Numerous vials neatly arranged in an autosampler tray, awaiting cannabinoid testing

Ensuring Quality: A Deep Dive into CBD Lab Testing with Trace Analytics

In a market that once resembled the “wild, wild west”, CBD lab testing has emerged as a beacon of integrity. Adriane and Chris from the Kentucky Cannabis Company shed light on the journey of Bluegrass Hemp Oil products from cultivation to shelf. They emphasize the paramount importance of lab testing to ensure consumer safety and product efficacy.

Importance of CBD Lab Testing

The burgeoning CBD market saw many products that were far from the claimed purity. Adriane reminisces about the early days, elucidating the critical role of CBD testing labs in establishing a benchmark for quality. Chris underscores the rigorous testing Bluegrass Hemp Oil products undergo, encompassing aspects like potency, residual solvents, and microbial content to guarantee safety for consumers. Learn more about why Bluegrass Hemp Oil stands out in Kentucky’s CBD market.

Types of Tests Conducted in a CBD Testing Lab

Chris enumerates the common tests including potency, microbial, mycotoxins, residual solvent, pesticide, heavy metal, and terpene testing. He underscores that potency test is quintessential as it deciphers the cannabinoid content in the sample tested, a key indicator of product quality.

Misconceptions and Challenges Surrounding CBD Lab Testing

A prevalent misconception is the claim of “zero THC” or “T-free” products. The actual detectable limit of THC varies across labs due to a non-standardized limit of detection (LOD), potentially misleading consumers regarding the THC content in products. Explore the advocacy for CBD and the common misconceptions surrounding it.

Elevating Consumer Awareness and Regulation

Chris and Jessica exhort consumers to demand lab-tested CBD and acquaint themselves with reading lab tests to ascertain they are procuring safe, quality products. The narrative also touches upon the dire need for industry regulation to drive better practices.

Worst Findings in Lab Tests

Chris recounts an alarming finding of hazardous levels of chloroform in a product, accentuating the imperative of obtaining Certificates of Analysis (COA) to ensure the safety of CBD products on the market.

Future Optimism Towards Lab Tested CBD

Chris manifests optimism regarding the escalating demand for lab tested CBD oil and other products, envisaging an uptick in product quality as the industry attracts adept chemists and engineers.

Hydrocarbon Processing and CBD Testing Labs

The discussion veers towards hydrocarbon processing, where Jessica and Chris demystify common misconceptions. Chris elucidates that absent solvents in the final product pose no danger, underscoring the role of reliable CBD testing labs in validating product safety. Discover more about the processing and testing of CBD oil.


CBD lab testing is not just a procedural requisite, but a commitment to consumer safety and product authenticity. With informed consumers and stringent CBD testing labs, the CBD industry is on a trajectory towards elevated quality and transparency.

*DISCLAIMER: This is a transcript of episode 21 What You Need To Know About CBD and Lab Testing from our Full Spectrum Living with CBD podcast. Click here to listen to the podcast episode What You Need To Know About CBD Lab Testing or click here to watch the video.


Meredith [00:00:06] Welcome back to this episode of Full Spectrum, Living with CBD. I am your co-host, Meredith. Herewith our host Jessica and Adriane. And we’re really, really excited for this episode today because we have a guest, Chris Topper, who is the lab manager at Trace Analytics. So welcome, Chris and Adriane and Jessica.

Chris [00:00:24] Thanks. Morning.

Adriane [00:00:26] Hello.

Meredith [00:00:26]  It’s great to have you here today. So maybe you can tell us a little bit about how you, Chris, how you work with Bluegrass Hemp Oil and Adriane and Jessica, how do you guys all know each other?

Chris [00:00:38] Well, we actually test bluegrass hemp oils products here at Trace to ensure they’re safe for consumers. We subjected (the oil) to a variety of testing and potency to residual solvents, microbial, and basically, we just ensure that the products that they’re selling to the community are safe to be consumed.

Meredith [00:00:55] That’s awesome. So, Adriane, when you and your husband got ready to open bluegrass and you were kind of looking at everything in the industry, testing was a big part of what you wanted to do. So help us understand why that’s so important to you and then, really, the culture of your company.

