Mark Hubbard is co-founder of Integrity Labs, a licensed cannabis analysis & testing laboratory in Washington. He recently joined our podcast host Shango Los for a conversation about the importance of consumer safety in regard to cannabis, which, after recent product recalls in commercial cannabis markets, is an issue that greatly affects the progress of the industry as a whole.
In this podcast, Mark talks about some of the inherent difficulties related to providing consumers access to inspect their cannabis prior to purchasing it, how testing labs have to be prepared to identify suspicious sampling methods by growers in a hyper-competitive market, how scientific testing and consumer safety concerns for flowers and oils/concentrates differ, and more.
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Shango Los: Hi there and welcome to the Ganjapreneur.com Podcast. I am your host, Shango Los. The Ganjapreneur.com Podcast gives us an opportunity to speak directly to entrepreneurs, cannabis growers, product developers, and cannabis medicine researchers all focused on making the most of cannabis normalization. As your host, I do my best to bring you original cannabis industry ideas that will ignite your own entrepreneurial spark and give you actionable information to improve your business strategy and improve your health and the health of cannabis patients everywhere.
Today, my guest is Mark Hubbard, co-founder of Integrity Labs. On the show today, we are going to review the things to look for to insure you are buying clean and safe cannabis products without mold, harmful solvents, and pesticides. Thanks for being on the show, Mark.
Mark Hubbard: Thanks for having me, Shango.
Shango Los: Mark, let’s start with the simplest of purchases. What should cannabis buyers be looking for when visually inspecting some cannabis flower to buy?
Mark Hubbard: Depending on the product you’re going to buy, it’s going to look a wide variety of different forms. It could be leaf. It could be tight bud. It could be in a joint where you really don’t get to see what the bud actually looks like. It could have kief added to it. There’s a wide variety of different products, so you definitely want to look for coloration, no paper or material that doesn’t look right. I doubt most companies would actually package up something like that, so you’re going to be kind of limited for what you are looking for. You don’t get to touch it, and feel it and, in some instances taste it, like you used to in the medical community. You kind of have to go by what companies have a good reputation and what looks good to your eye.
Shango Los: In the states where you can still handle the cannabis flower and they don’t automatically come prepackaged, is there any way you can tell by looking at the flower whether or not there’s going to be mold on the inside? So often, you buy a flower and it looks awesome, but then you crack it open and you see there’s botrytis in the middle. Is there any way to do a sniff test or anything, or you just need to trust the company that you’re buying from?
Mark Hubbard: Yeah, I think the old way where you could look them eye to eye and actually handle it and touch it, but then that makes a little bit of a concern, as well, how many other people touched it before you actually got your hands to it. We’re pretty dirty creatures. Our hands, and our faces, and our cell phones, and our computers are breeding grounds for microbes. We live with them every day, but definitely limiting our exposure to some more harmful ones would probably be something you want to take under consideration, for sure. But a lot of times you can’t see the contaminations that are there and that is problematic.
Shango Los: The states that have moved along towards normalization more quickly, they’ve got testing that is part of the system. All of the states that have that testing so far, it’s self selected flower where the grower will choose the flowers and send it into the lab for testing. How effective and accurate do you think these are when the growers themselves are self selecting the flowers?
Mark Hubbard: We were very skeptical early on because the systems have not been done and tested and tried and true. We found pretty very good consistency from flower to flower and lot to lot. We’ve gone so far as to buy flowers off the shelf that we previously tested in our facility, just to check the integrity of the companies that we’re doing business with, as well, and surprisingly there’s not that much variance. Now, we definitely have seen some that will go and package the smalls and the things that we just know aren’t an accurate representation of the rest of the lot, but it’s doing you a dis-justice. You’re hurting yourself in the long run. Your products that need to come out now on the market right now need to be the most beautiful product that you can put out there. You want to stand out. You’ve got a bunch of other companies that are the same thing you are. You need to highlight yourself, whether it be packaging or making sure that that package they get and that experience they get is exactly what they want.
Shango Los: I hear this one negative rumor time and time again, but I’ve never actually heard of it happening. You’d be the perfect guy to ask. I’ve heard before that people try to game the system by taking the flowers that they just pulled from their plant and they roll it in kief, so that they hit higher THC levels. That may have happened a couple times, but it makes me wonder if it’s happening commonly. I would think that you’ve done enough testing that those would show up as outliers if it was happening. What do you think? Is it more rumor or do you see it actually happening?
