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What is HPLC Testing?

What is HPLC testing and how does HPLC work? Discover everything you need to know about manufacturing cannabinoid products that meet regulation.
May 30, 2022
Company News

What is HPLC testing?

We all know the importance of being able to accurately test cannabinoid formulations. It’s this process that can make or break a company, lead you to break the law or comply with strict regulation. But how can we know that the type of testing used to establish exactly what’s in your product is doing a good enough job?

The fact is, while there are a number of ways to analyse cannabinoid content and potency, there’s only one that stands up to the task: high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) testing.

But what is HPLC testing, and how does it work?

What is HPLC testing?

HPLC testing is a system used for the separation, identification and quantification of components in a mixture that is frequently used for a variety of different compounds across the pharmaceutical, cosmetics, food and beverage, industrial and dietary supplement industries. It has now become the gold standard of formulation testing in the ever-expanding cannabis industry to identify and quantify cannabinoid levels within raw, flower or finished cannabinoid products, such as CBD oil.

How does HPLC Work?

Although there are a number of types of HPLC detectors (CAD, FLD and VWD to name a few), which identify the contents of a formulation in different ways, in most cases, an HPLC machine must contain four important components needed to function: a pump, a sample collector, a column and a detector.

HPLC Steps

The compounds within a formulation are separated by being dissolved in a solvent solution. These then move into the column separately, before being detected and analysed electronically, to deliver precise results.

HPLC Analysis

Once each component has been identified, they are shown in the form of chromatograph - peaks represent individual compounds and show the quantity of the compound that has been calculated. In the cannabis industry, labs using standard HPLC systems will always test for CBD and THC content as the majority of products on the market need to fall in the appropriate range of those 2 cannabinoids. However, as with all things in the sector, this can vary greatly. Others (like True North Labs) will also test for THCA, THC, CBD, CBN, CBC, CBG, D8-THC, THCV and CBDV for a more complete set of results.

How to interpret HPLC results

Every lab has its own way of doing things. As such, HPLC results can be delivered in milligrams, milligrams per millilitre, percentages and so on. This is why you see so many variations in lab reports on CBD oil product pages. However, these effectively all say the same thing, it’s just a matter of knowing how to read what you’re being shown.

Most people will understand percentage, but mg/ml can be a little tricky as you will need to take into consideration other factors, such as the relative density of the liquid from which the millilitres have been taken. So, don’t be afraid to ask the company you use to take you through it all. It’s vital that you understand what you’re being shown, otherwise, there’s little point in having the test at all!

When testing flower and decarboxylated material, there may also be CBDA and THCA present (CBD and THC in their acid forms). In this situation, it’s vital that a conversion factor is used to adjust the CBD and THC amount to take this into account. Processed cannabis products, such as distillates and isolates, don’t contain these acids, so conversion factors should not be used here.

If you receive results that have detected an unexpected amount of CBD or THC, this might be why, so be sure to ask the respective lab if they are using this conversion factor or not.

Why is degassing important in HPLC?

Degassing is a process in which dissolved gas is removed to avoid bubble formation. Getting rid of these bubbles is essential for obtaining accurate results, as air bubbles can lead to misleading peaks on the graph.

HPLC testing: When and what to test

As a client, you only really need to know about the final test results. The process can be left in the capable hands of the manufacturer. However, if you are the manufacturer, it’s important that you are familiar with testing at every stage of the production, so you can offer your clients the best service possible.

Each project has few steps that need to be followed to ensure the final product meets the necessary criteria for both quality and repeatability:

-   Raw materials vary greatly, so this needs to be tested first to find out if adjustments need to be made to the formula.

-   Pilot batch testing must be done to confirm that the formulation and execution of the product manufacturing is correct and ready for production.

-   A final test needs to be performed on the final product. This ensures the end quality of the products that will be hitting the shelves and provides evidence to the client that all requirements have been met in accordance with legal guidance.

HPLC testing helps build trustworthy cannabinoid brands

To build a brand that stands up to the task of producing best-in-class cannabinoid products that are aligned with regulation, you must test your raw material and end product thoroughly. Not only will this help to ensure that your company is here to stay, but it will also help to keep your range consistent in quality and potency, which is what distinguishes a good producer from a bad one.

Your customers need to be able to trust your process and your products, and it’s up to you not to fail them. One of the most reliable and easy-to-perform testing techniques is HPLC, but knowing your stuff will give you the confidence to understand if your test results are accurate and if not, what the reason for that might be. Hopefully, this article will have answered the question ‘What is HPLC testing?’ and give you the information you need to excel!

Want to test your product but unsure where to start? True North Labs can help. Let us test your flower, crude or distillate ingredients and later, your final product, to make sure it qualifies. We’ll always go above and beyond, working back and forth on iterations and giving you points on formulations to make sure everything is done correctly.

We all know the importance of being able to accurately test cannabinoid formulations. It’s this process that can make or break a company, lead you to break the law or comply with strict regulation. But how can we know that the type of testing used to establish exactly what’s in your product is doing a good enough job?