By: Stephanie Shehan Digipath Labs was founded by Todd Denkin back in 2014. Over the last seven years, we’ve watched Digipath grow and navigate the trials and tribulations of the Nevada cannabis industry. I recently had the chance to sit down with Todd to find out what role a lab plays in this space and […]
By: Stephanie Shehan
Digipath Labs was founded by Todd Denkin back in 2014. Over the last seven years, we’ve watched Digipath grow and navigate the trials and tribulations of the Nevada cannabis industry. I recently had the chance to sit down with Todd to find out what role a lab plays in this space and how Digipath ensures the success of our local cannabis cultivators and producers.
STEPHANIE SHEHAN: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. We’ve known each other now for about six years and I don’t think I have ever asked you what you did prior to founding Digipath Labs.
TODD DENKIN: Right before founding Digipath, I was working in cannabis cultivation. And prior to that, I was in the hydroponically grown lettuce for urban indoor farms business as well as hydroponically grown cannabis. My background prior to cannabis was as a producer, director, and editor for over 25 years which eventually led to the start of my own production company. Ironically, the relationship I had built with my production company partners ended because they were unhappy with the fact that I was a cannabis consumer.
SS: Take us through your start in the cannabis industry and how you ended up founding a lab.
TD: I had been in the cannabis space since 2009. At that time, my team and I were looking for the next big trend to invest in. The trend then was “grow your own pot at home.” So, we looked for a hydroponic company to purchase which we found in California. The company, Phototron, was manufacturing single plant, hydroponic grow chambers. We took that company public in 2010 and were one of the first publicly traded cannabis companies. Then we ended up acquiring additional, similar companies like Stealth Grow LEDs and Greners.com and adding them under our Phototron Holdings umbrella. In 2014, when all of the cannabis stocks went crazy due to recreational cannabis passing in Colorado, our stock also shot up. Lots of people made lots of money, and suddenly we were big heroes. At this time, I was living in Vegas and had another company called Ten Mile Farms. We were developing indoor, urban farms and hydroponic controlled environmental growing chambers. We found an investor to fund the company whose focus quickly turned from indoor urban lettuce farms to cannabis. It was this investor who funded GB Sciences here locally. Under GB Sciences, we developed an array of machinery including a tissue culture box, a grow box, and a cure box. The fourth part of that equation was testing and at that time we didn’t have anyone in the testing space. We then learned that testing labs must be independent from all other cannabis licences so we went to our friends that owned a company called Digipath, which at the time was a digital pathology company. I resigned from GB and became the founder and president of Digipath Inc, and Digipath Labs, Inc. So, as Nevada was going legal with medical marijuana, we partnered with our Digipath friends who already had a publicly traded company (OTCQB:DIGP). We rasied the money easily coming off our success with Phototron and applied for our license in Nevada. We thought it was a perfect marriage as our partners at Digipath already had a decade of laboratory experience. At the end of 2014, we were awarded our lab license. We quickly got to work and opened within six months. Funny enough, we had our final inspection on 4/20 in 2015 and it was then that we knew we were destined for success. We just had our 6 year anniversary and today, we are approximately 70,000 samples in.
SS: How has the cannabis landscape changed from the time you obtained your license to now?
TD: Well, first we started with medical cannabis. We were regulated by the Department of Health. Then Nevada went recreational and we were regulated by the Department of Taxation. And now, because cannabis is finally considered a “real” industry, they have formed the Cannabis Control Board which is amazing because we now have our own board and we are no longer just a division of some other governmental department. The Cannabis Control Board is working diligently with the various operators of cannabis companies here in Nevada and making decisions to better the industry. In the early days, nobody really knew what to do. It was very much a guessing game. A Lot of what is being done now is being done right. But, there were a lot of bumps in the road from 2014 until now.
Another big change that I have seen over the past six or seven years is the public’s acceptance of cannabis. In the beginning locals were a bit apprehensive with Nevada legalizing cannabis and today many see it as no big deal. The industry generates millions of dollars of tax revenue. I believe in February the numbers were something like 86 million dollars in revenue that the cannabis industry had made which is astounding. And that is with Nevada just coming out of a pandemic without the typical amount of tourists here. The Feds made cannabis “essential” and Nevadans stepped it up.
SS: What is the role of a testing lab within the cannabis industry?
TD: Labs play a very important role in cannabis. Labs assist cultivators and producers in achieving their goals while protecting consumers who oftentimes are using cannabis as medicine. Also, we pride ourselves on educating budtenders, patients and whomever wants to learn more about this incredible plant. Good education creates good legislation and helps everyone understand the good and bad things about cannabis.
SS: What is a common misconception about cannabis labs?