Mark Hubbard: We definitely see it happening, and we call the customer on it. We’ll lie to them and say they have a microbial failure, just to get another sample. If they’re going to play out of the bounds, then I have to play out of the bounds to check them. I can see the kief on it, if we do a proper visual inspection. The thing is that we’ve done it on our own with in house testing and we’ve tried to pack that sample as much as we can with kief and you’re only gaining a point or two at best and it really doesn’t account for these high numbers. 32 and 36%, these are solid kief numbers, so this would be a solid pile of kief. That would be a result that you would get from that, so we typically have not. The samples that we tested at the Dope Cup bounced right up to 30%. That was only with a half a gram sample. That wasn’t confirmed with 4 grams , multiple extractions. If we see something that’s not within the bounds, I’m going to ask for another sample. I’m going to look them in the eyes and everybody usually crumbles. Cause they know. I say, “Hey, you’re not going to gain what you need to. We’ve tried to do this and it doesn’t work.”
Shango Los: I like how you approach because you very much approach this as a gate keeper role because you are a protector of customers and patients. You brought up something we have talked about on the show a couple of times, but I have to ask you. What do you think of these test results that are above 30%? A lot of the people say anything above 30% has to be wacked up. What do you think? Is it possible for a typical cannabis flower to every break that barrier?
Mark Hubbard: Our chemists and botanists that work here kind of doubt it. We’re not going to say it’s never possible. We’re just kind of touching … We’ve all had to hide out and grow marijuana. Now, we get big facilities to grow marijuana and we get to openly share information. Things can only get better. I hope, but I’m not sure where these numbers are coming from, Shango. The numbers that we have tested and side tested just didn’t match up. I would say that you need to make sure that the lab and companies that you’re doing business with are taking good care of you and making sure that they’re not putting you at risk, as well. I’m sure if I were to tell some of these companies they had a 36% marijuana, they would be super excited, but I guarantee you the majority of the clients we do business with would doubt me and tell me I’m nuts and, “You need to check this again, because I’m not putting that on my package.”
Shango Los: Right on, right on. After the break, we are going to talk a lot about edibles and dabbable oils, but the last thing that I want to hit on flowers before we go to that break is what if somebody is suspicious of pesticides being in your flowers? Does a … and they want to get it tested themselves. Does a typical cannabis laboratory test for pesticides, and if not, where do they get that done?
Mark Hubbard: There’s a few labs in the state. You’ve got all over the state. You can find a lab that’s accredited to do potency. When you talk about pesticide analysis, this is a very, very high end analysis. This is a skill that just doesn’t come very easily. The equipment that’s needed is very, very expensive. Right now, there’s, I believe, one lab in the state that says they’re currently doing the testing. That’s going to be in Eastern Washington. There’s ourselves. We’re getting all that instrumentation and working through all those methods. Then again, none of the labs are accredited to do this testing. We’re not certified like a federal lab is. There’s labs in Oregon that are currently doing this testing. Some are saying they’re doing it and some are … You just have to be careful with who you’re doing business with. With pesticide analysis, it’s very high end. I wouldn’t anticipate anything less than $300-400 just for the pesticide analysis.
Shango Los: This sounds like it’s a two fold issue, both trying to find somewhere to do it and then coming up with the cash. We’re going to take a short break and be right back. You are listening to the ganjapreneur.com podcast.
Welcome back. You are listening to the ganjapreneur.com podcast. I’m your host, Shango Los, and our guest this week is Mark Hubbard, co-founder of Integrity Labs. Mark, before the break we were talking about flowers and how to best buy high quality flowers that don’t have mold and pesticides. The real thing people are constantly talking about are all the different forms of oil, because whatever is in those flowers that could be harmful is now concentrated into an oil, and now it could be really harmful. There’s a handful of different types of solvents. We probably don’t need to talk too much about simple bag hash other than the pesticide stuff we talked about in the first part. Let’s talk about hydrocarbons to begin with: propane, hexane, butane, of course. All these different hydrocarbons that can be used to extract a dabbable oil. What should people be looking for when buying a dabbable oil to keep themselves safe?
Mark Hubbard: When looking for oil, it comes in all different forms. You can see waxes, which are not going to be clear. You can see shatters that are going to be completely clear, look like a nice little piece of amber. Looking at a product, you are not going to be able to differentiate much. You definitely don’t want anything that’s sat around for a little while, because some butane products will have some issues after awhile. You will see some hair growing on it, maybe a white sheen over the top of it if it’s kept in a silicone container. There is a reaction between silicone and butane, so storage of your products is important. I would look for that, for sure.
Shango Los: When looking for tests, a lot of people brag about how low their parts per million are with residual butane, for example. What kind of numbers should someone be looking for in the ppm to know that the testing that you’re looking at is what they want?
Mark Hubbard: The state level for residual hydrocarbons is 500 parts per million. That is total hydrocarbons. The residual ethyl alcohol is removed from that number, as well. There are situations, and this is coming up in rule change, where ethyl alcohol extractions or products that are winterized, so this would be any CO2s, any butane extractions that are winterized with alcohol, they will require a residual ethyl alcohol. We don’t know what that threshold is going to be. There’s some talk that it would be 5,000 parts per million of residual ethyl alcohol and 500 parts per million of residual solvents or hydrocarbons.
