Cannabis Analysis in the Palm of Your Hand

Posted on Wednesday, October 16, 2019

A cannabis plant with a device that can measure the ratio of THC and CBD

A simple device capable of detecting and analyzing the cannabinoid content of marijuana plants within seconds is on the horizon. Researchers from the University of Ottawa developed a low-cost, miniaturized technology for on-the-spot analyses by cannabis producers as well as law enforcement agencies.

They invented a device that can measure the ratio of the two major pharmacological components of cannabis: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

The technology can rapidly analyze a plant extract, vaporized or burnt cannabis, laying groundwork for cheap, easy, and portable analysis accessible to everyone.

  • THC is the main psychoactive component in cannabis that gives users a high. 
  • CBD is a compound found in the cannabis plant. According to Health Canada, it is not intoxicating.
  • For reasons of safety, efficacy, quality control and law enforcement, THC and CBD content labelling of cannabis and related products is mandatory in Canada.

The research is a result of a collaboration between three uOttawa professors: Dr. Adam Shuhendler (Department of Chemistry and Biomolecular Sciences), Dr. Benoît Lessard (Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering) and Dr. Cory Harris (Department of Biology). The study was led by Zachary Comeau, a graduate student.

According to the research team, the device will have an impact on making cannabis plant analysis broadly accessible.

“Cannabis analysis is done routinely by licensed producers in order to characterize their crops in order to determine the THC:CBD ratio, which will tell them if their particular plant may be better suited to recreational use or medicinal use,” Dr. Benoît Lessard explained. “However, this testing is currently done with complex, slow, and expensive analytical techniques. The affordability and simplicity of our device would not only lower the cost and expedite testing for licensed producers, but would also make cannabis characterization possible for consumers and home growers as well. No such technology existed for cannabis quality control previously.”

The device could also be used by law enforcement officers.

“Since the device is capable of detecting THC and CBD directly from vaporized or burnt samples (smoke, for example), rapid, low cost environmental sensing is also possible, which is important for enforcing zero cannabis use policies,” claimed Dr. Cory Harris. “For example, police officers can activate the sensor, which would provide an objective reading of THC and/or CBD in that vehicle, where cannabis use is currently prohibited under Canadian law.”

Our device can enable quality control of cannabis plants from industrial to home use scales, and can enable on-the-spot cannabinoid assessment for law enforcement applications.” – Dr. Adam Shuhendler

The device is made of organic thin film transistors in which chemosensors have been integrated.

A chip with a series of organic thin film transistor based sensors

A chip with a series of organic thin film transistor based sensors.

The research, which began in 2018, was conducted entirely at the University of Ottawa. It is where the devices were made, exposed to THC and/or CBD, and tested.

In effect, with this device, we can put the capability of complex analytical chemistry techniques into the palm of your hand.” – Dr. Adam Shuhendler

The researchers are launching a startup company named Ekidna Sensing around this technology, which has been patented by the University.

Their study On-the-Spot Detection and Speciation of Cannabinoids Using Organic Thin-Film Transistors will be published in the October issue of ACS Sensors.


For more information:
Justine Boutet
Media Relations Officer
Cell: 613.762.2908

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