For a CBD brand, being able to show a CBD certificate of analysis (COA) instills confidence and trust in your product. We'll cover what a COA is, how to read it, and what to look for. Always look for a Certificate Of Analysis (COA) when buying CBD! Learn how to read a COA, and why it's important for your pet's safety.
What is a CBD Certificate of Analysis and How to Read One?
From tinctures to tea bags, CBD has taken the health and wellness market by storm. Consumers worldwide have eagerly embraced CBD, driving a market worth an estimated $2.8 billion in 2020. But the rapid growth of this new industry has resulted in a Wild West-style expansion that has brought with it many sub-par products. A 2017 study found that 26% of tested CBD products contained less CBD than advertised and over 21% of products contained detectable levels of THC. In response, reputable CBD product manufacturers began offering a CBD certificate of analysis (COA) to help instill consumer confidence in their products.
This post is designed for brands that work with CBD wholesalers or manufacturers. It will explain what a CBD isolate certificate of analysis (COA) is, how to read one, and what to look for in each section. We’ll point out potential red flags that may indicate your supplier isn’t producing high-quality products and explain how to obtain a certificate of analysis.
What is a Certificate of Analysis?
A certificate of analysis is a report from an accredited laboratory that details the chemical analysis of a substance, in this case, a CBD product. Typically, every batch of CBD product is tested individually, and a COA is generated for each run. Nearly all CBD certificates of analysis are done using a third-party lab. Not surprisingly, many consumers view a COA completed by the manufacturer themselves as equivalent to the fox watching the hen house. There are many accredited laboratories that offer CBD testing services, making it easy for manufacturers to offer consumers an unbiased CBD analysis.
Many states require cannabis and CBD product labels to include a custom QR code that links to the COA, so be sure to check with your local state regulations when designing your labels.
How to Read a CBD Certificate of Analysis
Knowing what the data in each section of the COA means is important. Although there may be some slight differences in how the lab results are reported, these lab reports all follow a similar format. Here are the basics on how to pull the most critical information from a CBD certificate of analysis.
There are a variety of cannabinoid compounds in the hemp plant. If you’re selling full-spectrum CBD oil, your full-spectrum certificate of analysis should list all the detectable cannabinoids, including CBD, CBDV, and CBG. This section will also include THC, the cannabinoid you don’t want if your product isn’t labeled and legally sold as cannabis — at least not at levels that exceed .3% weight. As you’re scrolling down the list of compounds, you may notice the initials ND next to some of the compounds. That’s short for “non-detect,” lab-speak for “there was so little of this compound present the equipment couldn’t pick it up.”
This column is just to the right of the list of cannabinoid types. The weight percentage lists the percentage by weight of each cannabinoid. The reported weight is the weight of just the product itself, minus the packaging.
The next column reports the concentration of each cannabinoid as part of the whole product. The concentration is measured in milligrams per gram (mg/g). Especially for CBD oils, the concentration column makes it fairly easy to double-check that you’re getting what you’ve paid for. For example, if you’ve purchased a product weighing 50 grams that advertises it contains a total of 600mg of CBD, you should see a concentration of 12mg of CBD per gram.
Heavy Metal Analysis
Ingesting heavy metals in amounts that exceed safe levels can make you sick. That’s why many manufacturers test for these as part of their CBD certificate of analysis. In this section, there are two important places to look. The first is the tested concentration level of each heavy metal in the list. This number tells you how much of each metal was found during testing. The second is the Ingestion column under the Use Limits heading. This number is the maximum amount the government considers safe to consume. The tested concentration level should always be far below the ingestion use limit.
You aren’t the only one interested in hemp-based products — insects are big fans, too. That’s why CBD certificates of analysis often contain test results for commonly used pesticides. Results in this section look similar to the results for heavy metals. Running across each row is the name of the pesticide tested, the level at which it was detected, the acceptable level limits, and whether the results indicate a pass.
CBD COA Red Flags
You can learn a lot from a COA, both good and bad. Results from a CBD oil certificate of analysis can raise concerns about the quality of a manufacturer. Here are three signs your CBD products aren’t up to standard.
1. Too Much or Too Little THC
Too much THC may mean you’re selling illegal products. If the level of THC exceeds .3% weight, that’s a problem for products not labeled as including THC, especially in states where THC is illegal. Quality CBD products have THC concentrations below the legal limit. A quality manufacturer also ensures the concentrations of CBD are as advertised. CBD products are expensive, and a COA is an easy way to know you’re getting what you’ve paid for.
2. “Full-Spectrum” Products Missing Cannabinoids
One of the draws of full-spectrum CBD oils is getting all of the other cannabinoids that occur alongside the CBD compound. If you’re expecting a full-spectrum product and don’t see other cannabinoids like CBDa, CBN, and CBC listed at detectable levels, that’s not a good sign.
3. Lab Results Completed In-House
The highest-quality manufacturers send a sample from each batch they produce to an accredited, third-party lab for analysis. Having an independent entity vouch for your product is a lot more convincing than asking consumers to trust the results from an in-house lab.
Why a CBD COA is Essential for Selling Your Product
Savvy consumers expect to see a CBD certificate of analysis for the products they purchase. Lab results verifying the safety and quality of each batch have become industry standard. Most COAs for CBD products can be accessed from the manufacturer’s website or via a QR code printed on the product packaging itself. For those selling CBD products, making it easy for potential customers to access the results of the CBD analysis is very important and can make the difference between making a sale or losing one.
