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THCa, THCa Testing, THCa Lab Report
October 19, 2023 By Wild Orchard Co.

How THCa is Tested and How to Read a THCa Product’s Lab Report

9-Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCa) is the acidic precursor to Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis. Unlike THC, THCa is non-intoxicating. However, when cannabis is heated (e.g., through smoking, vaporizing, or cooking), THCa decarboxylates into THC. Given its relevance, there is interest in measuring THCa content in cannabis products, particularly in regions where legal restrictions dictate THC limits.

Testing for THCa, like other cannabinoids, can be important in the cannabis industry for product labeling, compliance, and ensuring consistent and predictable effects for consumers.

Understanding the THCa Testing Process

These are general steps and might vary slightly depending on the jurisdiction, the specific laboratory, and the exact methods being used for testing.

1.    Sample Preparation:

  • Before analysis, the cannabis sample often undergoes a grinding process to ensure a homogenous mixture. Then, an aliquot of the sample is taken for extraction. This usually involves drying and grinding the cannabis to create a homogenized sample.

2.    Extraction:

  • In most cases, THCa is extracted from the plant material using solvents like methanol, ethanol, CO2, or a combination of solvents.

3.    Decarboxylation (optional):

  • In some testing protocols, the sample is decarboxylated to convert THCa to THC. This is typically done by heating the sample.

4.    Instrumental Analysis (a way in which we can analyze chemical substances using machines, as it’s better in terms of accuracy, quickness, and sensitivity):

  1. High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC): One of the most common methods used to analyze THCa content. It can separate THCa from other cannabinoids in the sample and quantify its concentration. UV (ultraviolet) or diode-array detectors (DAD) are typically used to detect the separated compounds. HPLC is advantageous because it can measure both THCa and THC (and other cannabinoids) in their native forms without the need for decarboxylation.
  2. Gas Chromatography (GC): This is another popular method for cannabinoid analysis, but it is less ideal for measuring THCa directly since the heat in the GC oven causes decarboxylation of THCa to THC. However, if only interested in the total potential THC content (THCa converted to THC), this method can work.
  3. Mass Spectrometry (MS): Can be coupled to both HPLC and GC (as LC-MS or GC-MS, respectively) to provide further structural information about the cannabinoids and enhance detection sensitivity and specificity.
  4. Ultra-Performance Liquid Chromatography (UPLC): A newer technique similar to HPLC but operates at much higher pressures, allowing for faster runs and even higher resolutions.
  5. Thin Layer Chromatography (TLC): A simpler, older method where samples are spotted onto a stationary phase on a glass or plastic plate. The plate is then placed in a solvent, and compounds separate as the solvent travels up the plate. This method isn’t as precise as HPLC, but it’s cheaper and can be useful for quick analyses or in settings without sophisticated equipment.
  6. Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (NMR): While not commonly used for routine cannabis testing, NMR can provide detailed information on the molecular structure of compounds and can be used to identify cannabinoids including THCa.

5.    Data Analysis:

  • After running the sample through the chosen analytical instrument, peaks corresponding to various cannabinoids will appear on a chromatogram. The area under the peak for THCa is compared to calibration standards (known amounts of THCa) to determine the concentration of THCa in the sample.

6.    Reporting:

  • Once the THCa content is determined, labs provide a report detailing the cannabinoid profile of the sample. This report will include the concentrations of THCa and often other cannabinoids like THC, CBD, CBDa, and more.

7.    Quality Control:

  • To ensure accuracy and precision, laboratories usually implement strict quality control procedures, including the analysis of blanks (samples with no THCa), duplicates, and the use of internal and external standards.

8.    Documentation and Compliance:

  • Proper documentation is maintained for compliance with local laws and regulations. The test results are used to label cannabis products accurately, so that way, consumers know the levels of THCa and other cannabinoids they are consuming.

It’s essential to note that, for accurate testing results, the laboratory performing the analysis should be accredited and follow standardized testing protocols, such as those set forth by organizations like the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP) or the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

How to Read a THCa Lab Report

Now that you know how THCa is properly tested, it is important to know how to read a THCa lab report. We understand, however, that reading a THCa lab report can be confusing if you’re unfamiliar with the terminology and metrics.  Lab reports on cannabis or hemp-basesd products generally provide information about the chemical composition, potency, and potential contaminants of the sample.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to read and understand a THCa lab report, regardless is it’s a short-form or long-form report:

1.    Sample Information:

  • Sample ID: A unique identifier for the sample.
  • Sample Type: The form of the cannabis, whether it’s flower, concentrate, edible, etc.
  • Date Received: When the lab received the sample.
  • Date Tested: When the sample was tested.

2.    Cannabinoid Profile:

  • THCa: Look for the concentration of THCa. It’s often represented as a percentage of the total weight of the sample. This is the non-psychoactive precursor to THC, which becomes THC when heated (like during smoking or vaping).
  • Delta-9 THC: This is the primary psychoactive component in cannabis. It’s important to know this value, especially if you’re trying to stay under a certain potency or if you’re looking for a non-psychoactive product.
  • Other cannabinoids might also be listed, such as CBDa, CBD, CBG, CBN, etc.

3.    Terpene Profile (if provided):

  • Terpenes are aromatic compounds in cannabis that contribute to its scent and can influence its effects. Common terpenes include Limonene, Myrcene, Pinene, Linalool, etc. The report might list their concentrations as percentages.

4.    Microbial Testing:

  • This section lists any pathogens or bacteria that might be present. A safe product will have no detectable harmful microbes.

5.    Pesticide Testing:

  • Is an indicator if any pesticides were detected in the sample. Many states have established safety limits for pesticide residues.

6.    Heavy Metal Testing:

  • This tests for harmful metals like lead, arsenic, mercury, and cadmium. The report should indicate if these are below safety thresholds.

7.    Solvent Residues:

  • Especially relevant for extracts and concentrates, this section will detail if any solvent residues remain in the product post-extraction.

8.    Mycotoxin Testing:

  • Simply put, mycotoxins are toxins produced by fungi. This test ensures that no harmful levels of these toxins are present.

9.    Moisture Content:

  • Especially for flower samples, high moisture content can lead to mold growth.

10. Visuals:

  • Yes, some lab reports might include microscopic images of the sample, which can show trichomes, structures where many of the cannabinoids and terpenes are produced.

11. Conclusion/Pass or Fail:

  • At the end of the report, there might be a section stating whether the sample passes or fails based on predefined standards.

12. Lab Signature/Verification:

  • Authentic reports should have a verification, which might include a signature, stamp, or digital verification from the lab.

It’s essential to ensure that you’re looking at a legitimate lab report from an accredited laboratory. Check the lab’s name, address, and any certification numbers they might provide. Additionally, some jurisdictions or third-party platforms offer ways to verify the authenticity of a report using sample or batch ID numbers.

Understanding a lab report empowers consumers to make informed choices about the THCa products they use.  And, if you’ve any questions about a particular report, feel free to reach out to us!