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Workshop on Heavy Metals in Cannabis by ICP-MS Now Available To View

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Twelve months ago, in conjunction with the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC), I put together a Heavy Metal Contaminants in Cannabis by ICP-MS workshop in Columbia, MD. At the time, I had been doing research for a new book I was writing on the measurement of elemental contaminants in cannabis and hemp and was talking to lots of people in the industry and going to as many meetings as possible.

My interviews had highlighted the inexperience of many of the testing labs that had sprung up in the past few years because the industry was growing at such an alarming and chaotic pace. My research eventually connected me with Lori Dodson, deputy director of the MMCC, who was very enthusiastic about my suggestion of a 1-day workshop for the independent testing labs on the use of ICP-MS to measure heavy metals in cannabis.

I felt that this was a great opportunity to make a difference and help the testing community, so over the next few months, I began to put together the agenda for a one-day educational workshop, which focused on The Optimization of ICP-MS for Measuring Heavy Metals in Cannabis, for the testing labs in the area that didn’t have a good understanding of working in the ultra-trace element environment.

The workshop eventually came together at a hotel in Columbia, MD on the 3rd of October, 2019. It was very exciting because it allowed me to tap into my 45 years of experience in trace element analysis and pull together an impressive list of speakers in the field, which would be the envy of any scientific symposia on plasma spectrochemistry. We recorded all the talks with the aim of making them available to the wider cannabis testing community. It took some time to put them all together but I’m pleased to announce that all speakers and MMCC have now agreed to allow the videos to be posted on the Analytical Cannabis website. 

Overview of the workshop

The workshop attracted an audience of over 50 people, made up of federal, state, private, and academic analytical testing lab personnel. The day was jam-packed with advice, tips, methods, guidance, troubleshooting and, suggestions on how to optimize the use of ICP-MS for the accurate and validated measurement of heavy metals in cannabis and cannabis-related products.

After Lori Dodson from MMCC had welcomed everyone, I kicked off the scientific part of the meeting, by talking about the early days of ICP-MS when I worked on the very first commercially-available instrument, the ELAN 250 in 1983. I discussed the difficulty in generating sample ions in the plasma and the challenge of getting them into the mass spectrometer for separation and detection. I also talked about the fundamental principles and the most common application areas of the technique. The rest of the day was taken up by the following speakers:

  • Dr Andrew Fornadel from Shimadzu talked about the challenges of using ICP-MS to characterize the different kinds of cannabis-related samples. (Note: Andrew was a replacement for Jon Peters, who was not available for the meeting).
  • Patti Atkins, from Spex CertiPrep, a manufacturer of standards and reference materials, talked about good laboratory practices and how to reduce and minimize sources of contamination in ICP-MS.
  • Laura Lawlor from Milestone, Inc., a manufacturer of microwave sample digestion systems, spoke on the selection of the optimum digestion approach for cannabis samples and the use of clean chemistry solutions to ensure low blanks.
  • Dr Ryan Brennan and Justin Masone of Glass Expansion, manufacturers of ICP-OES/ICP-MS sample introduction components, presented on routine maintenance procedures and ways to enhance sample throughput.
  • Dr Steven Pappas, from the Tobacco Inorganics Group of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), talked about testing electronic nicotine delivery (END) vaping devices for heavy metals in both liquids and aerosols and what he has learned about the corrosion of the metallic components inside the devices that could be applied to cannabis vaping pens.
  • Lawrence Neufeld, CEO of Spectron Inc., the leading ICP-MS cone manufacturer, discussed cone maintenance and cleaning practices for enhanced instrument lifetime.
  • Dr Melissa Phillips, from the Chemical Sciences Division of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), spoke about the urgent need for quality assurance programs and Certified Reference Materials (CRM) to ensure robust validation protocols for the accurate measurement of all analytes in cannabis and cannabinoids.

It was a long day, but well worth it. The feedback we got from the attendees was very encouraging. There is no question that most of the audience left the workshop with a far greater appreciation of what it takes to get good data by ICP-MS. However, the industry will always be faced with the fact that typical operators only have a couple of years’ experience at most, and some of them just a couple of months’. For that reason, it’s going to be challenging for those operators that are not used to working in the ultra-trace environment and are also often working in labs that were not designed for trace elemental analysis.

I’m also happy to report that my book, Measuring Elemental Contaminants in Cannabis and Hemp eventually got published and started shipping in mid-September, 2020. More information can be found here, including its Table of Contents.

Analytical Cannabis also serialized a few chapters in the book. You can follow this link to read the 5-part series entitled, Regulating Heavy Metals in Cannabis: What Can be Learned from the Pharmaceutical Industry?

You can find the full agenda here, together with the speaker’s brief bios. 

If you are interested in viewing any of these recorded talks, please click on the link below. Note: You can navigate through the videos in this workshop by scrolling through them at the bottom of the video playlist linked below. 


A note: This workshop was given 12 months ago, so even though the material is still relevant, it may not reflect the current thinking of all the vendors/speakers today. However, based on the subject matter, we felt it was extremely important to get the information out into the public domain to help cannabis testing labs have a better understanding of working with this ultra-sensitive technique and to ultimately improve the integrity of their generated data. Moreover, with COVID-19 still very much restricting personal interactions, this workshop presents a wonderful opportunity to hear from experts in this very exciting and dynamic field of trace element analysis.