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The Science Behind Cannabis Testing: Analyzing THC, CBD, and Other Cannabinoids

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As the cannabis industry continues to grow and evolve, the need for rigorous testing has become increasingly important. Cannabis is a plant that contains over 100 different cannabinoids, each with its own unique properties. These cannabinoids have also shown to have therapeutic effects on conditions like anxiety and depression.

In this post, we’ll take you through all of the science behind cannabis testing cannabinoids so you can make more informed decisions about what strain is right for you!

Understanding Cannabinoids

Cannabinoids are a group of compounds found in the cannabis plant. There are a wide variety of cannabinoids, but the two most well-known and studied are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). 

THC is the main active chemical in cannabis that causes a high feeling. When you smoke or otherwise ingest marijuana, the THC binds to receptors in your brain and body, which triggers a cascade of effects that can include euphoria or anxiety. Depending on your personal physiology.

CBD, on the other hand, isn’t psychoactive at all. It doesn’t produce a high feeling. Instead, it’s used for its therapeutic properties: It can be used to treat seizures or pain without causing any sort of high side effects.

Other important cannabinoids include:

  1. Cannabigerol (CBG) is the precursor to the more well-known cannabinoid CBD. It’s also the precursor to THC, so it’s important to know that CBG is considered non-psychoactive.
  2. Cannabinol (CBN) has a similar chemical structure to THC, but it’s not psychoactive. In low doses, it can act as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent; in high doses, it can be sedative.
  3. Cannabichromene (CBC) is one of the most abundant cannabinoids in cannabis plants and has anti-inflammatory properties that help with pain relief without getting you high!

Methods of Cannabis Testing

Here are the types of testing commonly used and the different techniques employed to achieve accurate results.

Types of Testing:

  • Potency Testing: Potency testing is a method that determines the amount of THC, CBD. And other cannabinoids in a given sample. This test is used to determine how much THC is in the cannabis plant, which is important to know because it can help you determine what kind of high you’ll get from smoking or ingesting the product.
  • Purity Testing: Purity testing is done to ensure that the cannabis you’re consuming is safe and contains only its advertised ingredients. The method is simple: a sample of your cannabis is put through a series of tests. Which are then compared to an accepted standard for purity.
  • Terpene Testing: Terpene testing is a method of cannabis testing that measures the number of terpenes in a given sample. Terpenes are aromatic oils that give cannabis its distinct smell and flavor. They are found in the trichomes on the outer surface of the plant, which are responsible for producing THC.

Different Techniques Used:

  • Gas Chromatography (GC): Gas Chromatography is a chemical analysis method that has been used to test cannabis since the 1970s. It involves heating the cannabis to release its various chemicals and then separating those chemicals based on their boiling points. The process is repeated with helium gas, which allows for more precise identification of chemical components in the plant’s makeup.
  • Liquid Chromatography (LC): Liquid Chromatography is a method of testing for cannabis that involves an instrument that separates and identifies the different compounds in cannabis. This technique can be used to determine the exact makeup of any sample. Which can help with quality control and drug development.
  • Mass Spectrometry (MS): Mass spectrometry is a method of testing cannabis that detects the presence of cannabinoids, terpenes. And other chemical compounds in the plant. The method works by using a machine that ionizes the substance and then accelerates it through an electric field to separate it into fragments. The fragments are then identified by their mass-to-charge ratio.

Analyzing THC and CBD

To determine the correct dose of each component, it’s important to know how much THC and CBD your product contains. A THC/CBD analysis will tell you exactly how much of each compound is in a given amount of cannabis oil or other extract product.

Factors That Affect THC and CBD Levels in Cannabis Products

These factors include:

  • Breed: The breed of cannabis plant is one of the biggest factors that affect THC and CBD levels in cannabis products. Indica strains are known for their high CBD content, while sativa strains are known for their high THC content. Hybrid strains can have varying levels of both cannabinoids depending on the genetics of the strain itself and how it was cultivated.
  • Growing Conditions: Growing conditions can affect the THC and CBD levels in your cannabis products. Growing conditions like temperature, humidity. Light exposure and soil quality will all play a role in how much of each compound is produced by your plants. The more sunlight your plants receive, the more they will produce cannabinoids.
  • Extraction Methods: The extraction method used to make a cannabis product will affect its THC and CBD levels. For example, using a CO2 extraction method will result in more CBD than if you were to use butane or hexane.

Challenges and Limitations of Cannabis Testing

Tests can be costly and time-consuming, especially when you’re dealing with a new product. They also require a lot of precision, which means that the testing facility needs to be able to handle the samples properly. When you’re trying something new, these tests can be particularly challenging because they require a lot of trial and error before you can get them right.

The most common tests for cannabis are potency testing and microbial testing. The first test measures how much THC or CBD is in each sample, while the second checks for bacteria like E. coli and salmonella that could make people sick. These tests are important because they help producers ensure their product is safe for consumption.


The science behind cannabis testing is crucial in ensuring the safety, potency, and effectiveness of cannabis products. As the cannabis industry continues to expand. So does the importance of rigorous testing to provide accurate information about the various cannabinoids and their effects on the body.

With over 100 different cannabinoids present in the cannabis plant, including THC and CBD. It’s essential to understand each one’s unique properties to make informed decisions about which strains are right for you. The methods of cannabis testing, including potency, purity, and terpene testing, use various techniques such as gas chromatography, liquid chromatography. And mass spectrometry to achieve accurate results.

At Belcosta Labs, we are committed to providing top-notch cannabis lab testing services in California. By leveraging the power of agricultural science, education, and technology. Our expertise in the industry and customized analytic methods enable us to deliver the highest quality testing lab services for compliance.



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