Cannabis Variability – 4 Factors Influencing your Analytical Data

Posted on May 25, 2023

As a Licensed Producer (LP), you may be asking yourself:

Why do I get different results between labs, when I have approved specifications built on an understanding of my product and the market?’

You’ve developed your specs, defined your product, but wait…did you define controls for product variability?

Don’t worry, as an LP you’re not the only one asking yourself these questions. Here we outline the key factors influencing your analytical data, and steps you can take TODAY to reduce cannabis variability in your test results.

The Factors Affecting your Cannabis Variability

There are several reasons you might see different results between labs, or even a range of data coming from the same lab!   Let’s dig into these reasons, and outline some strategies to get that variability under control:

1. Sampling – Best Practices to Reduce Cannabis Variability

Dried Cannabis is intrinsically non uniform. Think of a tomato plant; the plant will produce tomatoes of all different sizes and shapes depending on a number of variables that influence the growth of that tomato, including environmental conditions as well as the intrinsic qualities of the plant itself.  Similarly, a cannabis plant will produce buds of all different sizes and chemical compositions. A sample used for testing must be representative of the lot or batch, so it’s important to adopt a standardized sampling protocol/SOP (i.e., USP 1097), and always consider a sample size that is reflective of batch size.  A representative sample will include an even mix of big tomatoes, little tomatoes, dark tomatoes, light tomatoes, green tomatoes… you get the point.  For those stats lovers in the crowd:

“An ideal sampling process is a process in which every particle or at least every equal size portion of the population has an equal probability of being chosen in the sample” – USP 1097, 2012.

2. Understanding Your Product

Knowing your product inside and out is one of the most important things you can do to ensure you are getting accurate and appropriately timed data.

Flower, extracts, and edibles all come with their own unique analytical challenges.  For example, with extracts and pre-rolls it’s important to know how the product is infused, for oils the temperature of storage is important, and for edibles (which are often the most challenging of all) it’s critical to understand what part of the edible is infused.  All these factors are taken into consideration when the lab determines what analytical method is most suited to your product.  The more you can tell us about how your product is made and what it’s made of, the more representative your data will be.

In addition to understanding your product, it is critical to understand your products’ stability, as well as how it will perform under specific analytical conditions (ie. during extraction, analysis, etc.), so that you can effectively evaluate the suitability of your data.  We tackle this concept in more detail in a blog post from 2020, here:, looking specifically at potency results.

So, how can you get to know your product a little better?  R&D studies, such as forced degradation studies, matrix specific method validations, and product stability studies can all give you key information about your product.  These studies can help determine the best analytical processes to limit variability and can provide more context to help make data interpretation a little bit easier.

3. Product Stability

Did you know that your product can undergo degradation when exposed to improperly managed environmental factors, or as a result of interactions between components of a formulation?  Over time, this can lead to significant issues including:

  • Reduced potency
  • Change in color, odor, or taste
  • Inconsistency in shelf-life
  • Formation of toxic impurities

To get in front of product stability, it’s important to ensure your production facilities are well-controlled and that your formulations are fully understood.  Learn more about ways to monitor your environmental controls, here:

Cannabis Variability4. Work with a Lab You Trust

To get your cannabis variability under control, it’s important to work with a lab you can trust for accurate, high-quality data.  So much of your time and money relies on laboratory data, so this is one factor you definitely don’t want to compromise on.
But with so many options out there, how do you know where to go?

Laboratory accreditation (for example, ISO17025) is one way to ensure that your lab is reliable.  Internationally recognized standards (ISO, for example) are used as a measuring tool to evaluate lab performance, and the measuring is done by an independent 3rd party accrediting body whose job it is to look at all aspects of the lab’s operation and ask the hard questions.   Why not let them do the heavy lifting for you?  You can learn more about the laboratory accreditation process, here:

In addition to accreditation, you will also want to consider a lab with a breadth of experience, and a proven track record with analytical testing.  Analytical methods are often transferrable from one industry to the next, so while the Cannabis testing industry is relatively young you can still find highly experienced analytical specialists throughout the industry who can help you get, and UNDERSTAND, high-quality data.

CARO is an industry leading laboratory in Cannabis testing.  We carry ISO17025 accreditation and offer matrix verification & method validation studies for new products.  We also follow all of the standard quality control protocols to evaluate and reduce error and decrease cannabis variability, including:

For those of you who have not yet worked with CARO, we want to welcome you to try us out! Head to our welcome page here to fill out a sign-up form and receive 3 free potency tests on your first order with CARO.  Why?  Because we want to show you what industry-leading data accuracy looks like.

The information above was presented in a free online webinar, on March 29th 2023, in partnership with Emily Kirkham of National Laboratory Services. For a copy of the webinar presentation please email [email protected]. If you have any follow up questions on cannabis variability or how to get your account set up, please reach out to [email protected] for VIP treatment!


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