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January 26, 2024

Solving the Unique Challenges in Cannabis Requires Novel Solutions

Low-code LIMS software poses a fresh, tailored solution for cannabis labs facing previously limited options.

As the legalization of cannabis rolls out in multiple countries, cannabis labs have accelerated the purification, processing, and delivery of high-quality products to meet rapidly fluctuating demand. This rapid progress amidst the chaos of a developing industry comes despite additional barriers unique to the field. Variable, conflicting laws and regulations—regulated at different federal or state levels of government based on location—leave the production and processing of cannabis in a gray zone with far-reaching business impacts. Due in part to this complication, cannabis labs find themselves frequently working with methods and equipment that were not developed for cannabis applications, presenting a further barrier to productive management of inventory and processes.

Consequently, Laboratory Inventory Management System (LIMS) may be inaccessible or unusable for many cannabis labs due to limitations of the software designed for more typical operations in research and development or manufacturing-based laboratories. Cannabis labs looking to maximize productivity, tracking, and management practices for their specific applications are left seeking alternatives to traditional LIMS. Low-code software, which can replace heavily customized commercial LIMS platforms, presents an effective solution.

Low-code LIMS is a perfect fit for cannabis labs.

Ini Afia, the Scientific and Technical Director of CannaSafe, describes the unique analytical challenges facing cannabis labs that must operate more like several labs in one compared to the more specialized labs common to other industries. “Cannabis . . . can be infused into a myriad of matrices, which leads to a high complexity analysis for the lab. Additionally, cannabis itself is quite a complex matrix with its various compounds including cannabinoids, flavonoids, volatile compounds, fatty acids, etc.”

Grace Schroeder, CEO of Slingr, agrees that, while all labs face challenges related to sample testing, cannabis labs are unique in the range of different elements they must test for. “Not just the levels of THC, but also any toxins, environmental contaminants, terpenes, or other requirements set forth by the state,” continues Schroeder. “Different cannabis labs may also be asked to perform different types of tests in different orders with different frequencies, depending on where the lab is located.”

The complexities extend to instruments and workflows. Afia expands, “Along with comprehensive regulations for testing both active ingredients and contaminants, cannabis labs must be equipped with the appropriate extraction equipment, clean up, and analyses including chromatography instruments, mass spectrometry instruments, and genomic microbial assay technologies.”

The wide-ranging analytes, matrices, tests, regulatory requirements, instrumentation, and processes put pressure on software solutions to adapt to differing, constantly changing needs.

With the problem identified, the race is on to find better ways of tracking inventory, personnel, and paperwork for cannabis labs. At the frontline is Slingr Lab’s low-code LIMS alternative. According to Schroeder, these challenges have contributed to the popularity of the low-code platform for cannabis labs, which is configurable to accommodate subtle changes in operational requirements under different states. “Under the umbrella of one application, you can have different workloads, tests, protocols, even reporting.” Rather than trying to adapt lab processes to LIMS or other existing software, Slingr’s low-code platform adapts to the lab's needs.

Harnessing tomorrow’s technology in today’s lab

Cannabis labs face enormous capital and operating expenses. The lab equipment required to run the analyses defined by regulatory standards forms one of the most significant expenses for cannabis labs, explains Afia. Following that, staffing costs rise with the need for experienced analysts. “To tie all these analyses, staff, methods, and equipment together into an efficient lab, a LIMS is highly necessary. The LIMS becomes the heart of the laboratory, and when executed correctly, it can be a lifesaver in all manners: time, efficiency, organization, financially, and even judicially.” That said, LIMS is not always accessible or utilizable for cannabis labs for a variety of reasons. These can include legal barriers (depending on geography) and insufficient application (e.g., the program does not track inventory the same way the lab operates).

The paradigm shift that low-code software represents is an application built precisely to your needs rather than hard-coded software in a one-size-fits-all format. With low code, there is no need to buy all available features for the programs you need and overpay as you try to suit this application to your model. A streamlined program can save time and energy in figuring out how to adapt rigid, generic software to lab processes—or vice versa—and implement it effectively. With a customized solution like low-code software, you only pay for what you need.

Getting started with low-code

While many labs have solidified protocols and their means of tracking, whether through distinct software, spreadsheets, or notes, there are ways to build on and improve this infrastructure. Schroeder explains, “Slingr supports processes more efficiently and effectively, without starting from ground zero, with an abundance of input from the team who will be using it.” That collaborative aspect is critical to success. “Our typical client engagement is very partner-oriented,” Schroeder continues. “We have weekly meetings to review the state of the evolving application and ask for feedback. It’s a very co-developed process.”

This process empowers labs to build better frameworks that minimize the manual effort required to track inventory and procedures, manage staffing, handle client communications, and maintain documentation for compliance and regulatory requirements. The key is improving current models rather than adapting to an entirely new system.

Justifying the cost of customized management

Justifying the startup cost of customized management solutions for the lab can be one of the biggest roadblocks faced by labs of all specialties and sizes. Assessing the pros and cons of implementing these solutions is vital.

“There is a high cost of entry to setting up a cannabis lab,” Afia reflects. “But fortunately, you're buying analytical equipment that works on most other types of analytical testing. Whether you're just running cannabis or other commodities, as long as you're testing continually, your large investment will pay off in due time.” Labs shouldn’t shy away from making investments, opines Afia. “Many labs only see the short-term and think only about cannabis analysis, losing sight that they can extend that investment to new testing domains to diversify their risk.”

Schroeder says that at Slingr, the most critical part of the implementation journey is trust. Ensuring that the lab and low-code implementation teams have the same goals and cohesively work together toward successful implementation and desired positive results is essential throughout the process. “After that, it’s simple math. You must calculate whether you are hiring another administrative-level person to meet lab operational goals or whether you should invest in technology. I use an administrative level person as an example because the total cost of Slingr services per year is less than that of an administrative staff salary, on average.” Considering the benefits of automation on lab operations and customer relations is equally important. “Automation reduces the time spent tracking down orders, can give customers self-serve options for logging in and seeing their invoices, and makes viewing reports from both the client and employee side easier and faster,” Schroeder continues. “You’re removing the downstream effects of human error from your processes, and if you’re going to scale up, this automation has numerous benefits.”

“We live in a digital world, where you click on something, and it shows up at your door instantly. We expect that we interact that way with everybody we do business with, and automation tactics like low-code software are the next obvious step to helping people compete on this level,” Schroeder concluded.