemist who now runs Colorado Green Lab, a consultancy for the cannabis industry, told The Scientist in March 2020. The website also noted that there have been “many accounts of labs producing starkly different potency measurements for the same products.” Experts blame the discrepancies on a lack of standardized methods for determining cannabis potency.
“Lab protocols can differ in the specific solvents or reagents used during extraction and analysis,” the article cited above notes. “Then there are the instruments themselves, which may come from different manufacturers and have different calibration standards, potentially contributing additional variation.”
The Complexities of Testing Hemp
Rachel Merritt, Chromatography Manager at Columbia Labs in Oregon, advises hemp growers to use laboratories certified by reputable accreditation bodies. “Whether a client is in the hemp or marijuana industry, it is important that laboratories provide accurate THC levels to their clients,” she told Hemp Benchmarks. “Without a reliable, accredited lab, a client could be getting a result higher or lower than the actual THC value.” Merritt said her company has had clients who have shared test results from other companies that show a wide variety of THC levels for the same product.
Continue reading this article from Hemp Benchmarks’ Hemp Market Insider.