Handheld Spectrometry: Exciting Future of Cannabis Cultivar Categorization

by | Jul 15, 2020

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 cannabis science develops, different compounds and uses for those compounds, are continually discovered. While we consider THC to be the psychoactive compound within cannabis, all cannabis compounds from cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids have their studied effects.

What Would the Incorporation of Spectrometry do for the Market?

Noninvasive analysis of cannabis flower allows for the empowerment of the consumer, and the preservation of the crop. Processes such as Raman spectroscopy make in-depth chemical analysis possible by reviewing the interaction of light and the compounds within cannabis flowers. Theoretically, this process is possible for all cannabinoids, including CBD, THC, CBG, and other known compounds. 

By providing accurate chemical profiles of cannabis flowers, distinguishing between cultivars can be achieved with 100% accuracy. While genetic lineages are useful to know, chemical analysis of a cannabis harvest is a more direct portrayal of the content of the crop. Being able to differentiate between hemp and cannabis is an apparent draw to spectrometry, but cultivar identification is just as important. 

With the ability to perform spectrometry analysis on the farm, cultivators can provide dispensaries with real profiles of their buds. Not only does it allow the farmer to show off the quality of their flowers, but it enables dispensaries more reliably receive information about what they’re selling, and what they can advertise to consumers. To effectively market a product, all data is necessary. 

Cannabis testing labs can achieve the same goal through processes such as chromatography, but many testing methods result in sample destruction. Spectrometry is a gentle method of testing that can be portable, and eventually affordable for the mid-level farm. As cannabis information becomes more available, progressive farms should be on the lookout for advancements in independent testing methods. 

What’s Possible Today? Where is Spectrometry in Cannabis Science?

Cannabis spectrometry

Like so many innovations in the cannabis space, Raman spectrometry is not a new idea. The agricultural industry has a boon of research and technology, already in use today, which is perfectly applicable to cannabis. 

Through using noninvasive laser lights, Raman spectrometry illuminates the unique chemical structures within plant materials. Like a fingerprint, each sample is unique and provides an accurate analysis of the content. This method is already proven to detect the nutritional content of foods

Dmitry Kurouski Ph.D., assistant professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the Texas A&M University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, had a hunch that the same methods would work on cannabis plants. Following this hunch, he led a study published in the scientific journal RSC Advances. 

The results of this study are not only could the team identify THC accurately and easily but that they could separate between different varieties of cannabis and hemp with a 100% success rate. After the success of this study, the team is already planning to develop similar tests for CBD. After the proof of concept, there is no limit to what can be detected in cannabis through Raman spectrometry. 

Farmers will be liberated through this technology by being able to have direct input from their plants. Through the immediate testing of buds, cultivators can then make informed decisions about growing methods such as soil content and HVAC balance. Additionally, cultivated varieties arise through a nearly unlimited amount of circumstances. Growing one batch of seeds in two different buildings can lead to two different plants. Raman spectrometry allows cultivators to know the varieties of cannabis they’re working with without a shadow of a doubt. 

Be a Part of the Change, Help Information Make Waves

As cannabis emerges into the mainstream, it’s up to the activists and entrepreneurs pushing it to inform the public. Sativa and indica have no meaningful connection to chemical content. The balance of terpenes, cannabinoids, and flavonoids defines the cannabis experience, however. Through proving portable testing capable of near split-second detection is possible, Kurouski and his team have brought cannabis’s potential further forward. Not only could this technology become a staple for any cultivation operation, but those selling cannabis could also stock their equipment for independent review. The democratization of testing and processing increases access to information, and thus the foundation of a safer cannabis industry. 

While technology continues to grow, and incredible leaps are done to advance the agricultural industry, cannabis needs to stay up-to-date. The cannabis flower is a crop essentially like any other, which needs proper nutrition, care, and understanding to be responsibly sold. Handheld spectrometry may even help legitimize the push for broader legalization efforts. Until then, watch out for it as one of the most empowering ways to learn about cannabis you grow, sell, or consume.