Improved THC Testing Could Be Ready by the End of 2021

The federal government is developing more accurate methods to assess THC levels in a move expected to benefit both hemp growers and law enforcement.

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January 6, 2021

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), a part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, is developing more reliable methods to distinguish hemp from its legal counterpart in the state-licensed cannabis market and aims to have these methods fully developed or evaluated by the end of the year. This effort is one part of NIST’s cannabis program, which includes a Cannabis Quality Assurance Program to help, in part, assess cannabidiol levels in CBD products and to develop reference materials.

NIST researchers are working to establish new analytical methods to determine tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels in hemp, NIST research chemist Brent Wilson told Hemp Grower. The research will focus on the development of isotope dilution, gas chromatography–mass spectrometry methods, extraction protocols, a single laboratory validation study, and evaluations of benchtop and portable infrared spectrometers used lab and in the field.

These new methods are meant to address concerns of both hemp growers and law enforcement agencies raised during stakeholder meetings about the limited accuracy of current testing methods, Wilson said. Such precision is essential as, under the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp that exceeds the current 0.3% THC threshold is destroyed, which can be financially devastating for a grower.

According to Joy Beckerman, principal and founder of Hemp Ace International, a hemp consulting firm, the study is the first of its kind by the federal government. Such research is “absolutely critical” for the hemp industry, she said.

Better, more accurate testing leads to more certainty surrounding hemp crops, which Beckerman said will “create jobs, stimulate the economy and invigorate Rural America and the American farmer.” Better testing also prevents the inappropriate seizure of crops and potential arrests based on inaccurate data regarding THC levels, she added.  

The development of these tests is aided by a recent $350,000 Department of Justice grant. The grant, which was awarded last December, will provide resources to implement these new testing methods at federal, state, and local forensic laboratories throughout the country, Wilson added. NIST will work directly with these labs to implement these new methods by developing standard operating procedures, training modules, webinars, and scientific publications.