Ethics Over Profits: Honest and Accurate Lab Testing

by | Dec 11, 2019

Detroiter Karhlyle Fletcher is the host of High Lit, a cannabis research and classic literature podcast featuring leading voices and independent music. In addition to years in written and video cannabis journalism, he is also a traditional author.

As the hemp and cannabis industries bloom, thousands of acres of hemp are potentially unfit for public consumption, due to improper remediation and planting in contaminated soils. Producers and consumers must be diligent. Cannabis Tech interviewed Josh Swider of Infinite Chemical Analysis Labs to discuss the problem of a “profits over ethics” mentality when it comes to accurate lab testing for cannabis and hemp.

The Importance of Certificates of Analysis (COAs)

accurate lab testing for CBD, AI image of woman testing  cannabis

Josh Swider and David Marelius were working in graduate school when Swider realized the analytical side of the cannabis industry was going to be detrimental to its progress. After a few months of discussion, they opened a small cannabis testing lab in 2016, running potency analyses for local manufacturers and fixing used instruments to help cover the overhead. By November 2019, the lab had employed 50 full-time employees, thirty of which have hard science degrees. Next month they will be moving into a 16,000 sq ft facility. In addition to this, they will be opening another facility in the state of Michigan in December 2019.

“We’ve always put science first,” Swider declared. “I think that’s the most important part of any analytical lab is to truly be a third-party testing lab. To hold to strong scientific morals and to report the results the way they are. Sometimes, the client wants a different result, such as higher potency, but it’s essential to maintain integrity and not resort to “pay for results” framework.”

Individuals run many labs without a scientific background. “If I went in to become a surgeon tomorrow, I hope no one would let me conduct surgery on them,” Swider joked. People without a background in analytical science sometimes don’t know when they’re making a mistake. 87% of the products in Colorado are testing positive for different potencies than reported on their Certificates of Analysis (CoA).

“Talking about ethics and profits, we had lost some clients back when the regulations started in 2017 in California because they were not happy with their test results. ” Swider reported. “Infinite Chemical Analysis Labs has been offered money in the past to inflate potency numbers or pass pesticide analysis, but we are a public safety testing lab. I would never compromise someone’s health by knowingly passing a product that was not compliant. As a result of the behavior of these bad actors, we absolutely believe our business has been severely negatively impacted. So the biggest challenge our company is facing right now is how to take on this unfair competition, particularly when it comes to inflated potency results.”

This obsession with potency is to make more money off the average person who doesn’t understand the ramifications. Producers want to see their products with the highest THC and CBD potency levels. Dispensaries want high-potency products because they sell better. But what about accurate lab testing? “I understand potency’s extremely important,” Swider said, “but at the same time, I think the safety side is more important, especially with someone whose health is compromised.”

Finding a Service for Ethical, Accurate Lab Testing

“Whether it’s hemp or cannabis, do your due diligence,” Swider explained. “Again, if I were to get a surgery, I would look into my doctor or the surgeon I was going to be using. Likewise, make sure they have trained professionals in the industry that have experience with what they’re doing. Call the lab and have a conversation with them.”

As Swider said, “make sure they’re there to guide you through and not just give you the results you want. If you pay for the results you want, it might help you in the short term, but it’s not going to help you out in this industry in the future.”

Paying for botched or fake test results never helps a company. “We’ve seen lab reports in the past where no one will believe the results,” Swider recalled. “A producer is trying to buy starting material from another company, and they see a CoA by a certain testing lab, and they don’t believe it. Then it just needs to be retested. But the new people coming into this industry don’t have this knowledge, so they end up getting ripped off. Be cautious. Make sure you’re working with someone you can trust.”

Ultimately, as in all other industries, cannabis comes down to quality. “I think any company that strives to make a safe product will be successful in this industry,” Swider declared.

Consumer Awareness of Falsified Reports

Consumers need to be wary of what they’re consuming. As a phytoremediator, hemp and cannabis plants are quick to absorb dangerous compounds that can lead to ailments like cancer when consumed.

“Stop buying from the illicit market. None of those products have undergone the required safety testing,” Swider commanded. “Most untested CBD products? You’re not getting CBD in it. Cannabis with the Vitamin E acetate? The CDC came out with an article on that with direct correlations to vape cartridges sold on the illicit market. You can do your research and find your trusted brands who use trusted laboratories to do their third-party testing. If there’s a CBD company testing for pesticides, heavy metals, microbial contaminants, and terpenes, they’re going a little further than everyone else to ensure your safety.”

Several companies have unique ways to prove legitimacy. “One thing that’s nice about our CoAs is they have a little QR code,” Swider explained. “Everybody these days can do a QR search on their phone, and the CoA will pop up. It goes to a dedicated server where the CoA is stored, so if you took a picture of that QR code, it’d bring up the exact CoA that was released to the client. If it differs from the CoA you have in your hand, that’s a problem, and that’s how you’ll be able to know if the results were changed.”

This technology wasn’t the first thing in mind for InfiniteCAL. It was the industry that forced their hand. “That QR code came up because people started editing our CoAs to make a lot of fake reports,” Swider admitted. “Alibaba used to sell our certificates of analysis. They used to sell our stickers to put on other peoples’ products, even our logo. It got bad. We’ve been working on the front lines with a lot of other companies to fix these problems in the industry.”

In this stage of the cannabis and hemp industries, safety must come first. Testing should always be done on products, and as Swider stated, “what consumers should be looking for is a trusted CoA.”

The Future of Accurate Lab Testing

Ignorance can spell ruin for an otherwise promising company. For those looking for more information, InfiniteCAL offers a consulting service at no fee. If anyone is looking for scientific guidance, they can call InfiniteCAL, regardless if they are using them, or if they’ve used them once before. “We’ll help out because we’re scientists first,” Swider promised, and accurate lab testing is what they do.

“That’s what we’re here to do. We’re here to help the community grow.”