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Analytical Chemistry


Cannabis Tester, New Chemistry Set, Old Chemistry Set

by Marc S. Reisch
November 16, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 45


Credit: MyDx
Take a deep breath: MyDx tester and app coordinates test results for cannabis strains with users’ emotions.
A portable cannabis tester, sample test chamber, sensor module, and smartphone app to coordinate test results with users’ feelings.
Credit: MyDx
Take a deep breath: MyDx tester and app coordinates test results for cannabis strains with users’ emotions.

Now that cannabis is legal for medical or recreational use in more than 20 U.S. states, San Diego-based MyDx has designed what it calls the first battery-operated, handheld cannabis analyzer for consumers.

Equipped with the company’s CannaDX sensor and linked to an associated app for iOS and Android devices, the MyDx analyzer allows both the medical user and connoisseur to keep a coordinated tracking journal of cannabis strains they have tested and how each strain makes them feel. The app even includes a recommendation engine that leverages a database of others’ results to recommend cannabis strains that might expand a user’s horizons, say the MyDx folks.

To test a sample, a user sacrifices 50 mg of cannabis. The aromas arising from the crushed sample in the MyDx test chamber cause proprietary sensors in MyDx to swell, inducing a change in the sensors’ electrical resistance.

After holding its breath for three minutes, the device transmits a Bluetooth signal to the app. There the user can view tetrahydrocannabinol, cannabidiol, and terpene levels for the sample, which the maker claims are accurate to within 20% of conventional gas chromatography test values.

But at $699, which includes the analyzer, sensor, and 15 disposable sample inserts, but not the smartphone to run the app, the MyDx kit is pricey. Makers of the MyDx say testing with their device is cheaper than bonafide laboratory tests.

Not so fast, says Christopher Hudalla, founder of Massachusetts cannabis testing lab ProVerde Laboratories. His preliminary testing of the MyDx left him unimpressed—the results didn’t appear to correlate well to traditional chromatographic methods.

The MyDx folks say improvements to the sensor will target a 5% marginal error rate. Until MyDx succeeds, Hudalla doesn’t see the consumer device as a threat to a traditional lab.

Youngsters who want to get a jump-start in developing their laboratory techniques, but hopefully not to isolate tetrahydrocannabinol just yet, could do so with the new age chemistry sets from the folks at start-up firm MEL Science.

Starter chemistry kit contains safety glasses, measuring cups, and a solid-fuel stove tucked in a box.
Credit: MEL Science
Danger lurks: Chemistry starter kit has safety glasses and a solid-fuel stove (upper left).

Most chemistry sets today are benign purveyors of magic tricks, but MEL Science’s kits evoke a sense of danger and discovery. The starter kit comes with a solid-fuel stove, to be used under adult supervision, of course.

Safety glasses and measuring cups come in the kit too. One experiment involves setting a mixture of sugar and baking soda aflame to grow a “sugar snake.”

While the real-time experiments should satisfy the pyromaniac in every child, MEL’s apps for the iPad, the iPhone, and Android smartphones and tablets should distract kids from game consoles and idle text chatter. The apps display three-dimensional models of reagent molecules and explain the science behind the experiments. No parental involvement required to use the app.

In the “app-less” days of yore, chemistry sets really did pose a risk of more than a little danger. But they were fun, and they not only had real lab chemicals, but many were also packaged with honest-to-goodness alcohol lamps.

A 1970’s chemistry set complete with lab chemicals, test tubes, and alcohol lamp in the box.
Credit: Gregory Tobias/Chemical Heritage Foundation
Kiddie lair: 1970’s chemistry kit on display at the Chemical Heritage Foundation has an alcohol lamp.

To remind older chemists of that time and to show kids today how their elders could get into trouble, the Chemical Heritage Foundation, in Philadelphia, has opened Science at Play, an exhibit of chemistry sets and science toys. Those who cannot visit in person can view the gallery online at

Marc Reisch wrote this week’s column. Please send comments and suggestions to


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