TD: A common misconception that people have is that cannabis labs have the ability to pass or fail samples whenever they want. The truth is we don’t want anyone to fail a test as it has devastating consequences to the bottom line of our customers. The worst call we can make is to tell someone their batch or lot has failed. By failing a product for whatever reason, a lab gains absolutely nothing. We don’t get points from the state and we don’t win any awards. Cultivators and producers pay for the services provided by labs and we have to deliver accurate results. Failing a cannabis product is only to provide protection to consumers. Customer retention is VERY important to us and, when products fail testing, labs run the risk of those customers bouncing around and “trying” other labs. That’s why we provide the highest level of customer service so when products do fail, we work directly with our customers with R&D testing to help find the root of the problem so they can rectify the situation so that it doesn’t happen again.
SS: Take us through the cannabis testing process – what happens after a company calls Digipath to test their products?
TD: Once we receive a call or a customer logs into their Confident Cannabis account to request our services, we schedule an appointment for one of our Digipath technicians to visit the facility. Technicians are outfitted in hazmat suits with gloves and masks. When the technician arrives at the cultivation or production facility, they choose random samples in the specified amounts for testing. Edibles are also taken at random in order to test the homogeneity to ensure that all edibles in a batch have consistent ingredients and cannabinoid percentages. Samples are transported within the temperature controlled locked container back to the lab and delivered to the intake room. The intake technician then logs everything into the system which provides each sample with a barcode for tracking throughout the testing process. Once entered into the system, photographs of each sample are taken. The first step in the actual testing process is a visual inspection of the sample to ensure there are no hairs, bugs or other particles on it. In addition, we always look for powdery mildew which in Nevada is not a standard test but it is definitely something we look for on our client’s behalf. After the visual inspection, we homogenize the sample and aliquot it out and it is prepped by analytical chemists for the different tests. Tests usually run overnight and when the analysts come in each morning, they check the data, evaluate it and record it. The Certificate of Analysis is then issued and forwarded to the client. Here at Digipath, customer communication is the key to our success so we also call our clients and review the certificate to see if they have any questions and give guidance as needed.
SS: What types of things do you test for? And, what types of things do most sample fails stem from?
TD: We test for moisture, water activity, heavy metals, pesticides and we also do a complete microbial screen covering e.coli, salmonella, mold and yeast, 4 species of aspergillus and total aerobic bacteria for edibles. And, of course we test for cannabinoids and terpenes. Our team consists of both analytical chemists and microbiologists that perform the various tests. What sets our lab apart is that we have redundancy in our lab. We have two of almost every piece of testing instrumentation. This also increases our capacity and allows us to return results in only 3 business days.
Most sample fails come in the microbiology department. I would say around 95% of fails come from microbiology. Approximately 1% are from pesticides. another 3% come from solvents and then less than 1% other. It is also very rare for a sample to fail for heavy metals and we’ve only seen a handful in 6 years.
SS: What improvements for labs do you believe the industry needs?
TD: The main improvement needed is lab standardization. Requiring that all labs utilize similar processes and equipment is necessary in this industry. This would level the playing field so to speak and allow all labs to test products identically and give cultivators and producers confidence that each lab is testing properly and accurately. We encouraged lab standardization in the early days, but it was just too difficult to change legislation. Now, with the Cannabis Control Board overseeing the industry, it may be a bit easier. And, in the future, as cannabis becomes more mainstream, standardization will become critical not only within Nevada but across the United States as well as internationally.
Another improvement that could be made is for the labs within the Nevada cannabis industry to cooperate with one another. Cooperation and working towards common goals will ultimately assist in the success of this industry as a whole. If we work together a little more, which we are seeing happening right now, we will all benefit. Don’t get me wrong, we work with several of the labs in Las Vegas and Reno and companies in the cannabis space are starting to realize that we need each other and that the animosity and negativity can be quite detrimental to everyone.
SS: From a lab perspective, what advice would you give to consumers when shopping for cannabis?
TD: Research the various terpenes and cannabinoids and then ask your budtender for lab results (or a Certificate of Analysis) so that you can determine which strains will be beneficial to you. If you purchase a strain and then end up really liking it, note the terpene and cannabinoid profiles, also known as the chemoprofile so that when you return to the dispensary, you can find something with a similar profile. Not all Blue Dreams are the same, just like not all OG Kush’s are not the same. Since there is no real regulation or standardization in the nomenclature of cannabis cultivars, the only way to know for sure what you are getting is by looking at the COA.
SS: Thank you for taking the time to explain the lab process and for giving our readers some tips on choosing cannabis for themselves. How can our readers find out more about Digipath Labs?
TD: For more information about Digipath, Inc. visit digipath.com or you can learn more about our Nevada Lab at digipathlabs.com. You can also follow us on Instagram and Facebook @digipathlabs and just a reminder that you can check out our stock at: OTCQB:DIGP.