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Testing Your Home Grow: A Guide for DIY Cannabis Cultivators in Canada

Third-party laboratory testing is the gold standard of quality in the cannabis industry. As cannabis is naturally such a chemically variable plant, testing helps guide consumers toward the specific effects and benefits they seek. Testing helps both recreational and medicinal consumers along the decision-making process.

Lab test results are widely available for products sold through a licensed retailer, but home growers have been largely left to their own devices. Do-it-yourself growers have relied on their intuition and a bit of self-experimentation to determine what’s inside their harvest. But instead of a guesstimate, what if the home grower could get accurate results?

Rod Szarka, Vice President of Keystone Labs, sat down to discuss potency testing solutions available for Canadian growers and patients. He also highlighted some of the reasons why home growers should get curious about what they are cultivating.

A Guide to Testing Options for At-Home Growers and Patients

Advances in technology and laboratories are making it easy for growers to know the cannabinoid and terpenoid composition of their harvests. This means patients can grow their medicine, then better understand it through testing. It also means recreational cultivators can test and tweak each grow to perfect their process.

What options are out there for the home grower? As it stands today, Canadians have a few prospects for potency and terpene testing. Price point, discretion, and accuracy are the key differences.

Affordable and Fast: Potency Testing Devices

At the most affordable end of the spectrum sits at-home testing devices like the tCheck and MyDx. Ranging in price from $299 USD for the basic tCheck up to $799 USD for the MyDx package, these are the most cost effective options if you plan to test more than one batch.

At-home testing kits are small, usually not much larger than chunky smartphones, and come with a range of add-on features. The grower prepares their own samples, which are processed using simplified technology within the device. Results come within only a few minutes.

The downside is that they aren’t as accurate as proper laboratory testing, and they test for a limited cannabinoid and terpene range.

MyDx claims it “is able to quantify THC to within 20 percent of conventional gas chromatography instruments,” while the tCheck can produce results within three percentage points.

This may be more than enough if you are looking for rough estimates. But for patients and cultivation nerds out there, these are substantial margins of error. For example, three percentage points may fall anywhere between 14 to 20 percent THC for a product that is actually 17 percent.

Accurate and Reliable: Lab Testing

Although portable testing devices can offer some clarity on what’s going on in your home grow, many patients need more precise information to get their dose right. The home cultivator seeking potency perfection and unique terpene profiles will also want more accurate test results to guide their growing methods.

Until recently, Canadians seeking accuracy had one option — a licensed cannabis testing lab serving the commercial cultivation industry. Unfortunately, this put it well beyond the budget of most Canadian patients and hobby-growers. 

That is, until Keystone Labs launched the first testing kit for Canadian growers that combines affordability with quality, certified lab results to solve this dilemma. Depending on what you want to test, the KeyBox kit starts at $169 for either the oil or flower option. 

Once received, you prepare the sample following the simple instructions and ship it back to the lab. Results come within four to five business days. Importantly, the KeyBox testing kit offers an expanded testing profile, covering 10 cannabinoids and up to 40 terpenes. 

The Keystone lab relies on pharmaceutical-grade equipment and processes, like high-pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC) and gas chromatograph/mass spectrometry (GC-MS). This means your results are incredibly accurate and detailed. 

As Szarka elucidated, they can keep the price so low because “the client does the heavy lifting for us. They do the sample prep, they send it back to us. Then we get to do the fun stuff by throwing it on the machine to look at the results.”

testing cannabis
There are more options available today to home growers interested in testing their cannabis.

Why You Should Test Your Home Grow

Whether you are a patient wanting to dial in your dose or a hobby grower diving into genetics and rare cannabinoid profiles, you can learn a lot about your plants from testing and really digging into your lab results. 

Szarka explained that with “some of the cannabinoids we detect, they can tell stories for you.” 

Results for the Hobby Cultivator

For example, cannabinoids can tell a story about whether you’ve harvested too soon or too late, or improperly stored your flower. If harvested too soon, you’ll see higher levels of cannabigerol (CBG), which is the precursor to other cannabinoids. This tells a grower to delay the harvest during the next round. 

There is another possible finding within detailed cannabinoid test results: higher levels of cannabinol (CBN). This cannabinoid comes from the degradation of THC, indicating you harvested too late or, worse, exposed the harvest to poor storage conditions (heat, light, oxygen). This would tell you to harvest sooner or improve your storage.

Many of the lab’s home growers also use the service for genosearching. These genetic-obsessed growers test many samples to find rare or interesting profiles. 

Results for Medicinal Users

But, genosearching and cultivation techniques are just one side of the coin, as there is also a substantial amount of information to be gleaned from test results for the medicinal consumer.  

In one notable example, KeyBox has worked with a medicinal user from Vancouver to produce a strain with a very targeted profile. As Szarka explained, “Now he has it dialled in really well. You can see that in his samples. Every time he sends in his KeyBox, it’s very consistent with the profile.”

Even if secondary cannabinoids and interesting terpenes mean nothing, potency likely will. At the bare minimum, the KeyBox can provide an accurate picture of just how strong your home grown flower is. 

At the KeyBox lab, Szarka reveals, “It can be anywhere from 8 percent all the way to the highest we’ve seen at 32 to 33 percent.” They have also noted a large number of samples with a split THC:CBD ratio.

And what about the benefits for patients with specific chronic conditions? Szarka said they work with many patients diagnosed with cancer, who use home testing for their cannabis oil. 

Cannabis oil for cancer often means taking upwards of a gram of oil a day. Smoothly and safely titrating up to this dose and then getting it consistent is much easier when you know precisely how strong it is. 

Lab Testing the Missing Piece for at Home Growers and Patients

Consumers are becoming increasingly knowledgeable about cannabis as the industry evolves. Both medicinal and recreational users want more information than ever when diving into a new strain or product.

While it’s easy to read a label on commercially available cannabis products, home growers seeking the same level of information didn’t have this luxury until very recently. Trial and error helped patients get the dose right, and growers wasted a lot of time through ongoing experimentation.

These days, potency testing devices and certified lab testing kits for home growers are helping everyone dive into the secrets this plant contains. Testing helps cultivation keeners refine their processes but also guides patients to better dosing and more effective medicine. It’s a much needed evolution toward the ultimate goal of demystifying this plant.

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