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MOLECULAR DIAGNOSTICS FOR THE HIGHEST QUALITY ASSURANCE IN CANNABIS PRODUCTS

By Dr. Steven Newmaster, Director, NHP Research Alliance & Professor, University of Guelph

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any of us seek alternative nutrition and medicine to deal with common ailments such as chronic pain, anxiety, infections, compromised immunity, etc. Although natural ingredients such as cannabis may successfully relieve these issues, there are still concerns as to whether they are safe and effective. In fact, one of the most common consumer criticisms about cannabis products is that they do not receive a consistent experience when purchasing and consuming the same product at different times. “The food, beverage and natural products industries have developed good manufacturing processes to ensure quality assurance in their supply chain. This is a common practice for brands so that they can consistently produce safe, quality products for consumers,”, explains Deleo de Leonardis, CEO at Purity-IQ. SOLUTIONS FROM INNOVATIVE MOLECULAR SCIENCE Science provides solutions for quality assurance based on a foundation in genomics and metabolomics. The “omics” approach provides a key to understanding the considerable diversity of natural chemicals, some of which induce a positive response amongst consumers, while others induce a negative effect. It is prudent that cannabis QA processes consider these omics-based molecular analyses that verify the production of safe, uniform, effective products. The key concept in this molecular approach is found within the complexity of the genome as it relates to the metabolites produced by species that induce a specific physiological response in humans or even in our pets, as either nutrition or natural medicine. Cannabis is a good example of a natural product we consume that is poorly understood as it has only recently been legalized in certain countries and allowed as an ingredient in edibles. This is the first time the cannabis industry has had to deal with established brand owners, food manufacturers and retailers who require best practice and validated assurances for GMP and QA testing. There is an expectation that the cannabis-derived ingredients and products are fit for purpose, when it comes to safety, identity, purity and consistency. The challenge in designing a validated commercial identity test is that there are considerable knowledge gaps concerning cannabis cultivar (strain) characterization, given the genetic variation and mechanisms that control the 30

Cannabis Prospect Magazine | June 2020

biochemical pathways producing agronomic traits and compounds known for their medicinal and psychoactive properties. Although various studies have initiated cloning and expression of THC and CBD genes, variability in the cannabis genome has only been recently advanced to include multi-loci approaches for marker assisted breeding. These genomic advancements are important because they have identified extensive rearrangements at the THC/CBD acid synthase loci and new linkage groups associated with other important genes and gene networks, underlying cannabinoid and terpenoid accumulation. Such genome-wide association studies provide a basis for developing novel gene networks that are associated with traits including metabolites that can be used to characterize cultivars. Our novel approach argues that current genomic sequencing alone is not enough to discriminate the complexity of cultivars. The basis for cultivar classification is facilitated by the considerable diversity of over 540 known compounds that have all been documented in cannabis using analytical spectroscopy and chromatography focused on targeted phytochemicals. We developed a method that classifies chemical variation in cannabis cultivars using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) to analyze metabolites in an untargeted approach that explores the natural variation in cannabis phytochemistry. This approach facilitates the detection of primary and secondary metabolites including two-dimensional NMR spectrum signals that are directly proportionate to the molar concentrations of the chemical compounds. The method is easily and cost-effectively applied to commercial applications due to relatively simple sample preparation in non-destructive, deuterated solutions, which generate immediate NMR spectra that are classified using multivariate statistical models we developed. This approach allows for the qualification of batch-to-batch variation in metabolite profiles based on confidence intervals. Non-compliant batches can be rejected, which reduces the risk of contamination and ensures the consistency of cannabis products. We call these modeled NMR profiles chemical fingerprints, which is a forensic quantitative measure of chemical diversity that can be correlated with several groups of traits. These include agronomic (e.g. growth, disease tolerance), quality (e.g. processing, stability and shelf-life), medicinal (e.g. THC & CBD and other can-

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Cannabis Prospect Magazine - June '20 - Issue #9  

Cannabis Prospect Magazine is Canada’s premier trade publication for cannabis industry professionals. With six issues to be printed and dist...

Cannabis Prospect Magazine - June '20 - Issue #9  

Cannabis Prospect Magazine is Canada’s premier trade publication for cannabis industry professionals. With six issues to be printed and dist...

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