Whether you are a casual marijuana user or work with the substance, testing cannabis plants is an often forgotten yet very important process. Thankfully, companies such as GemmaCert provide the technology for everyone from cultivators to casual users to analyze their cannabis in a reliable, environmentally-friendly manner that leaves the flowers unharmed. In this exclusive interview, GemmaCert CEO and Co-Founder Dr. Guy Setton discusses the beginnings of the company, the importance of testing cannabis, and the outlook for GemmaCert’s technology as the cannabis industry continues to grow.
Cannabis & Tech Today: Where did the idea for GemmaCert originate?
Dr. Guy Setton: Back in 2015, GemmaCert’s three co-founders in Israel, Prof. Oded Shoseyov of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, along with myself and Dr. Dana Yarden, identified the unmet need in the cannabis market for a real-time, accurate and non-destructive cannabis potency testing solution, with an understanding that in the longer term, in-house testing would become standard practice across the industry.
C&T Today: Can you explain to us how the device works?
GS: GemmaCert offers a quick and cost-effective way to test cannabis potency. It is a one-of-its-kind device combining three technologies: spectrometry (FDA-endorsed technology in use across the pharmaceutical industry) image analysis and advanced data analytics, to provide a real-time, trustworthy solution for measuring flower potency. Results are delivered to a proprietary secure smartphone app.
GemmaCert is easy-to-use, and requires no special skill set to run tests and interpret results.. It is eco-friendly and does not use solvents or other unsafe additives; there are no expenses for removing hazardous waste after testing, while keeping the environment clean.
C&T Today: Why is cannabis analysis so important?
GS: Potency testing improves consumer safety and satisfaction while advancing the legitimacy of legal cannabis. We have a great deal to learn about the pharmacological role of the many active compounds found in cannabis. There are nearly 800 different known cannabis strains worldwide. No two cannabis flowers are identical.
Labeling accuracy remains a serious challenge and a threat to patient confidence. Studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (2015 and 2017) showed that cannabis products frequently over or understate the cannabinoid content. During the summer of 2018, about 68% of cannabis batches that failed regulatory testing in California did so because of inaccurate labels, specifically overstating the amount of THC.
A lack of trust in labeling creates legitimate public health concerns, specifically when dealing with the psychoactive element THC. This should, first and foremost, concern prescribing doctors and medically fragile patients. Due to inaccurate labelling doctors, cannot assure consistent potency for their patients; a prerequisite for consistent effective treatment.
C&T Today: Who would you say GemmaCert benefits the most?
GS: In general, cannabis supply chain stakeholders, specifically those who are forward-thinking businesses can use GemmaCert and in-house testing to refine their products, increase quality control, and create an extra line of defense against regulatory and legal problems.
In-house voluntary testing creates an image of propriety that impresses regulators and extends to customers too. This allows retailers to create objectivity-based customer loyalty. When customers are better informed about the potency issues that affect their cannabis — and when they see testing in action — they trust the retailer providing the education.
Cultivators, distributors, and processors benefit from frequent testing too. Beyond compliance and legal defense, testing allows transactions to be fair and objective. Superior cultivators and processors find that testing improves their bargaining position: better, more-potent products fetch higher prices than average fare.
We have learned that using a classic HPLC potency testing protocol by sampling, as much as 30% of a grower’s flowers are likely to be labelled with a lower potency and consequently underpriced. With GemmaCert’s ability to test many flowers in succession, without sample preparation or destruction, the growers can minimize their risk of underpricing. With GemmaCert, a grower can increase their profitability by as much as nine percent by minimizing their risk of underpricing higher potency flowers which should be sold for a premium.
Bottom line, GemmaCert is perfect for transactional and comparative purposes, offering in-the-moment information that a third-party lab cannot.
C&T Today: One of the most important factors is that your analysis does not damage the flowers. Was this difficult to implement?
GS: The development of GemmaCert’s proprietary technology took over two years of intensive multidisciplinary effort, combining the latest in spectrometry, data analytics, and image analysis.
A single flower may contain over 400 chemical compounds of which more than 100 are cannabinoids; some with opposing therapeutic effects. This diversity and complexity makes it very difficult to accurately measure potency, especially if you insist on not doing anything to the flower itself to overcome its heterogeneous nature.
GemmaCert’s team of skilled chemists, molecular biologists, biotechnologists, data scientists, and programmers worked tirelessly to produce a truly non-destructive cannabis potency testing solution, while maintaining accuracy, affordability, and ease of use.
C&T Today: What results might surprise first-time users of the device?
GS: First-time users are likely to be surprised by the extent of the natural variance in flower potency, especially when they are testing flowers which come from the same batch and expected to be the same. After all, no two flowers are the same.
C&T Today: Have you premiered the technology at any industry shows?
GS: We have showed our technology at several industry shows during 2018, including Terpenes and Testing World Conference (San Jose), the Emerald Conference (San Diego), CannaTech (Tel Aviv), as well as a number of shows in Europe. GemmaCert also presented its technology at the MJ Business Conference in Las Vegas in November.
C&T Today: As the cannabis industry continues to grow, how do you believe GemmaCert will change in the next few years?
GS: Ultimately, chemical analysis is the only means to address the quality control issues of cannabis. The objectivity brought by testing is, in fact, the cornerstone of consumer safeguards brought by legalization.
While many of the testing requirements of cannabis will need to be fulfilled by laboratories (e.g., residual solvents, heavy metals, pesticides), in-house testing will become increasingly popular with cannabis companies. GemmaCert plans to be the leader for in-house testing. GemmaCert will become the gold standard for testing in support of business-to-business cannabis transactions.
As the industry matures and consolidates, economies of scale and operational efficiencies will be critical to maintain competitiveness and maximize profitability. As with other agricultural products which have gone mainstream, cannabis production will undergo automation. GemmaCert’s technology will be adapted for use on automated lines, enabling for the first time, sorting by potency.
Last but not least, GemmaCert can become an analytical tool used by scientists and doctors to advance research into the correlation between cannabis potency and specific health conditions, supporting the personalization of cannabis-based therapeutic treatments.
For additional information on GemmaCert, make sure to check out their website at https://gemmacert.com/