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Water Activity & Cannabis

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Cannabis processors have a tight moisture target to hit when drying. Too dry, and you destroy trichomes and profits. Too wet, and you get mold, sick customers, and a damaged reputation.

How do you get the precision you need to hit the sweet spot? And how do you package to make sure you stay there?

Water activity/RH works in tandem with moisture content to transform the way you monitor and control moisture during drying, packaging, and storage. Result: a level of control over your process that allows you to consistently hit the sweet spot that maximizes profit and guarantees safety and quality.

In this 30 minute webinar, you’ll learn:

• what water activity is and why it’s an essential measurement for cannabis processors
• what you need to know about how water activity predicts microbial growth
• how to use specific water activity limits to maximize quality and minimize destruction of terpenes
• why you should control water activity in the drying process to maximize profitability, control potency, and guarantee safety
• how to prevent over-drying and excessive weight loss in the drying, curing, packaging, and storage phases

Brian Rice, Director of R&D at Boveda, and John Russell, METER Food Application Support Specialist, will co-present. The webinar will be followed by a 10 minute live Q&A with the presenters.

Published in: Science
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Water Activity & Cannabis

  1. 1. Brian Rice, Boveda Head of R&D More than 20 yrs experience Cannabis storage John Russell, METER Group Application Support Specialist 13 yrs experience Cannabis moisture control Introduction WATER ACTIVITY AND CANNABIS 2 WATER ACTIVITY AND CANNABIS
  2. 2. Brian Rice Director R&D - Boveda Nov 2019 Maximizing Cultivation Profits Through Post-Harvest Humidity Control
  3. 3. • Understand how evaporation post harvest affects cannabis • Gain understanding of water activity (aW), the recognized ASTM measure for determining cannabis safety • What is the target moisture level for cannabis flower and understand how it directly impacts cannabinoids • How fine-tuning aW levels to their sweet spot drives quality and economic gains AGENDA
  4. 4. • Founded 1997 • Privately held • Headquarters: Minneapolis, MN • Defined and built the category of 2-way humidity control • Primary Markets: • Premium Cigars • Music • Cannabis WHO IS BOVEDA?
  5. 5. BOVEDA’S PATENTED TECHNOLOGY
  6. 6. What is 2-way humidity control? • Adds or removes water vapor, as needed, to maintain product at the ideal RH • Water vapor can pass through the Boveda film very quickly to respond to the outside environment. • Will quickly bring contents and internal environment of a container to RH equilibrium • Dials in to a predetermined RH (like setting thermostat) Boveda is not a 1-way humidity controller. • Desiccants strive to achieve 0% RH (dry). • Humidifiers push out 100% RH (wet). WHAT IS BOVEDA? Boveda is a 2 –Way Humidity Controller Maintains headspace at a constant RH Responds to climate changes
  7. 7. 1. Terpenes • Maintain trichome health • Monolayer 2. Moisture & Weight • Why it is critical to maintain moisture and its economic impact 3. Cannabis Quality & Brand Reputation • Prevent mold, over-dry Bud and maintain safe/fresh cannabis WHAT CAN EVAPORATE?
  8. 8. PREVENT EVAPORATION OF TERPENES
  9. 9. 12 days HOW DO TERPENES EVAPORATE?
  10. 10. HOW DO TERPENES EVAPORATE? 1 month
  11. 11. 2 months HOW DO TERPENES EVAPORATE?
  12. 12. 2 months HOW DO TERPENES EVAPORATE?
  13. 13. • Dry trichomes are brittle, fragile, and have lost potency. • Keep cannabis between 55% and 62%RH. • This range promotes healthy, hearty and hydrated trichomes. • Trichomes remain flexible and preserve cannabinoids. PREVENT EVAPORATION OF TERPENES
  14. 14. PREVENT EVAPORATION OF TERPENES (MONOLAYER) These evaporate without monolayer. Monolayer formed around trichome head.
  15. 15. • The absence of terpene smell in your container with humidity control is good! • Monolayer of water stops terpene evaporation! • Boveda studies show zero terpene loss when monolayer is formed. • This layer of H2O keeps trichomes hydrated and prevents oxidation. PREVENT EVAPORATION OF TERPENES (MONOLAYER)
  16. 16. PREVENT EVAPORATION OF MOISTURE & WEIGHT • Cannabis aW sample study across 5 states in 2018 • Multiple strains tested from different dispensaries • All in different styles of packaging • Almost 90% of these were below 0.55 aW.
  17. 17. Typical Supply Chain PREVENT EVAPORATION OF MOISTURE & WEIGHT EVAPORATION
  18. 18. So what evaporates between when a bud is harvested on the farm to when it reaches your local dispensary? 1. Water weight is lost = Loss of Revenue 2. Dehydrating bud = Loss of Terpenes & Cannabinoids 3. Overly dry bud = Compromised Trichome Health PREVENT EVAPORATION OF MOISTURE & WEIGHT
  19. 19. Start Weight End Weight 5% drop in RH = $15,000 lost due to H2O evaporation! PREVENT EVAPORATION OF MOISTURE & WEIGHT
  20. 20. PREVENT EVAPORATION OF QUALITY & BRAND
  21. 21. PREVENT EVAPORATION OF MOISTURE & WEIGHT
