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Avoiding heavy metal contamination in cannabis crops

A new report from Pen State University has found heavy metals in cannabis crops that are impacting consumer and patient health.



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Home » News » Production » Avoiding heavy metal contamination in cannabis crops

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The cannabis plant has multiple beneficial utilities – including soaking up heavy metals from the soil it is planted in. While this is good for the Earth, it is not ideal for crops that are grown for consumer consumption, as this contamination can have a detrimental impact on human health.

A new meta-analysis from Penn State University has highlighted that consumers of cannabis could be unknowingly exposed to harmful heavy metals.

The researchers show that strains that have been bred specifically for phytoremediation – because of their long stems, fast growth and high root and leaf surface area – can contain lead, mercury, cadmium and chromium which are all carcinogenic. Specifically, cadmium and chromium are capable of being transported and distributed up through the stalk and into the leaves and flowers and then exit through the trichomes.

Read more: High THC cannabis cultivation licence issued to Hilltop Leaf

This could have negative impacts on health, especially for people who are using the plant to manage symptoms of cancer or to manage a health condition.

The researchers propose a blueprint to support cultivators in avoiding this contamination of their crops, however, testing company Infinite Chemical Analysis Labs (InfinteCAL) believes there should also be extensive testing rules and regulations put in place to combat contamination.

Jayneil Kamdar, Ph.D., Lab Manager at InfiniteCAL, commented: “Cannabis plants have an exceptional ability to absorb heavy metals from the soil, which in fact, makes them promising candidates for remediating contaminated sites. However, from a consumer perspective, this means that extra precautions must be taken to grow cannabis in soil that is free of heavy metals.

“Heavy metals that have accumulated in the plant form may be inhaled by consumers. Even worse, heavy metals can concentrate in extracts by mass depending on the extraction technique. Another area of concern is heavy metals contamination in vape cartridges. If the cartridge hardware contains metal components, certain heavy metals (e.g. lead) can leach into the cannabis extract over time.

“InfiniteCAL often sees this with lower quality hardware. We encourage clients to do a heavy metal leaching test prior to filling any cartridges.

“Some of the health issues associated with heavy metals are kidney disease, neuropathy, anaemia, cancer, and developmental toxicity. Often, toxicity is incremental from chronic intake of heavy metals. Consumers, particularly for medical cannabis users, rely on having safe, clean products and must mitigate as much risk as possible.”

A 2019 YouGov survey demonstrated that around one million people in Britain – 2.8 per cent of the adult population – were using illicit cannabis for medical reasons. Contamination could be a huge problem for these patients that are using the plant from unregulated sources to manage their health conditions – as they do not know whether their medicine is contaminated.

Those using legal medical cannabis, however, can request for a certificate of analysis that will show any contaminant.

InfiniteCAL operates in California, and Kamdar highlights that in both California and Michigan, where there is a legal, regulated cannabis market, it is required that cannabis products are tested for heavy metals.

“We are also one of the few labs certified to test hemp for the state of Colorado which requires heavy metals testing as well. Arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury – often referred to as the “Big Four” of heavy metals testing – should be the minimum requirement, although Michigan also requires copper, nickel, and chromium.

“InfiniteCAL believes the more exhaustive the list required for testing the better it is for public health.”

For legitimate cannabis businesses providing products to consumers in these States, ensuring products are free of harmful contaminants is vital.

“According to regulations in California, product batches that have heavy metal concentrations greater than the allowed regulatory limits must be destroyed. Remediation is an option but removal of heavy metals is often not a trivial undertaking,” said Kamdar.

“The risk to any business is loss of product which is ultimately loss in revenue. This is why it is imperative that businesses mitigate their risk by performing R&D testing on their batches before advancing to the compliance level.

“Apart from diligent R&D testing of product batches, our suggestion is that manufacturers and producers stay vigilant of possible contamination sources from seed to sale. That may require testing the soil, water supply, hardware (e.g. vape cartridges), and even peripheral materials that are used in the cultivation or manufacturing process.

