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As states across the United States legalize medicinal and recreational cannabis use, cannabinoid-infused edibles have quickly become one of the most popular products on dispensary shelves. For many consumers, this is the first impression and experience of the cannabis industry. Edibles, however, have gained a reputation for being variable in their potency. This situation has left edibles processors and analytical laboratories fighting to find and address the sources of variability in edibles potency. Variable results represent a challenge that everyone is very keen to resolve to improve consumer confidence, reduce costs and increase product consistency.

To discuss how processors work with cannabis testing labs and the crucial role this relationship plays we spoke to Kim Rael, CEO of Azuca – a producer of innovative, fast-acting cannabis edibles. Kim was also keen to discuss the importance of collaboration in resolving these variability-related challenges and what her experiences at Azuca have taught her.

Jack Rudd (JR): How does Azuca develop and optimize its formulations to meet customers’ needs?

Kim Rael (KR): Azuca brings to consumers the perfect intersection of culinary quality and innovative technology. We have three patents pending on our technology to make edibles fast-acting, predictable and micro-dosable. Most people experience the onset of our products within 15 minutes, and some as quickly as 2 minutes. We do this by making cannabinoid molecules hydrophilic, or “water friendly.”  (You know, oil and water don’t usually like to hang out together.) Our proprietary process essentially enrobes the cannabis molecule so that your body can absorb it through the soft tissues in the mouth and digestive tract. Traditional cannabis edibles are processed by your liver, which is why the onset time is so long and unpredictable.

Azuca’s purpose is to help people use this powerful, medicinal plant to live better, healthier lives. Our strategy is to revolutionize the cannabis edibles market. First, we offer a line of artisan batch, chef-quality edibles, including delicious chocolates and shortbreads (ginger, chocolate, traditional). In addition, we have a line of infused ingredients that give consumers the freedom to prepare and enjoy cannabis edibles. For example, a customer can use Azuca-infused sugars and syrups in any of their favorite beverages or recipes. In addition to our own line of edibles, we empower other cannabis edibles producers by licensing our “Azuca Inside” technology and ingredients to make their products even better and more fast-acting.

JR: At what points along the development, processing and manufacturing of your products do you use labs to analyze your products?

KR: We use only the highest quality ingredients from reputable suppliers, in the form of distillate and isolate, that have been tested for potency and contamination prior to being used in any of our formulations. After we have incorporated the cannabinoids into our formulas and then into final products, we send them to independent labs for a second round of testing, again, for potency, contamination, and food safety.

JR: What challenges have you faced when handling the analysis results provided by testing labs?

KR: The entire cannabis industry is in its infancy and as a consequence, the lab/analytical infrastructure is evolving rapidly, alongside the core industry. We have seen variability in the lab results when testing the exact same homogenized product at the same time at multiple labs, for example. In one case, the results varied by 30%. Additionally, as the regulatory framework has evolved prescribing what is an acceptable dosing variance, in some cases, it appears that the allowable variance from a regulatory perspective actually exceeds the baseline variability technically available on the analytical side.

My intent in discussing this challenge is not to accuse the labs of foul play, it’s quite the opposite. Working within an industry where the scientific community is still fighting the technical and legal battles necessary to even establish reliable reference-standards for testing means that reduction in variability is something we as an industry must work together on, for the ultimate benefit of our patients. Producers must work closely with our lab teams. It’s one of the most critical partnerships in enabling the rapid, safe growth of the industry.

JR: How do these challenges impact your business?

KR: The time and investment in testing, re-testing and understanding any variances in our lab results obviously takes a great deal of time, and it is a financial investment, ultimately adding to the cost of products for our customers. Clearly, we would like to drive down those costs and time lags, but never, ever at the expense of product safety and reliability. In some cases, I have seen products where the cost of testing exceeded the margin on the batch. Obviously, that is not scalable.

JR: How do you feel the labs can better serve businesses like Azuca and explain the results they provide

KR: As a customer of the labs, we want what every customer wants from any supplier: great service for a great price. We also need a real working partnership with our labs because the rate of change and innovation in our products and technology requires rapid testing turn-around. We also need the labs to fully understand and be fully transparent with us about their own variability and margin of error. Producers like Azuca rely on the labs for technical expertise and independent analysis not available in-house. We have had great support from our labs. For example, early on we were seeing unexpected data in our lab results. Our lab team and our production team worked together in a virtual “task force” to break down all of the results and isolate the potential causes, and then the final source, of the variability we were aiming to eliminate. The lab team was fully engaged as a partner in that process. I would also encourage all producers to tour the labs they work with and understand the analytical tools and process flows in the lab environment. It has to be a partnership, not a “lob over the fence” to the labs and vice versa.

Kim Rael, CEO of Azuca was speaking to Jack Rudd, Managing Editor for Analytical cannabis.

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