Cannabis Lab 101: Cannabinoid Separation Methods in the Public Domain -Everything you need to know

By Eric Burtin Martin

potency cannabinoid-separation separation-methods public-domain

The world of cannabis science is often shrouded in mystery and unlike other scientific industries where knowledge is shared — knowledge in the cannabis testing industry is protected — not shared. Well, I am here to help inform aspiring scientists around the world of this one fact — everything you need to know to set up and run a cannabinoids separation method for potency determination is within the public domain! P.S. links to methods at the bottom)

Whether you are an aspiring chemist looking to enter the industry who is looking to learn or you are a PhD seeking tried and true methodologies in this ‘budding’ industry, this article is for you.

Cannabis flower next to an Erlenmeyer flask Cannabis flower next to an Erlenmeyer flask source

It is this lack of knowledge sharing and collaboration that contributes to lab-to-lab variance and leads to the articles you may have read that claim something along the lines of, “Potency values vary drastically from lab to lab.” This inter-lab variance makes it very difficult for clients to choose the right lab.

Choose the right lab

Why is this you may ask? Well, it is mainly due to the fact that cannabis is still a federally illegal substance — discouraging organizations with analytical expertise from developing reliable and robust analytical methods. On top of that, each state has its own unique regulations, adding a whole other layer of variability between inter-state labs.

Well, until a consensus arises, everyone is on their own unless we collaborate and share the limited resources that are available.

It is the wild wild west in the cannabis testing space and that is why we need to have access to open-source scientific material to help bring as much accuracy and reproducibility to the space as possible!

To complete or collaborate source

With all this said though, there is already a plethora of free, no copyright, open-access information for scientists and start-ups to utilize — You just need to know where to look.

Let’s take a look at some tips on how to find some now.

Tip # 1: filetype:pdf

Let’s start off with a cool one. When attempting to search for a scientific article on Google there are a few tricks to finding some great resources — one of which is the nifty search by filetype function. So let’s search for some great free cannabinoids analysis and separation methods using this function.

Search query => cannabis HPLC separation methods filetype:pdf

cannabis HPLC separation methods search term

Voila! As you can see, we already have a plethora of scientific methods that show how to separate and analyze cannabinoids utilizing an HPLC! Let us try a different approach now.

I will link some of the juicy articles at the bottom.

Tip # 2: Scientific Company Websites (i.e. Agilent, Shimadzu, Waters, Phenomenex, Restek, etc.)

The cannabis industry is constantly growing which means cannabis testing labs are constantly opening. therefore — there is a huge market for scientific instrumentation, standards, and consumables companies to get involved.

Since every cannabis testing lab will need to purchase various analytical instrumentation, standards, and consumables in order to test for the various assays of potency, terpenes, heavy-metals, micro, residual-solvents, terpenes, moisture content, and pesticides, the scientific companies supplying these have to find a way to incentivize these labs to use their products.

How do they do this? You got it, they work in collaboration with the labs to create separations methodologies for every part of the lab. Some companies like Shimadzu (I worked with them to create one of the methods they provide by the way) will literally provide detailed instructions for EVERYTHING you need to set up your own testing lab, well instrument and standards-wise that is. Not everything… It is way more complicated than that. Way more.

Let’s see some examples. Let us search [“company name” + cannabinoids separation method] and see what happens.

Searching for: “Shimadzu cannabinoids separation method” gives…



What do you know! We found an amazing method by Shimadzu that walks you through how to set up a cannabinoids separation and quantification method for 16 cannabinoids — most labs only quantify five to eleven!

Do this for the other companies I have listed and also search for companies that produce cannabinoid analytical standards like Cerilliant, Cayman, and Restek.

Tip # 3: Google Scholar and …

Now this tip may seem obvious but it is quite a useful tool for searching for new and innovative methods and techniques in the industry — and the best part is, quite a lot of cannabis-related scientific articles are free to view. But, user-beware… you will have to scour through many pay-to-view articles before you find some free ones — and boy, are the pay-to-access articles enticing! But, guess what…I have a resource for you that is PRICELESS!

Let me get this out here now — signMedium membership. It is super affordable (unlike the paywalls for free-access to scientific articles) and it lets you read high-quality, from the source material written by people like you and me. I did, and it has filled my thirst for knowledge ever since!

Scientific article paywall Generated by

“ If you find a pay-to-access scientific article that you REALLY want access to, try Googling two words — Sci-Hub”

There you go. That tidbit of priceless knowledge is a game-changer. It has changed my life and I hope it changes yours too. Chemists across the world lost access to scientific articles after graduating and it basically severs our tether to the scientific world. Well, now you are plugged back in. You’re welcome, my friends.

Now that you are theoretically saving a bunch of money you can sign up for Medium (wink), but I digress. Keep in mind that each article you find has something called a DOI (Digital Object Identifier), take that DOI, and copy & paste it into the above-mentioned website — and — VOILA!

All the infomation in the world

Tip # 4: Cannabis Journals

Try looking up or joining some cannabis journals — they pump out some good information. Some journals are listed below:

  1. Cannabis Science and Technology
  2. Analytical Cannabis
  3. Journal of Cannabis Research
  4. ACS — Cannabis Chemistry Subdivision (check out their YouTube also)
  5. Emerald Scientific

Source #1: One of the most comprehensive source

Starting with the MOST COMPREHENSIVE ARTICLE I HAVE FOUND SO FAR — This one covers two assays in-depth, from implementation to validation.

Methods for analysis source

Matthew W Giese, Mark A Lewis, Laura Giese, Kevin M Smith, Method for the Analysis of Cannabinoids and Terpenes in Cannabis, Journal of AOAC INTERNATIONAL, Volume 98, Issue 6, 1 November 2015, Pages 1503–1522,

Source #2: Shimadzu’s methodologies

! Add “.pdf” to the end of these two links for them to work ! I was having difficulties posting a link to a PDF. ←add.pdf ←add.pdf

Three methods are found on this Shimadzu web-page:

Other Great Sources:

These are more methods posted on scientific company websites.

Waters: Fine instrumentation

Phenomenex: A fun quirky company with plenty of methods!

Agilent: A reputable company with great products

! Add “.pdf” to the end of these links for them to work ! ←add.pdf

Restek: Maker of columns and standards

A Note:

Now don’t get me wrong, utilizing these free sources does not replace having a knowledgable team of chemists to run and utilize them correctly. Aside from methods, one must not forget that quality control and assurance is the most critical component in a laboratory.

The heart of a lab lies in its quality control and assurance protocols — that, my friends is how a laboratory ensures all regulations are followed and the methods and procedures within the lab are reliable, reproducible, audit-ready and trustworthy.

Thank you

And that is a wrap for today!

I hope this information helps you and others access knowledge that was seemingly out of reach before. Know that this information can easily be used to research any topic — I just chose cannabinoid analysis. If you have any questions or would like me to cover another topic, please leave a clap and a comment below. Please share and help make this knowledge available to all!

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