Evidence of Quality Boosts Consumer Confidence
In the CBD industry, not every manufacturer is a quality producer. Companies selling CBD products have come to rely on CBD certificates of analysis as an important way to demonstrate the quality of the products that they’re selling. Consumers are more likely to buy your products when they know that a non-biased, commercial laboratory has independently verified the quality and claims made by the manufacturer. That’s a win for you and your customers.
We’ve worked with a variety of companies using CBD wholesale distributors, helping them create packaging labels that stand out. Our team is happy to answer any questions you have about CBD labeling and help you choose the best type of label for your CBD products.
How To Read A Certificate Of Analysis (COA)
One of the things people ask us about a lot is how to know for sure which CBD and cannabis products are ‘good’ for their pets and which they should avoid. There are a lot of things you can look for to find a quality product, but this is an unregulated industry and the only way to know if the bark is worth the bite, is by checking the company’s Certificate Of Analysis (COA).
Table of Contents
What is a Certificate of Analysis (COA)?
Whether they call them lab results, certificate of analysis or COA, this document shows you exactly what is in your product at the time it was bottled. This report will give you the specific quantity for each cannabinoid, like CBD and THC, that are in the product. This is how you can be sure that you are indeed buying a full-spectrum product , which research has shown is the most effective type of cannabis medicine.
COA & Third-Party Labs
A COA should always be issued by a third-party lab. That means the company has paid to have an outside company analyze the contents of their product and generate a report that tells you everything you need to know about it. You can determine if this is a third party by checking the logo and contact info on the document. If the lab shares a logo or name with the company you are buying from, they are probably affiliated.
Feel free to give them a call and ask about the reports they produce!
By having the testing done in a non-affiliated lab, we can be pretty sure the company selling the item has no bias in the reporting of its contents. This is so important. Without this document, there is no way to prove that what is printed on the bottle is indeed true of what’s inside. When we are dealing with something as serious as a health supplement, the importance of transparency cannot be overstated and most companies worth their stuff will gladly offer a COA.
But don’t let that confuse you! There are a few simple things in all these reports that you can focus on.
How To Read A Certificate Of Analysis (COA)
The main thing you’re going to want to look for is how much of each cannabinoid like CBD and THC was found during testing. There are over 114 known cannabinoids, most of which are in such small quantities that they don’t show up in typical lab tests. That doesn’t mean they aren’t present, they’re just in really small proportions.
Carrier oils like hemp seed oil or MCT are great for improving the bioavailability of a hemp extract, but this can reduce the amount of cannabinoids to less than detectable levels. That being said, a full-spectrum hemp or cannabis extract should report quantitative data for CBD, THC, and at least a couple of the minor-cannabinoids like CBG or CBC.
What You Want To See in a Certificate of Analysis (COA)
If you look at the image labeled Figure 1, you will see a few different ways this particular lab reports THC levels. They give you the percentage of total weight (which for a hemp product must be below .3% THC) . They also give you the mg/g and the total mg per bottle. This lab has given you a nice colorful graph to show the relative concentration of all the detected cannabinoids. As you’d expect for a hemp extract, CBD reports the highest level. Were this a marijuana tincture, it would most likely show a higher level of THC.
Once we know that all the good stuff is accounted for, we need to make sure the results confirm that it is free of all the contaminants and other stuff we don’t want.
What You Don’t Want To See in a Certificate Of Analysis (COA)
The COA is also valuable as it can prove the product is free of pesticides, heavy metals, pathogens, and other nasty things that could harm your pet.
Two types of detection that you want to be aware of are LOD and LOQ. They are similar but are different ways of showing if something was detected or not.
- LOD, or limit of detection = the lowest level that an analyte can be detected by the tests.
- LOQ, meaninglimit of quantitation = the lowest concentration at which the analyte can be quantitated reliably at defined levels. In other words, the lowest level that a compound can be accurately measured, beyond just being able to detect it.
If anything is reported less than (LOQ), or LOD, that means it is virtually non-existent in the product.
Most labs will test for a long list of the most common pesticides, which should be showing ‘not detected’ or ‘N D’. They can and should also test for heavy metals and pathogens like E. Coli or salmonella.
Why is a Certificate Of Analysis Important?
Let’s be honest, there are a lot of questionable CBD products on the market right now. Without any regulation, it’s like the wild west out here. Products are being sold as one thing, then later found to have little or no CBD content at all.
Just because they give you a COA, doesn’t mean there isn’t still some shady business going on. You may find test results for products that claim to be full-spectrum despite their lab test showing THC levels below the LOQ. This means the THC was pretty much undetectable.
It’s really unfortunate that this is something that people need to watch out for and it reinforces the reason that it’s a great idea to build a relationship with your local independent pet shop. The reputable ones have done the necessary work to vet the companies they carry and they care about what they are selling.
Where Can I Find a Certificate of Analysis?
Companies should make it easy for you to find this information. If their lab test results are not clearly listed and accessible, they are probably hiding something. I’m always happy to give props to companies that are doing things right. There are millions of pets that could benefit from cannabis and we just can’t help them all.
By providing a COA, cannabis companies like these are operating with the transparency necessary for consumers to ensure at a minimum that what they say about their product on the label is reflective of what’s inside the bottle. You can always call or email them directly and ask them to send you their COA’s. Transparency is so important and the good companies will be happy to prove themselves!