Testing Standards for Cannabis Degradation - And How the Calyx Jar Can Help
To explore the shelf-life of cannabis, a scientifically holistic approach must be taken. Based on USP 671 testing standards, the glass Calyx Jar has been rigorously tested by a third-party to validate its performance meets and exceeds current industry standards.
Testing Standards for Cannabis Degradation - And How the Calyx Jar Can Help
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Spoilage, waste, decomposition, and contamination are familiar terms in nearly every industry that packages an organic good that becomes unfit for consumption over time. Consumers know to check expiration dates on food, medicine, and cosmetics to make sure that the product’s integrity is the same or comparable to the time of packaging.
The expiration of cannabis poses a complex problem. This unique plant has more than 80 known cannabinoids and over 120 unique volatile organic compounds, each with their own (relatively unexplored) degradation pathways and secondary compounds that are highly dependent on the environment the plant was grown, extracted, and stored in.
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What Causes Cannabis Quality to Degrade?
To date, there is no accurate shelf-life associated with cannabis material, and many states will regulate stored cannabis products with an arbitrary date. This results in cannabis being discard
ed too early (or too late), therefore contributing to significant waste and environmental impact driven by the cannabis industry.
Although cannabis is a uniquely complex product, many of the primary drivers of shelf-life can be visualized through everyday consumables.
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- Oxygen Transmission Rate (OTR) - Oxidation, or exposure to air, can be seen in thebrowning of a bitten apple or a cut open avocado
- Moisture Vapor Transmission Rate (MVTR) - A high MVTR can be seen in flat soda. A moldy package of beef jerky exemplifies both high MVTR and high OTR.
- UV degradation - Some may not immediately recognize sunlight as a degradation driver. A prime example is beer quality and the less than favorable taste after being left out in the sun. This explains why beer is often packaged in amber glass bottles. A non-consumable and more visual example are photographs with washed out colors after being exposed to UV-rays.
These are all examples of degradation processes, and demonstrate the opportunity for proper storage and environmental control to keep perishable products fresher, longer. OTR, MVTR, and UV degradation all relate to cannabis integrity, and can be controlled through reliable cannabis storage.
But Is My Cannabis Still Consumable?
In order to explore the shelf-life of cannabis, a scientifically holistic approach must be taken. To simplify, the process of degradation is characterized as a reduction in the complexity of a chemical compound. Heat, light, and air constantly work together to force complex molecules into a simpler (entropically favorable) structure. For cannabis, this means the transition of “desirable” compounds into “undesirable” compounds, instead of “fresh” or “spoiled” classifications for consumable goods. While there are certainly characteristics that mark a cannabis product unfit for sale, degradation of cannabis can also include a chemical effect change, rather than a spoilage. One prime example of this is the degradation of Δ9-THC into CBN:
Image via Prospiant.com
If you’ve ever consumed a cannabis product that has sat around on a sunny windowsill, or was tucked away in a drawer for a year or two, you may have noticed a significant drowsy effect upon consumption. This is directly caused by the compound cannabinol, commonly known as CBN, in tandem with the psychoactive cannabinoid, Δ9-THC.
Drowsiness is generally considered to be an undesirable effect, but an effect nonetheless, so this can’t possibly be the criteria for shelf-life, right? As a matter of fact, cannabis products with high levels of CBN are gaining popularity as “sleep inducing” for those experiencing insomnia or general trouble sleeping.
So, if a cannabis product tests high in CBN, is it considered waste to be discarded, or is it a new product to be re-labelled and sold? This is just one example of the difficulties in determining accurate shelf-life of cannabis products, especially since testing is only performed upon initial product packaging. Multi-phase testing at key timepoints is one way to obtain a better understanding of where a product is in its degradation process, as opposed to when a product has reached its expiration date based on initial test results.
Testing Cannabis for Shelf-Life and Stability
Nearly every cannabis user has had the experience of overly-dry product, resulting in lessened flavor, effect, and a harsh burn. While it is clear how dry product impacts the experience of the consumer, the impact of moisture loss on quality and potency are often overlooked by many big name retailers in the cannabis industry. This is a problem exacerbated by a complete lack of standards for environmental warehousing and packaging preservation requirements.
While there are many different avenues to test the performance of cannabis packaging, non-cannabis industries have nailed this down to a science. Other industries utilize international standard and regulatory agencies to perform unbiased, third-party testing to evaluate every possible performance metric.
Moisture Vapor Transmission Rate (MVTR) and Cannabis Shelf-Life
Ambient moisture does more than just protect your favorite terpene profiles. Water acts as a protective agent in cannabis, working to dissipate harmful UV light, sequester atmospheric oxygen, and mitigate spontaneous degradation of desirable cannabinoids. Cured cannabis can remain stable provided its water content remains relatively consistent. The rate at which moisture leaves a container and the product within it is defined by its Moisture Vapor Transmission Rate (MVTR).
