CBD and Controlled Cannabinoids: Results from The Ring Trial

cannabis lab testing

Cannabis-derived products, such as CBD and controlled cannabinoids, have rapidly entered the UK market in various forms. However, the biggest concern with this influx of products is the ability for laboratories to accurately and consistently measure the content of the CBD content since there is no consistency at the moment. Due to the difficulty of analysing these compounds, a ring trial study was put together to assess the performance of laboratories to measure the accuracy of various laboratory results. 

"This ring trial was a jointly funded initiative by the Office for Product Safety & Standards (OPSS) within the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and the Home Office, and carried out in collaboration with Food Standards Scotland (FSS) and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL)," according to UK Gov

The Problem with the Current Lab Testing Approach

A major problem with CBD and controlled cannabinoids is the lack of consistency in labs. This can be due to various factors, such as:

  • The failure of laboratories to provide reference materials for testing
  • Difficulty measuring these two compounds because they are similar in molecular weight (CBD=244.35 Da)
  • Labs not having equipment that provides accurate measurements, which leads to inaccuracies when analysing this samples.
  • Various measurement strategies with different set limits

As a result, inconsistency between different laboratories means that there is no way of knowing whether or not any given lab's analysis are "correct" or sound enough to allow consumers to consume and use these products. 

To solve this issue, the Government Chemist has conducted and published a report summarizing the findings of a ring trial to assess laboratories' performance in measuring CBD and controlled cannabinoids (∆ 9 –THC, THCV, CBN, ∆ 8 –THC and ∆ 9THCA-A). In this blog post, we will discuss some of the main points from the summary report. 

Conducting The Ring Trial Study

More than 35 laboratories from the UK and internationally signed up for the study. The study began with each laboratory receiving three different samples that they would need to analyse. The specimens contained one cosmetic sample and two food samples, including a 5% CBD Hemp Oil, a 400 mg CBD MCT Oil Spray, and a 100ml CBD Body wash. The samples were put into an 8ml bottle and placed into a plastic bag at room temperature until they were sent to participating labs. 

Once the labs received the samples, they were instructed to figure out how much CBD was in each sample and report back their findings. Each lab was supplied with LGC’s (The UK Designated National Measurement Institute for chemical and bioanalytical measures) way of analysing the sample. However, they were able to use their other methods as well. 

The Findings of the Ring Trial 

The results of the ring trial were very successful. Of the 35 labs that signed up for the study, 32 data sets were returned for analysis. Each lab set showed consistency in its reports, proving how much CBD was in each sample.  

The data set shows a high level of agreement between different laboratories on the CBD analysis, including IF CBD was in the sample and how much was in each concentration. 

According to the report, "On average, 82% of laboratories reported satisfactory results for CBD. Controlled cannabinoid measurement was more varied with a wider spread of results. However, each laboratory was still able to detect the presence of the controlled cannabinoids. Most laboratories quantified CBN and ∆9-THC in sample LGC-RT/20/A, with 76% and 86% of laboratories respectively reporting satisfactory results. " 

Dr. Julian Braybrook, The Government Chemist, commented, "As my public remit covers advice to UK government and other affected parties on the role of analytical measurement in effective policy, standards and regulations, I am delighted that we have been able to work across government to conduct an international ring trial on CBD and controlled cannabinoids in consumer products, an area of high interest worldwide. 

It is gratifying to see that the methods developed in the Government Chemist Programme have performed well, contributing both to the demonstration of UK measurement capability in support of the regulation of novel foods and cosmetic products and as substantial evidence for the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs' call on the performance of methods for the determination controlled cannabinoids in commercial CBD products." 

Industry Testing Capabilities for the Future

Each lab that participated in the ring trial has to assess the accuracy of their methods for measuring CBD and controlled cannabinoids across different technologies. The most common technology was either using a spectroscopy technique or mass spectrometry. 

Presently, there is no global or industry standard set for testing controlled cannabinoids or CBD-based products. While members in the CBD industry have used their own methodology for CBD testing, each come with their own set of limitations. 

There is now a current push for the UK government to analyse their compliance towards controlled cannabinoids after reviewing the results of the data from the ring trial, including introducing limits and standardization testing methods on products in the UK. By doing so, they can pave the way for the entire industry to move forward in a safe and consistent manner. 

The Ring Trial: A Win for CBD Products

This is an area of high interest worldwide as questions are raised about legality, safety, and quality control of novel products like whole-plant cannabis extract (WPE), CBD cosmetics, or concentrated cannabidiol extract oil (CBD oil) on consumers. The study proved that there was a solid agreement between the results of most laboratories while helping to clarify that there was technological capability and analytical methods that laboratories can use to ensure the ingredients in these types of products. 

This study helped prove that there is a safe way to proceed with these types of products as they continue to grow and find their place in more homes worldwide. Of course, this doesn't necessarily mean that the UK will phase out full-spectrum CBD products in favour of pure CBD products. However, it does mean that we can find more consistency and safety in the products we consume that contain CBD and controlled cannabinoids through consistent testing from laboratories.