  22. 22. Rehydrating from dry using humidity control Start Weight End Weight 12% increase in RH = ~$48,000 gain in revenue! PREVENT EVAPORATION OF MOISTURE & WEIGHT
  23. 23. • Reduced sales • Consumer Repeats PREVENT EVAPORATION OF QUALITY & BRAND PREVENT EVAPORATION OF QUALITY & BRAND
  24. 24. • …maintaining healthy, hearty, and hydrated trichomes. • …keeping cannabis safe and hydrated between 55% and 62% RH. • …creating a monolayer of H2O on trichomes that locks in terpenes and cannabinoids. • …preserving packaged weight, prevent mold, and avoid costly recalls. RH CONTROL MAXIMIZE PROFITS BY...
  25. 25. THANK YOU
  26. 26. WATER ACTIVITY AND CANNABIS John Russell Application Support / Account Executive METER Group, Inc. USA
  27. 27. CONTENTS Microbial Growth Common Molds Water Activity Mode of Action Water Activity Standard Methods Moisture Content Challenges Cannabis Isotherms Temperature Effect Controlling RH in the Drying Process
  28. 28. WHY DO PROCESSORS OVERDRY? ■ They want to avoid safety issues. ■ They don’t know the RH of their cannabis. Microbial Growth WATER ACTIVITY AND CANNABIS 29
  29. 29. MICROBIAL GROWTH
  30. 30. MICROBIAL GROWTH ■ Scott (1953 & 1957) showed that microorganisms have a limiting water activity level below which they will not grow. ■ Water activity, not water content, determines the lower limit of available water for microbial growth. Microbial Growth WATER ACTIVITY AND CANNABIS 31
  31. 31. COMMON MOLDS IN CANNABIS ■ Aspergillus ■ Botrytis ■ Penicillium ■ Cladosporium ■ Mucor ■ Rhizopus Common Molds WATER ACTIVITY AND CANNABIS 32
  32. 32. INHALING MOLD SPORES ■ Can cause fungal infections in the lungs ■ For healthy individuals, a fungal infection will be much like a chest cold. ■ For the immunocompromised, a fungal infection in the lungs can be life threatening. – cancer patients – HIV patients – elderly Inhaling Mold Spores WATER ACTIVITY AND CANNABIS 33
  33. 33. WATER ACTIVITY MODE OF ACTION aw = 0.95 aw = 0.90 Water moves out to lower aw and turgor pressure is lost. aw = 0.93 aw = 0.90 The microbe tries to adapt by altering its membrane make- up or by reducing its aw to maintain turgor pressure. It will produce or transport in small solutes to reduce its aw. AA’s Polyols Sugars AA’s Polyols Sugars aw = 0.93 aw = 0.90 Unable to reach equilibrium with its surroundings, the microbe will remain in the lag phase with no growth or will begin sporulation and go dormant, which can only be reversed by ideal environment conditions.
  34. 34. GOVERNMENT COMPLIANCE Water activity is a critical parameter for compliance. Cannabis ASTM D8196 ▪ Determination of Water Activity in Cannabis Flower Pharma: USP Method <1112> ▪ ISO 29621: Microbial Control for Cosmetics ▪ ICH: Part 1A & Part 8, decision tree 6 & 8 Other AOAC 978.18 Compendium of Microbiology Water Activity Method Chapter 64 ISO21807 USP1112 Government Compliance WATER ACTIVITY AND CANNABIS 35
  35. 35. SWEET SPOT Sweet Spot WATER ACTIVITY AND CANNABIS 36 LOST QUALITY/PROFITS MOLD/MICROBIAL GROWTH
  36. 36. MOISTURE CONTENT CHALLENGES ■ Has no standard -- no definition of what is “dry” ■ Many different methods, most involving heat – Each gives a different answer. – Is water the only thing that volatilizes? ■ Many sources of variation Moisture Content WATER ACTIVITY AND CANNABIS 37
  37. 37. CANNABIS ISOTHERMS ADSORPTION CURVE Adsorption Curve WATER ACTIVITY AND CANNABIS 38
  38. 38. TEMPERATURE EFFECT Water activity is temperature dependent. ● Generally, higher temperature leads to higher water activity. ● The relationship between water activity and temperature for a given product is consistent. ● Higher temperatures lead to increased rates of decarboxylation. Temperature Effect WATER ACTIVITY AND CANNABIS 39
  39. 39. CONTROLLING RH IN THE DRYING PROCESS Dangers of high RH/water activity ● Water activity determines whether mold, fungus, and microbes can grow. ● Water activity determines quality (chemical and physical reaction rates). How to know when the moisture is right ● Moisture content is not an adequate indicator. ○ not related to quality ○ lacks the precision ● Water Activity = RH ○ needs to be measured during drying ○ lets you hit the sweet spot Drying Process WATER ACTIVITY AND CANNABIS 40
  40. 40. CONCLUSIONS ■ Dry to the right water activity level to hit moisture sweet spot. – 0.55-0.62 aw ■ Overdry → loss of quality & profits ■ Underdry → mold & microbial growth Conclusions WATER ACTIVITY AND CANNABIS 41
  41. 41. REFERENCES Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Scott, W. (1953) “Water relations of Staphylococcus aureus at 30 degrees C.” Australian journal of biological sciences 6 4 : 549-64 . Scott, W. (1957) “Water relations of food spoilage microorganisms.” Advances in Food Research 7: 83-127. Troller, J. A., D. T. Bernard, and V. W. Scott (1984) Measurement of Water Activity. In: Compendium of Methods for the Microbiological Examination of Foods. American Public Health Association, Washington, DC, pp.124–134. US Food & Drug Administration (2017) Food. Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMPs). USP 32–NF27 Page 606, Pharmacopeial Forum: Volume No. 30(5) Page 1709 References WATER ACTIVITY AND CANNABIS 42
  42. 42. QUESTIONS?

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