How to Read and Understand a Certificate of Analysis

Feb 10, 2020

A certificate of analysis (COA) is a documented lab report showing a product’s chemical contents meet required quality and specification standards. Certificates of analysis are used for food, alcohol, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals. Most of the sustenance you consume has a COA, but it wasn’t until CBD started to gain popularity that COAs held significant value to customers.

Why did the hemp and cannabis industry accelerate the need to make COAs easily accessible? Because the growing demand for CBD products has caused a lot of illegitimate companies to take advantage of the new market by selling mislabeled and poor-quality products.

4 Reasons to Read a Certificate of Analysis

  1. Companies may mislabel THC content, which could potentially cause unwanted effects, or cause a customer to fail their drug test.
  2. Companies may claim to include a certain amount of CBD, but in reality, their products contain much smaller amounts of CBD. Some products have even been tested to contain only hemp seed oil – with no CBD whatsoever. These products should be marketed and priced accordingly.
  3. Some companies use synthetic CBD that can lead to harmful side effects.
  4. Companies using hemp from conventional farms – foreign or domestic – might have trace contaminants and heavy metals in the CBD formulas.

Unfortunately, such occurrences happen more often than hoped in the hemp industry. For example, in 2016 the FDA did an analysis on 24 CBD products and discovered only two of the items contained the same amount of CBD stated on the label.

Furthermore, in 2017 the Utah Poison Control Center reported 52 cases where people consumed fake CBD (a synthetic cannabinoid called 4-CCB) due to mislabeling. Patients experienced symptoms such as psychoactive effects, seizures, and disorientation. Such symptoms shouldn’t result from CBD use and should be reported immediately. After being tested, the patients in each of these cases had no trace of CBD in their system.

These issues can sound pretty scary and might make you reconsider taking CBD altogether. But rest assured, if you know how to read labels and COAs, along with asking the right questions, then there is nothing to worry about. There are countless benefits to CBD, and disingenuous brands shouldn’t be the reason why you avoid well-deserved health perks.

One way to gain peace of mind about a product you’re purchasing is to read the certificate of analysis online. Honest CBD companies will gladly make this information available because they know they sell a genuine product.

The best way to avoid dishonest formulas is by educating yourself on how to properly read a COA. If you’re confident that the COA is truthful, then you can be confident you’re getting a real dose of CBD.

(This is an old COA. Used as an example only)

A Certificate of Analysis includes:

  • Product name and identification: Should match the name of the product listed online or in stores
  • Product catalog number
  • QR code: Some labs will include a QR code to make it easy to match the COA to the specific product
  • Test conditions and parameters: Some labs will include a few sentences stating what is being tested and the measured scale in accordance to accepted standards
  • Cannabinoid test results: This is the most important part of the COA. Here you can see a chart of listed cannabinoids and their potency (weight in the formula). “ND” stands for “not detected.” Broad spectrum formulas will have a few cannabinoids and terpenes detected. Isolate formulas will only list CBD. Make sure to look for “mg/g” to determine the amount of CBD in the entire product. You will have to convert the weight of the product into grams and then multiply the “mg/g” by the total product amount.
  • Terpene test results: This profile will show you what terpenes are present in each specific product. Terpenes have their own health benefits, so they are also important to understand. 
  • Heavy metal test results: Underneath the cannabinoids and terpene profile, there will be similar columns testing for pesticides and heavy metals. These results should always be “ND” or not detected if you want to use a trustworthy source. Some COAs will have a status column stating “PASS” or “APPROVED” to make it easy to understand the results.
  • Signature of approval by the third-party tester
(This is an old COA. Used as an example only)
(This is an old COA. Used as an example only)
Make sure the lab testing the products is a third party lab and not the same company that is selling the product. There have been reports of some labs skewing results in favor of the company. Double check to confirm the lab results are from a reliable source such as Steep Hill Maryland, Pro Verde, Nascient, or SCLabs.

CBD Buying Tips:

  • Purchase products that have a certificate of analysis clearly labeled online.
  • Only use CBD products made from organic, USA grown hemp.
  • Understand the difference between full spectrum, broad spectrum, and isolate formulations
  • Be skeptical of products with lower prices and/or bigger bottles, cheaper products typically mean hemp is included but not CBD.
  • Read our article: What to Know When Searching For Your CBD Products

When your health comes into play, you want to make sure you’re buying from an honest company that truly cares about producing authentic and effective CBD products!

RECEIVE TIPS, CURRENT STORIES, PROMOTIONS, AND MORE

ALL PRODUCTS CONTAIN NO THC

"We encourage you to discuss CBD with your physician or healthcare practitioner if you have any specific health related questions or concerns. There are also many independent research studies about CBD available on the internet."

Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, mitigate, or prevent any disease.

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