The certificate of analysis (COA) is ubiquitous in the CBD industry. Reputable brands use them to verify the legitimacy and potency of their products, and they also tell consumers exactly what they are buying.
But how do you read a COA? What exactly should you be looking for and what do all those terms and numbers mean?
What is a Certificate of Analysis (COA)?
A certificate of analysis (COA) is a report from an accredited laboratory that contains details pertaining to the chemical makeup of a substance. A CBD COA is a COA that has been conducted on CBD oil, hemp flowers, and other CBD products.
A COA is usually conducted by a third-party laboratory, which means it has no ties to the producer and thus provides a completely accurate analysis that the consumer can trust.
Some states require CBD and cannabis labels to include a QR code that links to the COA. In others, you can find the COA on the producer’s website.
How to Read a Certificate of Analysis
The purpose of a certificate of analysis is not to simply state how much CBD is in the product. It will also list the concentration of other cannabinoids, as well as terpenes, heavy metals, residual solvents, and pesticides.
Lab reports differ in how they are structured and what they contain, but a CBD certificate will typically include the following:
If you’re buying a full-spectrum CBD oil, make sure the certificate of analysis lists all cannabinoids, including CBD, CBG, and CBN. THC will also be included in the lab report and should be listed at a weight of 0.3% or less.
The cannabinoid profile will tell you both the weight percentage and the concentration of the cannabinoids. The former indicates the total cannabinoid weight as a percentage of the product (minus the product packaging) while the latter shows the cannabinoid potency in milligrams.
Heavy Metal Analysis
Crops can draw heavy metal contaminants from the ground and these may end up in the final product. If the ground was contaminated or a questionable extraction method was used, the product may contain a dangerous concentration of heavy metals.
The heavy metal analysis will tell you how much of a specific contaminant was found in the product, as well as what the safe ingestion limit is for that metal.
You want the first number to be much lower than the second. If not, it may expose you to an array of adverse reactions.
The pesticide analysis indicates the presence of pesticides and will detect pesticides that have been sprayed on the product during and after growth, as well as pesticides that have leeched into the plant from treated earth.
What Do You Look For In A COA?
You now have a rough idea of what a CBD certificate of analysis looks like, but what should you look for? What are the warning signs that a product isn’t all that it’s claimed to be?
Full Spectrum CBD Oil That Isn’t Full Spectrum
Full-spectrum CBD oils should contain a “full-spectrum” of cannabinoids. It goes without saying: If you’re reading CBD certificates for a full-spectrum product, make sure it contains a wide variety of cannabinoids.
Check That You’re Getting What You’re Paying For
The lab results will indicate how much CBD was in the tested product. You can use these results to calculate whether you’re actually getting the amount of CBD displayed on the label.
Look at the total mg of CBD per gram and compare this to the product label to check that you’re getting what you’re paying for.
High or Low THC Levels
If the THC levels are above 0.3%, it may mean that they have exceeded the legal limit. Under federal law, CBD products must contain no more than 0.3% THC, though it’s obviously a different story if you’re reviewing a COA for a marijuana product. In that case, you want as much THC as possible.
A Third Party Lab Wasn’t Used
Be very wary of COAs conducted by in-house labs or labs owned by the CBD company in question. The best brands use independent laboratories, as that guarantees honest and transparent test results.
What Do The Numbers Mean On CBD Oil?
A CBD oil will usually tell you how much CBD is in the bottle (displayed in milligrams), as well as the total liquid content (displayed in milliliters).
So, if the label states “1,000 mg CBD” and “10 ml”. It means there is a gram of CBD in 10 ml of oil. If we suppose a total of 200 drops from that 10 ml, it equates to around 5 mg per dose.
If you’re inexperienced and want to start small, look for a higher dilution, as it means you can take a much smaller dose. In the above example, 1,000 mg in a 20 ml bottle would provide 2.5 mg of CBD per drop, which might be more suitable. It’ll also be easier for you to take exact doses.
Generally speaking, though, the main consideration is the total CBD content in relation to the price, as this dictates how much CBD you’re getting for your money.
What Does ND Mean On a CBD COA?
You may see the letters “ND” on the cannabinoid profile. It means “non-detectable”, which simply means that there wasn’t enough to detect.
Are Lab Reports Needed?
Before the signing of the Farm Bill in 2018, the CBD industry was like the Wild West. Much like the dietary supplement industry, some companies were advertising one ingredient and using another, while others were simply reducing the potency in the hope that consumers wouldn’t notice.
It wasn’t always done with malice. After all, if the producer isn’t testing their product, they don’t know how potent it is.
A study conducted a year before the Farm Bill found that more than a quarter of the products tested contained less CBD than advertised.
These days, most CBD companies work with a trusted third-party lab to provide reports on all of their products. These test results are then listed on the website product pages (either as viewable images or downloadable reports) and consumers can see exactly what they are buying.
COAs have made the industry more transparent and more honest, so they are definitely needed and they are also welcomed by producers and consumers alike.