Adriane [00:01:14] They say today that CBD is the wild, wild west and honestly, back when we started in 2014, it was really the wild, wild west. And even before then, a lot of parents were getting products sent to them from legal states. They were told by the processor, the manufacturer, that it was one thing when in truth it was the exact opposite or quite possibly it was not as pure or as clean as what it should be. Like Chris said, he was talking about microbial, pesticides. There’s different things that are in the products that you don’t want to be consuming. So we thought it was very important, as parents, we started advocating for testing. Earlier on, we started calling out other manufacturers and saying, if you’re not providing tests, you’re not really providing a quality product. It could quite possibly be, but it’s not what you know, it’s what you can show. It’s what you can actually prove. And so we feel it’s very important in finding a quality lab like trace analytics is an important part of that process. Somebody that’s trustworthy.

Meredith [00:02:22] And we’ve talked about that in other episodes that there isn’t regulation. And so really, it’s up to you as the owner of the business to make sure that you’re providing things that are safe and meet the standards that you want to put forward. So that’s awesome. And Chris, we’re so excited to talk with you about testing and about what that looks like. So maybe you can kind of just paint a picture for us of the types of tests that you run on the products themselves.

Chris [00:02:49] Sure. So the most commonly ordered tests, I guess you could say, would be a potency test. So kind of the breakdown of the cannabinoids in the sample being tested, whether that be flour, tincture, edibles, bath bomb, what have you. You know, all sorts of products out there nowadays. So potency is a big one. Microbial, to retest the presence of, test for the presence of E. coli, salmonella, I’m sure you have heard of these before. We also test for mycotoxins, which are not as commonly known, but very important. These are, we test for two to the more predominant ones. These are toxins produced by fungi that grow on poorly cured plant material. So little tidbit, I think moving forward as you have these huge farms being harvested and warehouses curring large quantities of hemp, mycotoxins could be an issue moving forward. We might see them and while they’re not very commonly seen in samples, they’re extremely toxic, extremely carcinogenic, and they absolutely should be tested in hemp products moving forward as this industry evolves. To keep going, we do have residual solvent testing. We test for the presence of ethanol or butane or a variety of other solvents. We do pesticide testing. We screen for I believe over 120 pesticides at this point in time. We also test for heavy metals, primary four, cadmium, arsenic, lead, and mercury.  And terpene testing, we also screen for at least 20 terpenes at this point in time.

Meredith [00:04:36]  And you’re doing all of that right here in Spokane, Washington, which is really pretty cool that you’re able to get to that level of detail to help manufacturers really provide products that are safe and then meet their standards. So when you think about the test that you run and everything that all the knowledge that you’ve developed. What do you think are some of the biggest misconceptions that are out there from consumers around products?

Chris [00:05:06] The big one right now, especially where the hemp industries are currently is the whole broad spectrum oil, non-detectable THC, free oil.

Jessica [00:05:17] Zero THC.

Chris [00:05:18]  Zero t, It goes by all sorts of these names, you know. And so, as I’m sure you’re all well aware of the federal limit for hemp products is less than point 3 percent THC. They actually specify Delta 9 THC, but I won’t get too much into that. So, with regards to potency and these t free products, now from our side, if we cannot detect the THC in the sample, it’s reported as none-detected, T free. The ability from one lab to another to detect a specific level varies. OK. So I’ve sent products to labs in Oregon and they have what’s called a limit of detection. So on a certificate of analysis you might see capital L O D, that is the percentage of THC that a lab can reliably quantify, the lowest amount. So, if a labs LOD is .2 percent THC and the sample has .18, the lab will report it as none detected even though it’s still there. And so you can see with a lab with a high LOD, if a person is consuming large quantities of this product, for extended periods of time, it accumulates, they may run the risk of failing a urinalysis.

Jessica [00:06:42] And I would even say, like, if they’re not detecting if half .18 percent THC milligrams per serving, you still could have a significant amount. It might not even be long term use it. It could be a couple of servings. And that could potentially show up on a drug tests. Chris and I had this conversation in preparation for the podcast, and I think that’s a really big issue. And we’ve kind of Adriane and I have kind of noticed this trend of places putting zero THC and then you look into it and it’s like zero point something, something which is not zero THC and the Chris’s point that could cost someone their job if that limit of detection is too high.