“Consumers should always ask to see a copy of the certificate of analysis to ensure that a product has been tested for heavy metals as well as microbials, mycotoxins, residual solvents and pesticides. The most commonly used methods are inductively coupled plasma coupled with mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) or inductively coupled plasma coupled with optical emission spectroscopy (ICP-OES).

“While each method has its advantages and disadvantages depending on the analytes being tested, ICP-MS in general is by far a much more sensitive and precise method. ICP-MS is often the preferred method when regulatory agencies assign low regulatory limits.”

The results from Penn State were published in Toxin Reviews, click here to read the results.


Biologists identify “hacks” cannabis uses to make cannabinoids

The research provides insight into how trichomes create high quantities of cannabinoids without the plant poisoning itself. 



Biologists identify “hacks” cannabis uses to make cannabinoids
Home » News » Production » Avoiding heavy metal contamination in cannabis crops

Previously, it was unknown how cannabis naturally creates high quantities of cannabinoids and terpenes. Now, new research from biologists at the University of British Colombia has defined the “high efficiency” hacks that the plant’s cells use to do this.

A number of biotechnology companies are now using yeast or cell cultures to create synthetic cannabinoids. The process allows for the mass production of cannabinoids to create a high volume of products in order to keep up with consumer demand.

In a new study, published in the journal Current Biology, plant biologists uncovered the microenvironments in which THC is produced and transported in cannabis trichomes, shedding light on several critical points in the pathway of making THC or CBD within the cell.

Read more: New research could help cultivators control THC and CBD levels in crops

University of British Columbia botanist who led the research, Dr Sam Livingston, commented” “This really helps us understand how the cells in cannabis trichomes can pump out massive quantities of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and terpenes—compounds that are toxic to the plant cells at high quantities – without poisoning itself.

“This new model can inform synthetic biology approaches for cannabinoid production in yeast, which is used routinely in biotechnology. 

“Without these ‘tricks’ they’ll never get efficient production.”

Read more: Exploring cannabis yield optimisation with PharmaSeeds

Livingston, along with co-author Dr Lacey Samuels, used rapid freezing of cannabis glandular trichomes to immobilise the plant’s cellular structures and the metabolites in situ. 

This enabled them to investigate cannabis glandular trichomes using electron microscopes that revealed cell structure at the nano level, showing that the metabolically active cells in cannabis form a “supercell” that acts as a tiny metabolic biofactory.

Until now, synthetic biology approaches have focused on optimising the enzymes responsible for making THC and CBD – like building a factory with the most efficient machinery to make as much product as possible. However, these approaches haven’t developed an efficient way to move intermediate substances from one enzyme to another, or from inside the cell to the outside of the cell where final products can be collected. 

This research helps to define the subcellular “shipping routes” that cannabis uses to create an efficient pipeline from raw materials to end products without accumulating toxins or waste products.

Dr Samuels stated: “For more than 40 years, everything that we thought about cannabis cells was inaccurate because it was based on dated electron microscopy.”

“This work defines how cannabis cells make their product. It’s a paradigm shift after many years, producing a new view of cannabinoid production. This work has been challenging, partly the result of legal prohibition and also due to the fact that no protocol for the genetic transformation of cannabis has been published.”

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New partnership to commercialise synthetic THCV and rare cannabinoids

Open Book Extracts has partnered with developers of a proprietary chemical synthesis platform that produces ultra-pure, high quality, sustainable cannabinoids, Nalu Bio.



New partnership to commercialise synthetic THCV and rare cannabinoids

Open Book Extracts (OBX) has entered into a research, development and commercialisation partnership with Nalu Bio.

The partnership will allow Nalu Bio to advance its THCV production method from research and development to commercial-scale manufacturing using its proprietary and scalable synthesis platform. 

With a 76,000 sf. NSF- and ISO 9001-certified research and production facility near Durham, North Carolina, OBX and Nalu Bio plan to begin initial production of THCV in September 2022 with market-ready compounds available before the end of the year.

