The Power of Third Party Testing

In an Industry with little to no regulations, third party testing is increasingly the most powerful selling strategy for our industry. If it wasn’t for the nerds of the world we would still be in the stone ages relying on our olfactory receptors to gauge how dank the bud is with no quantified results to prove the dankness. Our industry is now in an era where science rains supreme. It is through scientific quantitative third party analysis that;

1. The farmer is able to tell the exact time he should harvest.

2. The farmer knows exactly how much he can expect from his crop.

3. The processor or broker knows how much to offer for the crop.

4. The extractioneer can decide what extractable goods the material is suited to produce. (CBD isolate, full spectrum, distillate, etc.)

5. The extractioneer can test his extraction rates and efficacy by comparing results before and after.

6. The processor knows the value of the extracted material.

7. The formulator can formulate products.

8. The consumer has added buying incentive due to transparency.

9. Overall risk throughout seed to sale process are mitigated.

Now you may see more explicitly why third party testing is so extremely valuable in our industry. It literally is the nuts and bolts of all of our business and research.

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With this knowledge, labs know the value they possess and some labs just like governments are not set up for the people. So just like people say “know your grow”……..know your lab and who runs your lab. Unfortunately just because a lab calls themselves a lab doesn't mean they are all created equal. Here are some ways you can wade through the muddy waters.

  1. ISO 9001:2015 certified.

  2. accredited to do testing outside of potency such as pesticide/herbicide/heavy metal tests/microbials

  3. look into their CEO’s or lab tech’s background

  4. go with a lab that has been affiliated by a reputable brand

ISO 9001:2015 certification explained:

International Organization for Standardization certifies an organizations practices (management, manufacturing, documentation). In order to obtain this all practices must meet requirements for quality assurance and standardization. ISO is an independent organization that has gained respect for their certification in such a way that when people see this they immediately know they are dealing with quality. The general consensus is the organizations that pass this standardization process meet the standards or exceed standards set by their competition. Reasons why businesses obtain this certification are; to meet customer requirements, increase revenue, improve quality, increase customer satisfaction, relay company processes, development of company culture, consistency, focus management, enhance growth, international quality recognition.

Now I am going to give an example of how I have picked a reputable third party lab to provide testing services.

Looked into location. Since I might be sending fresh material, I wanted to make sure I could get it to a lab fast to prevent decarboxylation. I live in middle Tennessee, unfortunately Tennessee does not have any full service ISO certified cannabis labs yet. This pushed me to look out of state. A lot of people send their samples up north several hundreds of miles. I was not satisfied with that distance so my research found Steep Hill Arkansas to be the closest. After finding this lab I then went through the checklist above.

-ISO 9001:2015 certified = yep

-accredited to do pesticide, herbicide, fungicide, microbial and heavy metal tests = yep

-CEO has a pharmacy degree = check

-affiliated with globally reputable brand, Steep Hill = check

This process may go a little different for you based on location but this is how I chose what testing facility to test at. Some other things to consider when shopping around is wait time to receive your results, how the company allows you to review results, do they have software that supports a personal profile that you can access whenever you want online, do they offer resources for you to learn more about the testing your receiving and do they aid in interpreting data?


When should you send samples in for third party testing? There is no regulatory body saying you must get this tested at this time apart from the department of agricultures’ pass/fail THC inspections in hemp states. With no regulation it is up to you to set your own testing standards.

How much material constitutes a batch? You can find out what medical states are setting batches at. Without regulation this is also up to you to set your own standards. I am sure in time we will have more to report on this subject.

My recommendations for growers:

If you are growing your variety for the first time and your supplier did not present you with any details on what cannabinoid profiles to expect. You may want to get tests throughout the growing process to understand your cannabinoid production throughout the growing season. Identify what cannabinoids you want to monitor. Most of the time a rapid potency test will give you all the data you seek at this point. You can start testing weekly if your budget allows at week 5 or 6. Most rapid potency tests are $40-$60. Communicating with your prospective buyer is key. They will tell you what tests they expect from you. I also recommend growers to consider soil tests before growing if growing in a new area outdoors. If a processor requires a “full panel” of tests they are typically talking about testing for standard potency, heavy metals, moisture and pesticides. Standard potency is also referred to rapid or express potency and will give you THC-A, ∆-9-THC, CBD, CBD-A values. An accurate moisture reading is imperative to know before storing and is typically included in an express potency test. A prospective buyer may also request the following; extended cannabinoid test, standard terpene test, extended terpene test. These tests are more expensive but will again give you more data to learn more about the plants you are producing. An extended cannabinoid test may include anywhere from 10-20 cannabinoids. In my experience these values are usually minuscule and are only relevant if the buyer is looking to create full spectrum extract. If your buyer is wanting CBD isolate, standard potency should be all they need. Terpenes are usually also present in small amounts but have become increasingly valuable on the market. Standard terpene tests will provide you with around 10 of the most common terpenes, whereas the extended will get you around a whopping 40!

