The ultimate guide to interpreting a CBD certificate of analysis (COA) from a consumer’s point of view

cbd certificate of analysis

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that in 84 hemp labels studied, nearly 70% have inaccurate CBD (cannabidiol) concentration pronouncements in product labels. 18 of those have enough THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) to intoxicate an adult. 

FDA submitted a report to the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations and the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations regarding the study of the current cannabidiol marketplace on product labels. 

The report reads:

Of the 78 CBD products (74 products for human consumption; 4 products for pet consumption) surveyed, 67 were only found to contain CBD. Additionally, one product was reported to the DEA for containing an inappropriate amount of THC at 16 mg/g and another because of having the synthetic cannabinoid MMB-FUBINACA,9 at 1.9 mg/gummy.  

These studies are just the tip of the iceberg. 

It’s no wonder consumer mistrust of CBD products continues to plague the industry. If you’re worried, we in the business are worried too. We don’t like our carefully-produced CBD products marred by a bunch of scamming labels. 

So how do you make sure, as a consumer, that you’re only getting the safest and the best CBD product money can buy?

The answer is: COA (cbd certificate of analysis)

Interpreting COA can look intimidating at first because there are too many unknown symbols and empirical data. So today, we’ll simplify things by teaching you important points to look for in a COA report and how it translates to you as a consumer.

What is COA?

A CBD Certificate of Analysis or COA is a verified document accomplished by an independent, third-party laboratory. The COA shows what a product contains down to the type and concentration/potency of terpenes, cannabinoids, and other phyto-compounds.

The COA also reports in detail the traces of heavy metals, pesticides, molds, and bacteria. 

What is the purpose of a certificate of analysis? Several manufacturing-concerned agencies in the U.S.A. and even unique state protocols require the accomplishment and publication of COAs on CBD products. Brands are also known to accomplish similar reports to increase their credibility as transparent and reputable companies.

Components of a COA

Disclaimer: The pictures below were cropped from a real COA document and is for exhibition only. Some parts were blurred for confidentiality reasons.

1. Header

The header has the details pertaining to the sample’s information.

certificate of analysis (coa example)
certificate of analysis example

2. Body

The body houses all the analytical information of the tests.

certificate of analysis (coa example)
certificate of analysis example

The footer has all the information you need regarding the lab that tested the sample, as well as the signatories, disclaimers, equations, definitions, and more. 

certificate of analysis example
certificate of analysis example

4. Summary page

If lucky, the COA report might have an extra page summarizing all the important details.

certificate of analysis example
certificate of analysis example

How to read CBD lab results

Analyte: The first column refers to what is being tested (e.g., CBD or a type of pesticide).

Result/Mass: Refers to the measured result of the compound tested.

  • mg/g: total milligrams per gram
  • ug/g: total micrograms per gram
  • mg/mL: milligrams per milliliter
  • mg/unit: total milligrams per unit
  • CFU/g: colony-forming units per gram. Used to measure traces of bacteria or fungal cells in a sample
  • Percent Moisture: how much moisture remains in the sample
  • aw (Water activity): the ratio between the vapor pressure of the sample and water under the same condition

LOD (Limit of Detection): Refers to the lowest possible measurement the lab’s instrument can detect. Results below LOD are noted as ND (not detected).

LOQ (Limit of Quantitation): LOQ is the lowest concentration the lab can accurately measure. Results above LOD but below LOQ (<LOQ) means the compound is there, but the lab cannot provide an accurate measurement.  

Action Level / Limit: This is the limit that’s recognized as acceptable and safe for human consumption.

Status (Pass/Fail): If a certain analyte reads higher than the “Action Level / Limit,” it’s marked as “fail.”

Where to find a COA?

Most companies embed pdf links of COAs on their product description’s web page. Sometimes, a product’s packaging has a printed QR code that, once scanned, directs you to the product’s COA page online.  

If a product has neither of these COA access pathways, you may request the COA through their customer service representative. 

Important data to look for and interpret

Each brand’s CBD certificate of analysis slightly varies in terms of content and format. Nevertheless, certified COA documents show key information you need to be aware of as a CBD product consumer.

Here are some key points and elements of a COA report you need to check and understand well. 

1. Check each COA report section’s pass or fail status

This is the first item you should look for. Check whether the sections RESIDUAL PESTICIDES, HEAVY METALS, RESIDUAL SOLVENTS, MICROBIAL IMPURITIES, and related terms are all marked “pass.”

“Pass” means the section meets the standard requirements for the product to be deemed “safe” for human consumption. 

Even if there is only a single section marked “fail,” the COA report totally negates the safety and quality of a product. Thus, this CBD product shouldn’t be consumed nor exist in the market in the first place.

Checking the pass/fail status of mentioned sections confirms the safety and purity of the CBD product.