Adriane [00:07:26] So then that raises actually a question for me. So the limit of detection is not standardized from lab to lab, right? Is that what I’m understanding?

Chris [00:07:36] Absolutely.

Adriane [00:07:36] So I think that that’s very interesting because a manufacturer who wants to sell a zero percent or a zero THC product could quite possibly do so by just using, quote-unquote, the right lab.

Chris [00:07:53] Exactly, yes.

Jessica [00:07:53] Does that also vary per state? Or I mean, is it just across the board nationally? There’s no standard for a limit of detection or are there different ones per state or?

Chris [00:08:04] No at this point in time due to the unregulated nature of the industry, there is no standardized testing. Now, we’re actually working with the USDA and we’ve actually just applied for a DEA license to kind of spearhead the hemp testing protocol moving forward. Well, so I believe for hemp testing our limit of detections is .02 percent. I know a lot of labs around .2, you know, so it’s 10 times lower than the legal limit. And in the years I’ve been using trace, I’ve never known of anybody consuming a product that was t free, blessed by us ever having an issue.

Jessica [00:08:45] So I just thought it was really interesting, we see that so often. How would a consumer know what that level of detection is? Is it listed on the lab results or you have to call and ask them?

Chris [00:08:58] You may have to call and ask certain labs will post this information on the certificate of analysis. You might see the actual numbers in one column and then you might see like in faded ink what their limits of detection are. If not, though, I believe labs are mandated to divulge that information. If questions, I don’t think it’s proprietary in any sense. So I would encourage consumers, or processors, other manufacturers, if you’re doing business with the company, find out who they’re testing with and find out what the lab’s capabilities are.

Meredith [00:09:34] And do you feel like in the industry people are open with that information? Or is it something that’s just kind of, brush under the carpet a little bit, more down on the down-low?

Chris [00:09:46] I’d say honestly maybe 50 50. I think a couple of years ago, everyone, even including the analytical side, everyone’s kind of feeling out the industry, developing new methods, getting more precise, more accurate, more sensitive. Nowadays, I think the consumer is better educated. A lot of them are more aware of issues like this. And so it’s trending in the right direction. The issue is there’s no regulatory agency saying, no, you have to operate like this. So it’s kind of up to us and up to you guys to employ best practices.

Jessica [00:10:24]  It really absolutely is. And I would like to just say to the consumer who may be listening, like ask for lab tests. We are happy to provide them. Any company that has standardized this process and then authentic in their testing process would be happy to provide them. But, you know, I never get asked for labs. We have them post in the store. And no one asked. They want to know that you have labs. But if you say, yeah, I’ve got labs, that’s good enough for most people. And I think they should really, as a consumer, not be so quick to accept that answer from most places.

Adriane [00:11:05] Well, I think it’s also, it’s not for the average person so easy to read or to understand. How do they know every lab test is going to look different from every other lab? So how do they know what to look out for? You know, as someone who’s in the business, of course, I do. But, Chris, if you were going to instruct someone who is kind of new into CBD, what would you tell them to look for first? And like how to read the lab at least a little bit.

Chris [00:11:30] So the big thing I’ve seen in the hemp side of things, especially with isolates and this slits, more so from like processor to processor sales is I’ll get a COA for let’s say isolate and you know, the cannabinoid profiles up top. Great. And then below there’s 80 to 100 pesticides listed and they all have the letters NT next to it. What that means is they were not tested does not mean no trace. So while they’re populating the COA to look like all these things were tested for. And it’s all clean. It’s not the case now that it’s kind of like a little marketing and sales thing going on, but you want to see it. And on the COA’s yield the acronyms like NT, if you look at the bottom, it will say NT equals not tested. So if you have any questions on the letters used on these certificates of analysis, usually they’re in a legend somewhere on it. And if you’re confused, call your processor, call the lab and ask them to elaborate.

Jessica [00:12:33] But just to clarify ND would mean not detected.