The other question I often get is how many samples should I send in of each variety. Again there is no clear right/wrong answer.

My recommendations for processors:

Obtain COA from grower if available. If you are buying from a reputable grower it is your choice whether you want to accept these test results or send in a sample of your own.

My recommendations for retailers/wholesalers/distributors:

Random product testing is a great way to ensure the products you are stocking are meeting your standards.

What should you do if you get a result you were not expecting?

Scientifically speaking phytochemicals are unstable molecules to work with. They decarboxylate and evaporate when exposed to varying environmental factors. Knowing this if you happen to get a test result that you were not expecting, call and talk to the lab first. I know Steep Hill - Arkansas will do everything they can to ensure their testing has been done accurately and other labs may offer this support. The second step would be to inform the manufacturer, this information should be listed on the product for this purpose. They will then have a chance to offer an explanation. Its up to you at that point to decide what to do.

Third party testing is one of my favorite sectors of the cannabis market so I promise to add more content about this subject in the coming months. If you have any suggestions on topics you would like researched drop me a line @

Lab Recommendations:

Steep Hill Arkansas

11711 Hermitage Road, Suite #5

Little Rock, AR, 72211

(501) 516-8028


Monday: 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Tuesday: 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Wednesday: 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Thursday: 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Friday: 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Saturday: Closed

Sunday: Closed

Steep Hill -
11711 Hermitage Road Suite #6
Little Rock, AR 72211 (501) 516.8028

Cannabis Analytical Testing: Five Things You May Not Know

By: Brandon Thornton, CEO

As Arkansas patients eagerly await the day they can legally purchase their medication, cultivators and dispensaries are working on plans to produce the safest and most therapeutic cannabis possible. Analytical testing of market-ready products by an independent laboratory will both satisfy Arkansas Board of Health standards and confirm that cultivators and dispensaries have accomplished this goal. Cannabis testing is essential to the protection of public health and safety, as well as the success of Arkansas’ medical cannabis industry. Partnering with an experienced laboratory is critical to your success. Here are five things you may not know about cannabis testing:

#1 There Are No Federal Standards: When it comes to testing cannabis, there are no Federal guidelines and each legal state must create their own standards. States with new medicinal programs often lean on states with established protocols for guidance. Arkansas’s testing rules are very similar to a 2017 draft of Oregon’s cannabis regulations.

#2 Strain Name or Test Results: Different cannabis strains, cultivars, or varietals produce different medicinal or therapeutic effects. Consumers need an authenticated lab report and guidance from budtenders or doctors on appropriate strains for their conditions, expected side effects, and dosage. Arkansas requires testing for four cannabinoids; THC, THCA, CBD, CBDA. While these four cannabinoids are a good place to start, they paint an incomplete picture. What about the analgesic effects of CBC or the sedative effects of CBN? For some qualifying conditions, more information is needed to determine therapeutic effect. Terpenes also play an important role on patient experience and therapy results. Terpenes are present in many other plant species and give cannabis its distinctive smell and effects. Terpenes are another piece of information that should be used to find the best therapeutic option for patients.

#3 Fraud Has Been a Common Problem: Some labs will sacrifice ethics to drive business and increase profits. One unethical practice is to fraudulently inflate THC or THCA numbers in states that lack regulatory oversight or laboratory proficiency testing. Once a patient determines the dose that works for them, it is important that the potency information is accurate to ensure dosing is consistent. What if they receive 18% THC product that is incorrectly tested or fraudulently labeled as a 25% THC product? At best, they are a victim of fraud; at worst, they are at risk of a serious adverse event when using a medication that is accurately tested at 25% THC and much stronger than to what they are accustomed. Patients and cannabis businesses are put at risk by using a lab that alters the numbers.

#4 Experience Matters: Cannabis cultivation is a highly-regulated industry where mistakes can be catastrophic. Tainted product reaching the market could result in fines, product recall, irreparable brand damage, or consumer harm. Working with an established cannabis lab and can lower your risk of adverse events. How many years have you worked with cannabis? What is the age and condition of your machinery? How have you established your sampling methods? Do you understand regulatory testing for batch acceptance and what criteria are required? Do you have experience with every type of cannabis product? These are good questions to ask before selecting a testing partner. It is most advantageous to use an established lab, with historical data, reputable methods, and a true understanding of the cannabis plant and its medicine. You probably do not want to partner with a lab that is learning to test cannabis with your product, financed by your testing fees.

#5 Some Labs Go Beyond Testing: As the needs of cultivators grow, some labs are evolving to offer new products and services to provide additional value. Genetic tests to determine plant sex and phenotype. Environmental tests to ensure your facility is free from harmful pathogens or banned pesticide residues. Consulting services range from remediation of failed product plans to troubleshooting an underperforming crop. Partner with a lab which can assist in properly navigating the State’s rules to improve deficiencies in your business and avoid regulatory failure.

Paige Thompson