2. Check the legality status of the CBD product

Up to now, the legality status of CBD products is still a wild wild west. The 2018 Farm Bill gives a clue into the legality of selling CBD products, at a federal level, by allowing “derivatives of cannabis with extremely low concentrations of the psychoactive compound delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) (no more than 0.3 percent THC on a dry weight basis.”  

RELATED: 2018 Farm Bill CBD: How Does the Bill Relate to CBD?

If we are to translate, the existence of CBD products in the market cannot irritate the law as long as it doesn’t contain more than 0.3 percent of THC (a compound that elicits that “high”).

With that said, U.S-based CBD products should only read 0.3 percent THC and below in COA reports. 

3. Check the CBD product’s CBD levels

Check whether the packaging’s printed information regarding CBD concentration is the same as the product’s COA report. 

COA reports often show the total value in mg of CBD in a product. However, if the results are in mg/g or mg/mL, you might need to do a little fine-tuning. 

How to read a report when the results are in:

  • Milligrams per gram (mg/g)

Amounts of CBD products in solid forms such as edibles are usually represented in milligrams per gram.

To make the unit of weight easier to imagine, convert the mg/g quantity into mg per total product.

How do I do this? It’s pretty easy.

Simply multiply the total weight of the product by the mg/g value of CBD listed in the COA report. The answer represents the total number of CBD in milligrams in the entire CBD product.

  • Milligrams per milliliter (mg/mL) 

Because CBD products like CBD oil are liquid, manufacturers use milliliters as the unit of measure.

Again, you need to convert milligrams per milliliter into grams per bottle.  

Multiply the total mL of the product by the mg/mL value of CBD listed in the COA report. The result gives you the total milligrams of CBD contained in a bottle.

4. Full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, or isolate: check whether the report coincides with the product’s claim

CBD products are categorized as either isolate, broad-spectrum, or full-spectrum. Whatever your choice of CBD type, the printed label should coincide with what the COA report reads. 

  • Isolate is CBD in its pure form, meaning it does not contain any phyto-compounds of hemp except CBD (cannabidiol). Therefore, except for CBD, the COA report should show no traces of terpenes, cannabinoids, and other compounds naturally extracted in hemp. 
  • Broad-spectrum has all the phyto-compounds of hemp (cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and so on) except THC (tetrahydrocannabinol – a psychoactive compound). This type is perfect for those who want to benefit from all of hemp’s compounds without the risk of getting intoxicated due to THC. 
  • Full-spectrum has all the phyto-compounds of hemp, including THC. Again, THC is only allowed to exist at 0.3 percent.

RELATED: How is CBD Extracted from Hemp? Which is the best method?

5. Check whether the product is organic or not

One of the most marketable traits of a CBD product is its promise of being “organic” through and through. 

To check whether a product is devoid of synthetic compounds or not, look at the:

  • Pesticides section: If this section reads “fail,” there are traces of pesticides in the product.  
  • Cannabinoid profile section: A product claiming to be organic shouldn’t have any traces of synthetic cannabinoids. Some known synthetic cannabinoids are Δ9-THC, JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-398, JWH-250, CP 47,497, homologues of CP 47,497, MMB-FUBINACA,9, and HU-210. 
  • Other content sections: Check for additives and where the hemp was sourced.

RELATED: Is Delta-8 a Synthetic Cannabinoid?

6. Other information to look for:

The following information is often found at the header of a COA report. 

  • Report Date: Check the date of lab accomplishment to make sure the report is up to date.
  • Name of the third-party laboratory: Get the name of the lab and verify its credentials and legitimacy. For contact details and other information about the lab, check the report’s footer located at the bottom of the page.   
  • Batch number: Match the batch number and product description printed on COA and the product’s packaging. 

How To Tell If Your CBD Certificate of Analysis (COA) Is Fraudulent or Misleading

  1. Missing important sections such as: 
  • Residual Pesticides 
  • Heavy Metals
  • Residual solvents
  • Microbial Impurities
  • Foreign materials screening
  • Cannabinoids test results
  • Terpene test results
  1. Contrasting data from the COA report and what was being advertised and printed in the packaging
  2. Missing signatories, license information, and/or if the name of the laboratory can’t be verified. 
  3. If the COA report’s data has too many mistakes and if the data doesn’t make sense.

The Wrap

Not every CBD product in the market stays true to its claims. Therefore, the burden of checking a product’s safety and quality lies in us, its consumers. Fortunately, we have COAs to rely on. 

At Hemp Crate Co., we make sure each of our subscription boxes only contains CBD products from brands that regularly publish and update their COAs from legit laboratories. 

RELATED: Why Should I Get A CBD Subscription Box?

Sign up for our CBD newsletter and never miss great promos again. You will also get, upon signing, an instant promo code for free shipping on any sized order!

“These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration and are in no way intended to treat or diagnose any physical ailment or disease.”

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