Editorial Article: Cannabis-infused lotions, creams, and balms: Achieving standardization and quality assurance

Discover a first-hand experience of working in the cannabis testing industry, and how success with testing complex matrices can open new avenues of product assurance

17 Dec 2020


Dr. Jamie York, Restek Corporation
Dr. Jamie York, Scientist II at Restek Corporation

Following this month’s passing of a bill by the US House of Representatives to decriminalize cannabis at the national level, we take a closer look at some of the latest breakthroughs being made in the cannabis testing industry and what the eventual federal legalization of cannabis might mean for these industry innovators — should it be approved by the Senate and the president.

In this SelectScience interview, we speak with Dr. Jamie York, Scientist II at Restek Corporation, to hear about her early experience of working in the cannabis field, as well as learn about the progress the company has made in creating robust cannabis testing workflows for a particular set of complex matrices: balms, creams and lotions.

How did you come to be involved in the cannabis industry?

JY: I became involved in the cannabis testing industry when I came to work for Restek. One of the first projects I worked on was the development of a full workflow solution for the analysis of cannabinoids in lotions, balms, and creams. The cannabis industry is really diverse and it’s a lot of fun to develop new workflows in this market. It’s not solely focused on one type of matrix, so you get to develop methods for a variety of matrices including personal care products, edibles, plant material, concentrates, and more.

Can you tell us more about your job role and what you do on a daily basis?

JY: I work in the liquid chromatography applications department at Restek. I have a very diverse job and it keeps things exciting. I spend time developing chromatographic methods, processing data, conducting technical support, developing sample preparation methods, supporting new product development, and researching trending topics across multiple markets.

Cannabinoids are now being added to such a wide range of consumer products, are there any particularly complex matrices that you have worked with in your testing workflows?

JY: It’s wild to think about how many different things that cannabis has been added to. For example, makeup, topicals, bath bombs, etc. Name a personal care product or type of edible and I bet you can find it infused with cannabinoids. One particular set of challenging infused matrices are lotions, balms, and creams. These matrices contain many components such as fatty acids, plant extracts, fragrances, and esters of fatty acids. When creating a workflow, we knew it was important to develop a method that is robust, produces accurate data, and prevents instrument downtime, which was especially challenging for lotions, balms, and creams since we intended to include these three different, albeit similar, types of matrices in one method. 

Federal legalization will allow more opportunities for entrepreneurs to invest, more testing labs, and more acceptance for the industry.

Dr. Jamie York 

Scientist II at Restek Corporation

How have you overcome any challenges with sample preparation?

JY: Sample preparation is so important in the method development process. It’s every method developer’s dream to be able to run everything by a simple dilute-and-shoot method, but that’s just not always realistic. As the saying goes “junk in, junk out” so if you’re injecting an excessively dirty matrix you can expect a nasty chromatogram. I always try to keep an open mind and let the science guide me when trying to overcome sample preparation challenges.

For example, when I was working on developing a method for quantifying CBD in lotions, balms, and creams, I went into the project thinking that the solvent that dissolved samples exhaustively was going to return the best results. When I tested it, that just wasn’t the case and I had to come up with a different approach. In the end, the most efficient extraction solvent ended up being the solvent that CBD was most soluble in, even though it didn’t completely dissolve the sample. It’s best not to get discouraged and in the back of your mind always be thinking “if this doesn’t work, what else can I try?”

Which products have been crucial in helping you carry out this work?

JY: Of course, one of the most important things in chromatographic analysis is the column. For this workflow, I used a Raptor ARC-18 column. This column is robust and perfect for high-throughput applications. The column was equipped with a Raptor ARC-18 guard cartridge to help protect the analytical column and improve column lifetime. It’s also important to note that Raptor ARC-18 is quality tested specifically for the analysis of cannabinoids to ensure consistent lot-to-lot performance. Additionally, filter vials are absolutely critical in cannabinoid analysis workflows. Filtration prior to injection removes particulates present in the sample that could potentially clog your column.

Dr. York's top tips when incorporating testing workflows for balms, creams and lotions

Creams, lotions, and balms can be really tricky samples. I think it’s a great tool when first starting a new project to see what’s been previously done. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. We have an application note published on the Restek website on CBD lotions, balms, and creams, so it’s a great place to start if that’s something a lab is looking to add to their workflow. It’s important when first addressing a challenging matrix to not box yourself in. Make sure to set yourself up for future success by doing a thorough job with the initial method development. Time spent upfront will pay dividends in the end. If any questions arise, Restek is always here to help so don’t hesitate to contact us for help with new or existing methods. 

Finally, do you think the COVID-19 restrictions have affected the cannabis industry in any way? What do you think the future of the industry will look like?

JY: From what I’ve seen the cannabis market has seen its hardships just like other industries. Fortunately, retail has still performed well during this pandemic, which has kept a steady revenue stream and demand for product which in turn has kept a demand for testing. However, the growth for expansion and revenue most likely slowed and didn’t reach its full potential. The hardest hit aspect of the cannabis market is likely less expansion and revenue growth for labs. With the US House of Representatives recently passing a bill to decriminalize cannabis, momentum continues to build towards the federal legalization of cannabis. Federal legalization will allow more opportunities for entrepreneurs to invest, more testing labs, and more acceptance for the industry as well. Hopefully, this will result in a path forward for testing standardization. This industry has an exciting future!

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