Southern Illinois University students testing if cannabis products are truthful

Students at Southern Illinois University Carbondale are working on a project aimed at ensuring people get what they pay for when purchasing cannabidiol products.

The project began with Roberto Santos-Torres, a student from a university in Puerto Rico who spent the summer at SIU as part of the Research Experiences for Undergraduates program. The program is funded by the National Science Foundation, which pays for students to visit other universities and conduct research.

SIU has recently hosted students from Tennessee, New Jersey, Wisconsin, New Hampshire and other programs in Illinois as part of the programs and sends some of its students to study at other universities as well.

Santos-Torres worked with two SIU researchers, Mary and Gary Kinsel, using some of the university’s high-tech analytical instrumentation to examine various CBD products to verify active ingredients.

His project examined the accuracy of product labelling on hemp-derived consumer products such as CBD tinctures intended for humans or pet consumption, CBD gummies, CBD honey and topical CBD creams.

CBD, usually used in the form of an oil sold by itself or as an ingredient in other products, is derived from cannabis, which is becoming legal in more and more states. CBD doesn’t create a “high” effect, which is caused by THC. It can be used as a stress reliever and sleep aid or a pain reliever.

However, the Food and Drug Administration has reported a variety of hemp-derived products that don’t contain the active ingredients in the amounts listed on product labels. Standardization in this field is therefore an important goal.

“It is problematic when the public cannot trust that the product labelling is accurate,” said Mary Kinsel, associate scientist in the Office of Sponsored Projects Administration at SIU.

Santos-Torres said use of medical cannabis is a growing in his home of Puerto Rico, the same as in many U.S. states. So Kinsel suggested he tackle the emerging problem of labeling issues.

“I was delighted, since it was a project that could start on my island before I got to SIU,” Santos-Torres said. “I hope this study can clarify the problem that currently exists with the label content of CBD products, and for the FDA to be more rigorous with this market.”

For Santos-Torres the first step was preparing standard solutions of five different known CBD concentrations, which provided a sort of yardstick by which to measure the CBD content of the consumer products. To do this, he prepared a stock solution with a known concentration of CBD, and then diluted it to make standards of the desired smaller CBD concentrations.

By plotting the instrument response of each CBD standard signal against the known concentrations, the researchers could then fit an equation to the data that could be used to determine the CBD concentrations in the consumer products.

The painstaking work effectively set the stage for further work to begin this fall, when Chloe Leonard, a senior in physiology at SIU, continues the project. Leonard said she chose to study under Mary Kinsel after taking her introduction to forensic science course in the fall of 2020.

“I was very intrigued by her research and asked if she had any openings for undergraduate research,” Leonard said. “She was kind enough to allow me to join her this semester in the lab and presented the idea of furthering Roberto’s research.”

As a physiology major, Leonard said she is very interested in the medicinal benefits of CBD, so it seemed like a perfect opportunity.

“It would allow me to gain a better understanding for potency testing and proper laboratory procedures that I could use in the future,” she said.

Leonard will repeat Santos-Torres’ work with the goal of determining the extraction efficiency by adding known quantities of CBD to consumer products and then extracting it to measure how much can be recovered. This will help optimize the extraction method.

“During this semester, we expect her to validate the extraction processes we came up with and carried out this summer,” Santos-Torres said. “After that, she’ll continue to examine more CBD products.”

Shepard Price