Ensuring Accurate CBD/THC Dosage in Cannabis Products: NIST’s New Hemp Reference Material

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The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has introduced a Hemp Plant Reference Material designed to improve the accuracy of THC, CBD , toxic elements, and other compound measurements in cannabis products. This advancement is crucial for forensic labs to differentiate between legal hemp and controlled marijuana, and for producers and regulators to ensure product safety and accurate labeling.

Sieving ground hemp

NIST’s new hemp reference material is now available to laboratories, aiding in precise measurements of cannabis components. This tool helps law enforcement accurately identify hemp and marijuana and supports manufacturers and regulatory agencies in maintaining safety and labeling standards.

Both hemp and marijuana come from the Cannabis plant. The 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp, defining it as cannabis material with 0.3% total THC or less. Cannabis with higher THC levels is classified as marijuana, a controlled substance under federal law. Accurate THC measurement is thus essential to determine the legality of a material. However, recent studies, including one study by NIST, have shown inconsistencies in THC measurements on product labels, posing safety and regulatory challenges.

NIST’s hemp reference material addresses this by serving as a standard for laboratories to ensure measurement accuracy. The NIST Hemp Plant Reference Material (RM 8210) includes precise amounts of total THC, CBD, and several toxic elements, along with uncertainty estimates for each.

Laboratories can validate their methods by analyzing this reference material. If their measurements align with NIST’s within an accepted error margin, their methods are accurate; otherwise, they need to recalibrate their instruments or adjust their methods.

“A farmer’s crop or a company’s product can be seized or potentially destroyed if it turns out to be a ‘hot’ material, so it’s important to make the correct determination,” said Brent Wilson, one of the NIST chemists behind the reference material. Hemp, widely used in textiles, paper, and food products, benefits from this accurate measurement standard.

Although composed of hemp, the reference material is also useful for validating marijuana measurements, helping the cannabis industry and regulators ensure product safety and accurate labeling. “If you buy a CBD Oil product that claims to have 25 milligrams of CBD per dose, you should be able to trust that number,” said NIST biologist Colleen Bryan, who contributed to developing the reference material.

The NIST material also measures arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, and other toxic elements often tested in agricultural products. “People who use cannabis for medical reasons may be particularly concerned about safety,” Bryan said. “This reference material will help ensure that the cannabis they buy does not contain unsafe levels of toxic elements.”

Hemp plant

The NIST hemp reference material also includes moisture content measurements, crucial for reporting THC and other substances on a dry-weight basis, which aligns with most regulatory limits. This will also aid researchers in accurately measuring dosages for health and other cannabis-related studies, facilitating easier comparison of study results.

NIST produces over a thousand reference materials for various purposes, from food safety to environmental contaminants. The hemp reference material was made from commercially purchased dried hemp, ground, sieved for consistent particle size, blended to achieve a THC concentration just below the legal threshold, and measured for accuracy and precision. NIST statisticians then analyzed these results to estimate uncertainty values.

In addition to this reference material, NIST leads multilaboratory studies to help labs achieve accurate cannabis measurements. Funded by the National Institute of Justice, NIST is also developing improved methods for measuring THC and other cannabinoids and researching the feasibility of a THC breathalyzer.

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