What is a CBD Certificate of Analysis and How to Read One?

By  //  July 18, 2023

Have you noticed the recent surge in CBD products? It’s like a new dawn in the world of wellness. No longer limited to oils and tinctures, there’s now a CBD product for everything, from tea and coffee to skincare and pet treats.

It’s clear that CBD is a big deal. However, the market is expanding so rapidly that regulatory bodies are struggling to keep up.

While this lack of stringent regulations might be a boon for innovation, there’s an undeniable concern about the safety and quality of the products flooding into the market. 

So, how can you ensure the CBD product you’re considering is safe and meets quality standards? This is where a Certificate of Analysis, or a COA, comes in. 

A COA can help you sift through the multitude of products with confidence. But to make this tool work for you, you need to know what it is and how to read it. 

What is a CBD Certificate of Analysis?

Ever wished for a report card that could tell you everything about the quality of your CBD product? Well, a Certificate of Analysis, or COA, is just that. It’s a document issued by an accredited cannabis testing lab in the USA, and it delivers a detailed overview of what’s inside the CBD product you’re considering. The key term here is ‘accredited’— and that’s important to note.

After rigorous testing, a COA will inform you about the concentration of various cannabinoids in the product, its purity, and the presence of any potential contaminants.

But why is a COA so important, you ask? Here’s the thing: CBD products aren’t regulated like other foods or drugs. That means manufacturers have a lot of leeway when it comes to labeling and marketing their products. So, a product might claim to contain a certain amount of CBD, but without a COA, there’s no way to be sure. The COA is your assurance that what’s on the label matches what’s in the product.

And about that ‘accredited’ part we mentioned earlier – COAs should come from third-party labs. That means the lab has no affiliation with the manufacturer and can therefore offer an unbiased analysis of the product. If you’re serious about your CBD, third-party testing is non-negotiable.

How to Read a CBD COA

If you’re seeing a Certificate of Analysis for the first time, you’ll probably have a hard time understanding the swarm of numbers, scientific jargon, and technical terms. If chemistry wasn’t your favorite subject in school, it can feel like you’re trying to decode a secret language. But don’t stress – it’s not as complicated as it first appears, and we’re here to guide you through it.

The components of a Certificate of Analysis may vary depending on the testing facility and the specific tests conducted. However, there are a few key elements that are common to most COAs. These include:

1. Cannabinoid Profile: 

Regardless of the lab, you’ll almost always see a section for the cannabinoid profile. This gives you the types and quantities of cannabinoids present in the CBD product. Look at this part of the COA to verify if the amounts of CBD and THC match the product’s label. Remember, the THC content should be less than 0.3%, which is the legal limit.

2. Terpene Profile: 

Terpenes aren’t just about giving plants their distinctive aromas and flavors; they also contribute to the therapeutic benefits of CBD products. Most COAs will have a section outlining which terpenes are in the product and their respective concentrations.

3. Contaminant Testing: 

This section is critical for your safety. It shows whether the CBD product contains harmful substances like heavy metals, bacteria, or mold. Naturally, you’ll want these results to be negative (usually marked “passed”, indicating a clean, safe product.

4. Heavy Metals Testing: 

Even though this is part of the contaminant testing, it’s worth a separate mention. This segment of the COA indicates whether the CBD product has been tested for harmful heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, mercury, and cadmium.

5. Pesticide Testing: 

Pesticides might help in growing healthy hemp plants, but you certainly don’t want these chemicals lingering in your CBD product. This section of the COA reveals if any pesticide residues are present in the product.

6. Microbial Contamination Testing: 

Finally, a COA should show if the product has been checked for various forms of microbial life. This includes potentially harmful organisms like yeast, mold, and E. coli.

How to Verify a CBD Certificate of Analysis 

After understanding what a COA is and how to read one, there’s one last step to ensuring you’re choosing a quality CBD product: verifying the COA’s authenticity. Here’s how you can do that::

  1. Check for Accreditation: Start by checking whether the lab that conducted the testing is accredited. You can find this information at the top of the COA. Accreditation ensures that the lab meets certain standards for testing and has the proper equipment and trained personnel.
  2. Ensure it’s Third-Party Testing: The Certificate should clearly state that it’s from a third-party lab, meaning the lab has no affiliation with the CBD manufacturer. This provides an unbiased report, free from any potential manipulation by the manufacturer.
  3. Match the Batch Number: The COA should have a batch number that matches the batch number on the product packaging. This ensures that the document you’re looking at corresponds to the specific product batch you’re holding.
  4. Verify the Date: Confirm if the testing date is within the last year. Products sitting on the shelves for longer might have different contents than reported due to factors like degradation or changes in storage conditions.
  5. Check the Company Name: The company name on the COA should match the company name on the CBD product. If the names are different, this is a red flag.
  6. Cross-check with the Manufacturer’s Website: Reputable CBD companies will often post the COAs for their products on their websites. You can cross-check the COA you have with the one on the manufacturer’s website for consistency.

In a market as bustling and as varied as CBD, taking the extra time to understand and check a Certificate of Analysis is more than worth it. It’s your assurance of product safety and your guarantee of getting the health benefits you seek from CBD. So, next time you’re eyeing a new CBD product, remember to ask for and carefully inspect the COA.