Shango Los: You say the state says 500 ppm, but would you ingest something at 500 ppm? Do you think that’s too high, or do you actually think that there’s actually some more room and 800 or 1,000 would be good? I understand what the state says, but we have a lot of contention from state to state about what is being recommended. As a consumer, what do you think that number is?
Mark Hubbard: I think the lower the number, the better. You can get these hydrocarbons out. Does it affect your product? Yes, but you can still get these hydrocarbons out and still have a very good product afterwards, as well. This is definitely a balance. You could get real excited and say, “I’m only going to smoke anything that’s under 10 parts per million.” Maybe you’re kind of hurting yourself because that products has had to be so over processed, that you’re losing some of the integrity of what you may want to keep. In essence, the terpenes and some of the smells and flavors and nuances of the products. In some parts, we’re seeing some companies that are working away from the really, really low residual solvents, because it takes extra time to vacuum purge those. Also, you get a better product right around the 100 and 150. If we refer to some of the Dope Cup … I’m sorry, not Dope Cup, but Secret Cup Smoker Cups, we know that several thousands parts per million is a product that people like, as well. As far as what’s good for somebody or not, there is listed exposure limits for those hydrocarbons. I don’t have that information. That’s definitely not my expertise. We could provide that information, or get you link or source information if that’s something that you want as far as what OSHA recommends, but then you have to trust what their recommendation is, too, as well.
Shango Los: How about other adulterants that can be added to the oil to change the delivery. Say, for example, a vape cartridge. Vape cartridge companies … They come in a lot of flavors. Some companies have the ability to extract the correct viscosity to put into a cartridge. That’s a mad skill, but a lot of other folks make up for that skill by adding coconut oil or vegetable glycerin or propylene glycol for viscosity reasons. Is that adulterant safe for us to inhale?
Mark Hubbard: I’m glad you brought up the viscosity part of it because that’s a huge concern and problem for the cartridge makers. When you start to have effects where you have loss in product based on leakage, that becomes a serious money issue. One little secret that people are using is they’re just adding a little bit of ethyl alcohol to get that viscosity that they need. Very small amounts of ethyl alcohol are under the acceptable amounts, and even under the proposed acceptable amounts, but it gets you the same effect. Now, some that are using coconut oils or vegetable glycols or the propylene glycols or the glycerins, those are definitely a concern. I see a lot of information out there about what happens when you dab or vaporize vegetable oils and the fact that they don’t fully combust. You’re actually inhaling that oil vapor into your lungs and it’s causing some issues, for sure.
Shango Los: I would think that … I haven’t seen any studies about … Obviously, all three of those are edible, but the idea of combusting them or vaporizing them, it puts me on guard. Would you say that whenever possible, you should try to keep the adulterants out of your vape cartridges? Certainly, in states that are just coming online, they may not have that ability, yet. Generally speaking, we should be going for as much adulterant-free product as possible, right?
Mark Hubbard: For my preference, I would prefer something that’s unadulterated. Then again, I definitely understand and have enjoyed the strawberry, the pina colada, and have definitely participated. I think the combustion temperature is of the utmost concern when you use these products, for the glycols and the glycerins. As far as I know, the vegetable oils and coconut oils should not be used in any vapor products, period.
Shango Los: What has been some of the more interesting, or even just one of the more interesting ways to game the system you have seen with oils? You mentioned earlier with flower, people will roll it in keif. What’s the way to cheat when it comes to dabbable oil?
Mark Hubbard: The oils come out pretty homogeneous. We don’t find much inconsistency within the product. We’ve started into testing the rosins, and that’s been a big interest. What’s the difference in the darker color verses the lighter color? We don’t see much difference there, either. That’s something that’s pretty universal through the CO2s, the butanes, all of the dabbable products, that they’re very consistent in potency. It’s very difficult to cheat or game that system, for sure. I think in reporting is where you tend to see some of the issues as a 93% extraction mixed with this, mixed with this, but the label says 93%. That becomes a reporting and labeling issues. That kinda puts you at risk, for sure. Being transparent, what’s in your product, is a concern. We’ve seen that on the shelves.
Shango Los: Right on. We’re going to take another short break. We’ll be right back. You are listening to the ganjapreneur.com podcast.
Welcome Back. You are listening to the ganjapreneur.com podcast. I am your host, Shango Los, and our guest this week is Mark Hubbard, co-founder of Integrity Labs. Mark, on the first two parts of the show, we first talked about flower and how to correctly choose flower that is going to be safe to smoke. Then, in the second part we talked about oils. Let’s talk about edibles here in this last section. I can imagine that edibles are probably the most difficult thing for you to test in the lab. Would that be true?