Chris [00:12:39] Which means whatever was being tested for showed up less than the labs ability,  less than the labs limit of detection. So I don’t think there’s any perfect tests out there or a perfect system that can guarantee absolutely zero. But as far as I know, 0.02 percent, I don’t know anyone lower than that at this point in the game.

Meredith [00:13:04] It makes me think, you know, why are we testing hemp in this way when we’re not testing the corn that goes into our food? So what’s different about hemp and its ability to maybe absorb all of these things and the need for testing? You were talking about that a little bit before we started recording today that hemp is used for some specific purposes and has some specific properties that maybe make this testing even more important. So maybe you can talk about that a little bit, too.

Chris [00:13:34]  So microbial potency, residual solvents, those are all pretty standard tests. The tests that are not mandated and often overlooked would be pesticides and heavy metals. I think pesticides is going to be more of an issue moving forward, as do the passage of the farm bill. You have more and more farmers cultivating hemp. Bigger and bigger fields. So the likelihood of pesticide drift from the tomato farm down the road increases. Right. Furthermore, when you’re processing hemp and you’re concentrating the cannabinoids, certain pesticides can also be concentrated at the same time during that process. So, pesticides are very important to be looking for test results regarding them. Heavy metals is an interesting one and kind of unique to cannabis. So the hemp plant itself is phenomenal and has actually known in the scientific and industrial community for fight over mediation. And what that means is the plant can absorb pollutants and toxins from the soil and basically kind of refresh the soil for a new crop later down the line. Fun fact, they’re actually they in Ukraine, they planted a bunch of hemp following the Chernobyl accident to absorb the radiation of the soil. And this is not a new practice, they’ve used to shrubs in the past, but hemp is unique in that the roots can go about three feet into the soil. And so it’s got depth to its remediation. It won’t just remediate the top six inches it can really remediate that soil.

Jessica [00:15:08] I think to draw the significance of that. Of course, you don’t want those byproducts in your plant or your extract material. But also I think as the industry grows and people are looking to replace tobacco crop or a soybean field, then, you know, the mass production and scale of this is leading to it is point to clean a lot of soils that were not treated organically. It is going to leach those toxins and being known as a bio accumulator and soil cleaner. I think it’s a matter of time or possibly already happening that it’s being used to clean soil and the CBD that’s a byproduct of that is then cashed in on as well. So I think it just becomes more and more important to make sure that that testing is done. So you know how it was grown in the sourcing. I also wanted to touch on when you were talking about the processing, just something else happening, that we’ve seen a lot, is the practice of baling your hemp like, hay, it’s not hay, it shouldn’t be bailed. It does need to be cured. And the mycotoxins issue likely would be really exacerbated by bailing your hay and letting it not cure completely. So I just want to kind of touch on that as the significance of.

Chris [00:16:27]  Right. Stagnant airflow and water all locked up in that bail and there’s no, I guess, best practices at this point. Everyone’s trying to figure out what’s the best way to cure. We’re getting to larger and larger quantities and it’s all-new territory. Higher demands. I mean, so we all got to kind of,  I really feel like help each other evolve in this industry. And people who want to push it in the right direction get together and educate the industry.

Meredith [00:16:54] For sure. I mean, I think what Jessica and Adriane have been wanting to do with this show is to isto just share information exactly like this, because the more we know, the better choices we make.

Jessica [00:17:06] And the higher standard that the consumer has. Like Adriane mentioned, when we started in 2014, we were lab testing independently. We had in-house labs that we were trying to work with as well. So just on our own end, but having it validated by third party, we’ve always done that. But was not at all standard practice until the consumer kind of got wind that like it should be and they started demanding it. And now everywhere has labs. How authentic they are and what they’re testing for and then the marketing, the misleading that can sometimes happen behind that is a whole nother topic. But the consumers pushed for labs and it became kind of standard, not because it was required, but because people ask for it. So I think the more they know to ask for, the more likely this pesticide and heavy metals testing is when it doesn’t necessarily always happen otherwise.