Read more: Open Book Extracts joins EIHA to gain novel food status in Europe

CTO of Nalu Bio, Matthew Roberts, commented: “Our THCV is produced in highly scalable reactors at factory-scale, using low-cost, safe and effective starting materials. Nalu Bio and OBX are both innovators in their respective fields, and this partnership is mutually beneficial for two industry leaders.

“Nalu Bio prides itself on partnering excellence, and we’re excited to deliver high-quality, safe, and low-cost cannabinoid ingredients and products to the market.”

Read more: Collaboration to conduct research to support the cannabis industry

Nalu Bio’s vision for the synthesis and cost-effective mass production of cannabinoids mimics the history of aspirin – the therapeutic value of aspirin for pain relief was discovered, and while initially derived from willow bark, it is now mass produced at factory-scale with higher quality and dosage consistency, which has benefited billions of consumers worldwide as it has become the most commonly used drug in the world. 

THCV will be the first cannabinoid available at commercial scale through this partnership, allowing OBX and Nalu Bio to offer the highest quality, most consistent dosage of THCV.

Both OBX and Nalu Bio envision a range of additional cannabinoids to be released through this partnership,including a broad range of cannabinoids from hemp and natural sources, such as CBD, CBN, CBC, CBG, CBT, CBDa, CBGa, CBDV, and THCV.

OBX CEO, Dave Neundorfer, commented: “I am excited about the value Nalu Bio and OBX will bring to the cannabinoid therapeutics market. This partnership is well-positioned to meet the needs of the growing synthetic cannabinoid market and deliver potentially life-changing products to consumers worldwide.”

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Greece welcomes first medical cannabis plants from Israel

Mother plants have arrived in Greece, marking the beginning of production for Tikun Europe.



Greece welcomes first medical cannabis plants from Israel
Home » News » Production » Avoiding heavy metal contamination in cannabis crops

Tikun Europe has welcomed the first mother plants from Israel and will now begin cultivation in the company’s facility at Korinthos, Greece. 

Transportation of the plants was carried out by Skyserv Ground Handling Services. The shipment of the plants was made in specially designed containers under controlled environment ensuring the best possible conditions throughout the transportation from Israel to their final destination. 

Cultivation will take place in Tikun Europe’s vertically integrated greenhouse unit, with an area of 21,000 m 2 and it anticipates an annual production capacity of 10 tonnes of dry flower.

Read more: Tikun receives licence to begin operations in Greek facility

CEO of Tikun Europe, Nikos Beis, said: “We welcome the first mother plants to our facilities in Greece. Their arrival marks the beginning of production at the factory in Korinthos, which takes us one step closer to the realisation of our commitment. 

“Our factory, being the largest pharmaceutical facility in its industry in Europe, is committed to creating innovative, high-quality medical cannabis products. 

“A new era is beginning for our country with the operation of our Tikun Europe facility, paving the way for Greece to become one of the main players in the field of production and export of medical cannabis products.”

Greece welcomes first medical cannabis plants from Israel

The plants will be used for propagation under strict protocols that will ensure the preservation of the unique characteristics of the mother plants to the future generations. The facility is expected to reach its full capacity levels gradually in the near future, to deliver a wide variety of finished medical cannabis dosage forms.

The company’s greenhouse and production units are designed to comply with the GACP/EU-GMP standards, and it holds all the necessary licenses and certifications in order for its operation.

COO and vice president of the board of Tikun Europe, Dimitris Giannopoulos, stated: “After completing the construction of our production facility in Korinthos, today signifies another important milestone, that brings us one step closer to the beginning of cultivation of medical cannabis plants in the country. 

“The main challenge and opportunity now become the development and production of a complete portfolio of high quality finished medical cannabis products to meet the needs of patients in Greece and in Europe”.

Commercial director of Skyserv Ground Handling Services, Martha Georgila, stated: “We are very happy that Tikun Europe trusted Skyserv to implement the first transport of mother plants in Greece. 

“Following all transportation protocols for that type of merchandises, along with the specific storage conditions that were required during their stay at the airport area, we managed to keep them intact until their departure to the company’s factory in Korinthos.”

Greece welcomes first medical cannabis plants from Israel

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