Mark Hubbard: I would have to agree with that, most definitely.
Shango Los: I would actually think that you actually probably need to invent some new ways to test different types of edibles, because a gumdrop is really different than a brownie, which is going to be really different than a syrup, an infused syrup of some sort.
Mark Hubbard: Correct, and then you start adding in all of the preservatives agents and stuff, and it just compounds things. You have to definitely read through the layers of flour, and egg, and sugar, and get down to the very, very small amount of THC, which is a very impressive goal. I have to tip my hat to these edible makers, because to formulate something into 1,500 item batch and get the accuracy of 10 milligrams is impressive.
Shango Los: That’s exactly where I wanted to go with this, too, because I have seen a lot variation in the early days of the milligrams that are labeled on the package versus the experience, right? We understand that edibles themselves is a developing art, but at the same time, cannabis labs across the country are a new art, as well. As both someone who runs an analytics lab and as a cannabis enthusiast, how reliable do you think the milligram suggestions on the packages are across the country?
Mark Hubbard: I think the edible makers are under the biggest microscope. Can’t have brightly colored packages. They’re going to have to potentially have a Mister Yuck sticker on their product. It’s kind of … They have to jump through the most hoops, for sure. Definitely costs more for them to get their chocolate than it does to put the cannabis in it to infuse it.
Shango Los: Let’s say that you’ve got a package of 10 cookies and they are 10 milligrams each, so the total package has 100 milligrams in it. What do you think the drift is, generally, between the first cookie and the tenth cookie? I would think that homogenization would be really challenging at those micro-dosing levels. Those milligrams should be considered more of a suggestion.
Mark Hubbard: You would think, but surprisingly enough, item to item to item, whenever we get a new product or a new edible into our facility, the chemists love it. It’s a fun day for them. They get to experiment. They get to run through different protocols and figure out what the best way to test that edible is, where the outliers may lie as far as is it a product where based on our analysis, are you portioning to that size, or is the cookie that comes out have its own variance? That’s where the issue in dosage becomes with an edible, is if your cookie variance in the accuracy of your scales. If your cookie varies another gram or two, you could easily push that over. The majority of the edible makers that we deal with shoot for about 9.5 milligrams, so there’s never any issue of being over. There’s no pass that says if you’re over, you get, “Oh, okay, we’ll just let it be all right.” No, it’s a destroyed lot, and that’s devastating for a batch.
Shango Los: I can imagine it potentially being devastating for a patient, as well. It’d always be better to be under than actually over medicating, because over medicating is never fun.
Mark Hubbard: We’re talking about a milligram or so of potential variance, so 10% of the total mass could potentially be over. The over dosaging, I don’t foresee that very much, but if the edible maker isn’t very skilled, he could definitely have an issue. We’ve put them through a very good vetting process to make sure that their products are consistent, as well. Their weights are accurate.
Shango Los: I would think that publishing the testing on edibles would probably be exceptionally important because it’s not like flower where you can look for mold or look for anything wrong with it. It doesn’t even look like cannabis. Your testing result for potency, and also microbial to make sure it’s clean, are pretty much essential when it comes to edibles, I would think.
Mark Hubbard: You’re correct, but at this point within the Washington system, there is no microbial testing post processing of edible products. That’s where the most potential contamination could come in. Some of the testing we’re doing, unfortunately, is not at the appropriate stage. We’re definitely pushing as an industry as labs together to unify our testing standards and make sure we’re all coming up with consistent results. We all know that there’s some that aren’t doing it very well and others that are doing it extremely well. The goal in this system is to grow extremely clean and sterile marijuana that is of a good potency, not super, super, high. Making sure the product is what it is is the most important.
Shango Los: The one thing that I have gathered from our conversation today is that this is an evolving science at the lab level. It’s an evolving science at the processor level. Where the testing takes place and what the standards are are changing from state to state, so this is an area that we’re probably going to see a lot of evolution and a lot of in-fighting before it’s over.
That’s all the time we have for today. Thanks for being on the show, Mark. I appreciate your time.
Mark Hubbard: Thanks for having me, Shango.
Shango Los: Mark Hubbard is co-founder of Integrity Labs. You can find out more about Integrity Labs either on Facebook at Integrity Labs, LLC or at their website integritylabsolympia.com.
You can find more episodes of the Ganjapreneur podcast in the podcast section at ganjapreneur.com and in the Apple iTunes store. On the ganjapreneur website, you will find the latest cannabis news, product reviews, and cannabis jobs updated daily, along with transcriptions of this podcast. You can also download the Ganjapreneur.com app in iTunes and Google Play. You can also find this show on the IHeartRadio network app, bringing Ganjapreneur to 60 million mobile devices. Do you have a company that wants to reach our national audience of cannabis enthusiasts? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how. Thanks to Brassco for producing our show. I am your host, Shango Los.