Adriane [00:17:58] Well, I think there’s also been a lot of investigative reporting where reporters have just pulled products off of shelves and sent them off to labs to test. And I mean, even on the very basic level of is the amount of CBD that’s on the label in the product we’ve seen by far and by far and large that it’s just not happening. And you can’t even get CBD much less thinking about the other possible things that are in there from pesticides or microbeads or mycotoxins. Let’s just talk about can I at least get the CBD that you’re promising that I’m buying? So there’s, I think, a definite need for consumers to advocate for themselves and to really look into what’s in the products that they’re purchasing.

Meredith [00:18:38] Well, that brings me to Jessica. You said that you don’t get a ton of questions about the labs specifically, but when you do get questions from your customers coming into the store or, you know, from your customers online, what are they asking about?

Jessica [00:18:52] So, I think it’s so for one, again, I don’t get many questions on labs, and that’s unfortunate. So please start asking consumers. But when I do get questions, one common misconception that I get is there’s two columns listed on the potency test. One, I think is the milligrams per grams. And one is the percentage. And could you kind of explain like the difference between those two columns and like what you would look for to make sure it has a federal legal limit of THC?

Chris [00:19:25] So the milligram per gram is kind of how we interpret that off the instruments. We convert that to a percentage by weight just because that seems to be the common manner in which this information is being given to the public. So as far as a  federally legal hemp product, they are only mandating Delta 9 THC be less than point 0.3 percent. Not to trip up the consumer or the listener, but there’s another version of THC called Delta 8, which is not regulated or looked at by the USDA or DEA at this point in time. And so while one’s products could have .2 percent Delta 9, and .2 percent Delta 8, technically that’s .4 percent THC. But the way the law is written right now, that’s a legal product. So that also can muddy the waters as far as this is a full spectrum,  so it’s less than .3 THC. But am I going to be okay with a urinalysis? So on the COA , while you’re looking at those two columns and the cannabinoids, you should see a D9-THC and you want to also see a D8-THC. So keep an eye out for both of them.

Jessica [00:20:47] And then I think on this same topic, your THC and THC A are listed separately. Correct. But as a whole, I’ve seen some debate online. I think I know the answer, but if you could clarify. Are you, for the allowable.3 percent THC max of Delta 9, that includes THC A and decarbonize related THC as well?

Chris [00:21:12] As far as the regulatory framework, they are taking the .87 times mass of the THC A column that THC each doctor it loses its after Dierker box leads and loses a CO2 molecule. That’s where the .13 percent comes from there. But as far as most of the hemp products are tincture based or edible base, ingesting that THC A is not going to aggravate popping hot on a U.A., so to speak. Now, if you smoked it, then it decarbonates. Now it’s THC and that will trip up the drug test.

Chris [00:21:54] It’s called Plug In to get it.

Adriane [00:21:56] So I have a question. So, without naming names of companies, just to kind of educate the audience, what’s kind of the worst thing or some of the scariest things that you’ve seen in products that have been tested by your lab?

Chris [00:22:10] So, consumers, you should be asking for certificates of analysis because this is unregulated in the Wild West. Not every manufacturer or person in the industry has everyone’s best intentions in mind. The worst thing I’ve seen was some CBG oil or CBD oil, and it had about twenty thousand parts per million, PPM, of chloroform. Now, this is a chemical used in the civil war to knock out soldiers before they hack their limes off with a saw. The OSHA, the government’s daily limit, like exposure limit, is two this had 20,000 PPM in it. Extremely Dangerous. And I’ve seen extracts with failing levels of isopropyl alcohol leftover, pesticides out the waz-zoo, lead, arsenic, mercury. Leads pretty common just because a lot of manufacturers, as they’re scaling up or buying old used equipment from like the 70s and 80s and lead is leaching out of the metals. I’ve seen a lot in capsules more to follow, as I kind of observe these trends.

Meredith [00:23:27] Do you know afterward if those products have actually gone to market? I mean that’s one thing to test it, but you don’t really know after that. Like, if they took that chloroform filled product and went ahead and sold it anyway.

Chris [00:23:41] Well, on that and I’m sure it did happen. You know, and that’s the scary part of not having any regulatory oversight.