When a container’s MVTR is low, less moisture is lost, and cannabis integrity is upheld longer. A lower MVTR allows cannabis to be on retail shelves for an extended period of time before it eventually degrades to an unsellable point. Market solutions such as humidity packs aim to prolong cannabis shelf life, but do not solve the root of the issue. Quality cannabis deserves reliable packaging with proven preservation qualities.
MVTR is no new concept, and has been a primary focal point of pharmaceutical packaging for decades, with robust testing standards and procedures associated with it. One of the most notable of these testing methods is defined by United States Pharmacopeia (USP), designated as USP 671 Method 1 through Method 8. This collection of test protocols exist solely to accurately quantify and categorize different packaging formats in their ability to retain a tight seal, and resist the influx and efflux of solid, liquid, or gaseous compounds.
Based on performance metrics obtained from the USP testing series, a container can be categorized as a Failure, Well-Closed, or Tight Seal Quality. Here, “Tight” is the best possible rating, and is typically the standard for pharmaceutical packaging. Pill Bottles, Labware Bottles, and Glass Soda Bottles are all products that require this “Tight” rating to ensure high preservation of the product inside.
Unpacking the Buzzword, “Airtight” in Cannabis Containers
“Airtight” is a common word being haphazardly used, and is one of the least accurate ways to describe the performance of pharmaceutical or nutraceutical packaging. A true “airtight” packaging system experiences a net zero gas exchange rate, and is more appropriately categorized as “hermetic”. This type of packaging is almost always single use, and is most often used for medicines (blister packs, vaccine packaging, etc).
Currently, the only “hermetic” or “airtight” cannabis containers require the use of expensive secondary equipment to vacuum or heat seal and inject nitrogen into the container’s microenvironment, and many of these products have a tendency to lose their seal over time (even without being opened!). Even if a container does retain this hermetic seal, that same quality seal can’t be applied again after opening, rendering it as an expensive single-use product with a very limited use-case.
How Does the Calyx Jar Slow Degradation?
Although many end-consumers would love to purchase cannabis as fresh as the moment it was cured, this is unrealistic for most large cannabis companies today. It is not uncommon for modern cannabis operations to store cannabis flower for 3-6 months before it even is placed on the shelf, ready to be sold. Therefore, it is extremely important for high-volume manufacturers to understand what happens to plant product over the course of those months, and how to ensure cannabis exiting cultivation is comparable to when it is placed in a consumer’s hands.
Though cannabis degradation can never be truly stopped, certain characteristics of Calyx Containers packaging can reduce these negative exposures, maintaining cannabis’ optimal state for as long as possible.
USP 671 Results for the Calyx Jar
The glass Calyx Jar has been rigorously tested by a third-party to ensure that its performance meets and exceeds current industry standards.
The Calyx Jar meets performance metrics to obtain a categorization of "Tight", the highest possible rating under USP 671 standards, and Shelf-Life Testing demonstrates a moisture loss of <1% over 30 Days. Our USP testing report exhibits minimal change of the container's internal micro-environment, and Shelf-Life Testing of industry competitors results in 5-8% Moisture Loss in the same time frame.
Calyx Bi-Injection Lid Technology
Our lid technology allows the Calyx Jar and all Calyx packaging products to be resealable, meaning that they uphold consistent performance after many re-openings and closures. This allows end-of-sale consumers to experience a fresher cannabis product, while also experiencing the storage and preservation benefits of our containers even after they consumed the originally packaged product.
Optimized for Reduced Headspace
The Calyx Jar is designed to hold as little free air as possible, also known as “headspace”. This results in less reactive oxygen in the container’s internal environment that can potentially degrade the packaged product over time. The Calyx glass jar is perfect for long-term storage of an eighth (3.5g) up to a quarter ounce (7g).
This is a major consideration for cannabis operators when selecting their packaging, as too much headspace in a container can lead to excess rates of degradation and a much shorter shelf-life of cannabis.
Top Terpene Retention
Calyx carefully chooses glass and plastic materials out of hundreds of competitor options to ensure maximum terpene and cannabinoid retention of packaged cannabis. Pharmaceutical-grade, durable, expertly manufactured glass and a proprietary Polypropylene material offers a barrier that is almost completely chemically inert, mitigating loss of taste, aroma, and potency, even over extended storage conditions.
Premium Packaging for Premium Cannabis
Calyx Containers packaging is designed to preserve terpene integrity, and therefore, cannabis quality. Our new Calyx Jar is perfect for storing cannabis, with a glass base that naturally protects terpenes.
Whether you are looking to learn more about our cannabis packaging solutions or you’re ready to place an order, set your business up for success by reaching out to us via live chat, phone, or email.
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Article by Tobe Nightengale, Research & Development Test Lead, Calyx Containers
Tobe Nightengale is responsible for developing and executing on Internal and External Testing to continuously improve and optimize Calyx packaging for cannabis products. Tobe is a graduate from Boston University with a degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, with an emphasis on the Human Endocannabinoid System. In addition to Tobe's work in fast-paced laboratory environments, he has worked in solvent and solventless cannabis extraction environments, finding these tools immensely helpful in pushing the boundaries of modern cannabis research, testing, and packaging development.