Top 10 Pro Tips to Keep Your Lab Running Smoothly

Top 10 Pro Tips to Keep Your Cannabis Lab Running Smoothly

While you might be clear on the scientific concepts with which a cannabis laboratory operates, it’s important not to overlook the basic lab techniques a successful technician uses on a daily basis.

In a cannabis lab, the most effective technicians are masters of making the most of their time. If it’s possible to have a process made hands-free, those hands should find their way to a task that will add the most value. As such, this week’s article will showcase a list of some best basic lab techniques that you’ll find invaluable for the relief of some of the more mundane lab tasks.

1. Cleaning Glassware via Refluxing

When cleaning glassware, it becomes obvious that it’s very time consuming, and a misallocation of resources to have a technician cleaning glass all day. The following procedure will allow for hands free cleaning of glassware to allow the technician to make more effective use of their time.

  • On a table near a power outlet, place a hotplate, a heating vessel filled with water, and the glassware to be cleaned.
  • Set the hotplate to approximately 70 ºC and place the heating vessel on top to heat the water.
  • Fill the glassware to be cleaned with a small amount of solvent, and double-boil the glassware with the opening covered. 
  • After some time, the solvent will clean the glassware via reflux; the solvent evaporates and recondenses on the cool side of the glassware, washing the cannabis oil off the sides of the glassware.
  • DO NOT leave this process unattended.

2. Decanting

Decanting is a process of separating a liquid and precipitate by means of pouring off the liquid layer without disturbing the precipitate.

3. Use Vacuum Filtration

Vacuum filtration allows for the separation of a liquid from a solid in a mixture. A Buchner funnel and filter paper are mounted on a filter flask (aka vacuum flask) with a vacuum connected. As the vacuum builds in the flask, the liquid will be pulled through the filter into the flask, leaving the solid contents in the Buchner funnel. An example of a direct application of this technique on site would be the filtering of char from crude oil.

4. Degassing is Critical

When opening containers of solvent, it’s of utmost importance to be sure the vessel isn’t pressurized. Ethanol, for example, can pressurize a container via thermal expansion if it was sealed while closed. To avoid serious injury and/or damage to equipment, use the appropriate means to slowly and safely release the pressure of any container holding solvent. An example of this technique on site would be the kegs in which cannabis miscella and ethanol are stored/transported in need to be degassed if they are to be taken from the freezer and later opened at room temperature.

5. Wafting – Use Your Hand not Your Nose

If there is something that needs to be smelled, it’s poor form to shove your nose into the container. The solvent vapors could be hazardous to your respiratory tract. Instead, use a hand to wave some of the vapor over from the opening of the container to the nose. An example of direct application of this technique on site would be wafting concentrated terpenes or HPLC solvents. They will dissolve the lining of your lungs over time if you are careless.

6. Double Boiling – Never Heat a Closed Container

It’s often the case that a sensitive substance like THC distillate will need to be heated up for container transfer or the like. To double boil, heat up water in a container at a controlled temperature, and carefully place the vessel containing distillate in the water, taking care not to allow any water into the distillate.  NEVER HEAT A CLOSED CONTAINER OR SYSTEM. This method is used in part to avoid overheating the distillate as this can cause the THC to convert to undesirable compounds, and also to allow for hands-free heating.

7. Homogenous Sampling for True Representation

A sample is only as good as the method used for its collection. It’s imperative to ensure that a sample is a true representation of the subject in question as a whole. As such, a good sample is formed with traces from every portion of the subject material, which is also known as a homogenous sample. An example of direct application of this technique on site would be the inclusion of a trim sample from as many different containers as possible, from as many places in the bags as possible, before sending the sample off for potency testing.

8. Sanitization – Clean as you Go

If your lab’s reputation is to be upheld it will need to maintain an extremely clean appearance. If you make a mess, clean it. If you see a mess, clean it. Also falling under this jurisdiction is the concept of a clean transfer, which ensures there is zero contamination of a cannabis derivative during transfer. For example, if pulling glassware off of a distillation, be sure to wipe off the residual vacuum grease before pouring distillate over it.

9. Read the Meniscus Properly

When reading volumetric glassware, the reading must be taken at eye level, and from the bottom of the U-shaped, “meniscus” that forms at the surface of the liquid due to cohesion and adhesion.

10. Two Hands are Better Than One

When carrying anything valuable (glassware, distillate, machinery, etc.), USE BOTH HANDS. A lab technician is expected to be an expert in not dropping valuables just as much as they are anything else. Don’t rush, never run, walk slowly, and plan ahead.