Jessica [00:23:48] So there’s like if you saw something like that happen, there’s no way to really record it. I mean, it’s just on them what they do with the results that you find, even if it is something you find it’s toxic, it’s still on them, right?

Chris [00:24:00] Yeah. And I guess the best we can hope for is just, you know, the right processes, the right farmers, people who want to do it clean and proper, that they find each other and work together moving forward, because at this point, the best we can hope for.

Meredith [00:24:13] That’s huge. Because that I mean, that’s really echoing Jessica and Adriane what you guys have been sharing as a part of this this show and these episodes is that, you know, it really is the Wild West. And you really do need to, it really is a case of buyer beware. So before we wrap up today, Chris, maybe tell us what you’re most excited about in the industry right now. Like what are you really happy to see happening or that you’re really looking forward to in this next year?

Chris [00:24:48] The number of processors and farmers and labs and even retailers demanding testing or a demonstration that a product has that amount of CBD in it or has less than X amount of THC, that number of people is increasing, which is very promising and looks very good. I’m optimistic about that. And hopefully that trend will continue. Most of my exciting projects are on the processing side of things, isolating certain cannabinoids, converting cannabinoids from one to another, but that’s a talk for another time.

Jessica [00:25:24] Can I add one question that I wanted us to cover before? So could you quickly address any misconceptions that may be involved around the hydrocarbon processing? We do hydrocarbon process with our company and we’ve had it tested through you guys for a long time. We know it’s very safe, but do you have any experience with hydrocarbons, anything to share on that kind of processing and the stigma associated?

Chris [00:25:53] So from a scientist’s perspective and a chemist that the poisons in the dosage, whether that be water or oxygen or orange juice, I mean, anything can kill you in a specific quantity. So, the fact that if you’re using a solvent to extract a compound and you get the end product tested and the solvents not there, what’s the issue? At that point, the conversation might be tailored to, well, how about the safety of the extraction process and that sense hydrocarbons can be a little bit more dangerous than ethanol. And even then, CO2 is even less more so. But if it’s not in the end product, it’s not there. So there should be no cause for concern so long as it’s not detected.

Jessica [00:26:34]  I just I really wanted to just get something out on that because it is a huge issue that we face. If people here butane and it’s this easy to get scared. So I think it’s great to just get the validation of, but if it’s not there, it’s not there and it’s never there.

Chris [00:26:51] So since you guys are testing with us, our limit of detection for butane is 1 parts per million. It doesn’t can’t really go much lower than that. So on your COA’s and you see ND, it means it’s less than 1 parts per million.

Adriane [00:27:07]  Thank you for that. That’s I mean that’s fantastic. And I’d honestly even go back to the safety of the extraction process itself. I’d say if you have a butane spill, it’s essentially gone in the moment as opposed to an ethanol spill, then what do you do, the cleanup and the absorption and everything else? I think the the stigma around the unsafety-ness of a butane or hydrocarbon extraction method is it goes back to people doing it improperly or poorly. Not in a closed-loop situation. So that’s just my little zing on the end there.

Chris [00:27:41]  You know that this whole stigma, we’re still dealing with residual six years later, came about in 2010, 2014. People, you know, open blasting in the back yard, you know, and just people who should have no business doing this, these things we’re doing. Nowadays, it’s all engineer, peer reviewed, closed loop systems, you know, three or four stainless steel, explosion-proof everything and unfortunately, the industry is attracting like recent chemists and engineers, and so I think the quality of products is only going to get better. Just we as people in the industry, just need to emphasize to the consumer, demand a higher quality product. Just demanded it, put the pressure on us and on the industry to get better.

Meredith [00:28:33]  Well, if anyone wanted to find out a little bit more about Bluegrass Hemp Oil and the work that you all are doing, Adriane, where would be a good place for them to find more information?

Adriane [00:28:43] Check us out on our website. or follow us on our social media.

Meredith [00:28:48] Fantastic. Well, again, thank you all for being here. And a special thanks to you, Chris, for joining us today for this episode of Full Spectrum, Living with CBD. I’m your co-host, Meredith,  here with Jessica and Adriane and we will see all the next time.

Chris [00:29:01] Thanks, guys.