As artificial intelligence (AI) continues to help many areas of industry innovate, its applications in cannabis testing and quality control have received some interest as of late.
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Why is Cannabis Testing and Quality Control Important?
In 1996, California became the first state to legalize cannabis for medical purposes. Six years later, Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize the substance for recreational use. The American perception of cannabis has dramatically shifted in recent decades, and in 1998, less than a quarter (24%) of the US population supported the legalization of cannabis. Fast-forward to 2018, and this had risen to around two-thirds of the population (66%).
Currently, 38 states have approved cannabis for medical purposes. In 2022, almost half of the population resided in states where cannabis was legal in some form (medical or recreational). In May of this year, Minnesota became the 23rd state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, which will likely push this to over 50%.
Cannabis testing, therefore, has become increasingly important. With the legalization of cannabis comes the need to test cannabis for potency to ensure consistency and safety in the product. It is also essential to detect contaminants in cannabis being sold for medical and recreational purposes. Cannabis testing is also required for quality control, identifying strains of cannabis, and predicting the effects of the drug.
Using AI in Cannabis Testing and Quality Control
While there are many methods of cannabis testing that are currently available, such as gas chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry (GC-MS), gas chromatography coupled with a flame ionization detector (GC-FID), high-performance liquid chromatography coupled with a diode array detector (HPLC-DAD), and liquid chromatography time-of-flight mass spectrometry (LC-TOF-MS), these methods have their limitations such as limited sensitivity and potential contamination and false positives or negatives.
Artificial intelligence (AI) has emerged as a promising technology to couple with analytical methods to improve current cannabis testing methods.
For example, AI can be used alongside HPLC or GC cannabis testing methods to identify and quantify specific chemical compounds in a cannabis sample. Combining these methods enables scientists to gauge the potency of a sample with greater speed and accuracy than previously used tests, ensuring that the product has the expected potency levels.
AI can also be used in methods of cannabis testing geared to detect contaminants. For example, AI can be used to analyze the chemical spectra of a sample, comparing them to a database of known chemical substances (e.g. pesticides), to detect those present in the sample. This method of AI-powered cannabis testing can highlight any unauthorized substances present in a sample. Similarly, AI can be used to analyze genetic sequences obtained from cannabis samples, again testing them against a library of known pathogens to identify the presence of any harmful bacteria.
AI is also being incorporated into cannabis testing to analyze the genetic composition of samples to identify the strain of cannabis, therefore, helping to identify its potential therapeutic benefits.
How Might Law Enforcement Use AI in Cannabis Testing?
Cannabis testing is also important for law enforcement. Given the widespread legalization of medical and recreational cannabis that has happened over the past 20 years, there have been increasing concerns about the possibility of driving while under the influence.
According to a recent survey, almost 70% of Americans believe it is “unlikely” that a driver would be arrested for driving while under the influence of cannabis. This belief is in part due to the difficulties associated with cannabis testing. While breathalyzers can be used to detect alcohol use, blood tests are the only widely available technique for law enforcement to test cannabis use.
Now, scientists have developed a novel method of cannabis testing that leverages AI to identify facial and vocal clues indicative of cannabis impairment. The Canadian company, Cultivar Holdings, has established an AI-powered technology based on a multi-parametric approach called PredictMedix. The innovation has the potential to revolutionize cannabis testing by law enforcement by opening the door to possible roadside testing.
Main Players in Cannabis Testing Industry
The cannabis testing industry is growing rapidly; some of the current players in the global market include Agilent Technologies, Inc. (US), Shimadzu Corporation (Japan), MERCK KGAA (Germany), Thermo Fisher Scientific (US), DigiPath, Inc. (US), Steep Hill Inc. (US), SC Laboratories, Inc. (US), and PharmaLabs LLC (US).
The Future of AI in the Cannabis Testing Industry
The use of AI in cannabis testing is in its infancy. Over the next decade, as the medical and recreational use of cannabis increases across the US, sophisticated methods of cannabis testing will become more important. We will likely see other companies enter the market with novel, AI-powered cannabis testing platforms to assist both in on-the-spot drug testing and quality control of commercial cannabis products.
References and Further Reading
Amy Adamczyk et al. (2019). Why so many Americans now support legalizing marijuana, in 4 charts [Online]. PBS. Available at: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/why-so-many-americans-now-support-legalizing-marijuana-in-4-charts
Craig Patterson. (2020). Canadian Company has Developed Groundbreaking Artificial Intelligence Sobriety Testing for Alcohol/Cannabis Impairment [Online]. Retail Insider. Available at: https://retail-insider.com/retail-insider/2020/01/canadian-company-cultivar-holdings-has-developed-groundbreaking-artificial-intelligence-sobriety-testing-for-alcohol-cannabis-impairment/
Ed Leefeldt. (2019). Driving while high: Offenders don't think they'll be arrested [Online]. CBS News. Available at: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/driving-while-high-offenders-dont-think-theyll-be-arrested/
Tiffany Kary. (2023). Cannabis Startups Try AI for Everything From Dabbing to Driving Tests [Online]. Bloomberg. Available at: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/newsletters/2023-05-01/chatgpt-and-weed-oddysee-marks-start-of-ai-marijuana-startups.