“Make sure your CBD product is lab tested before purchasing.” As you research and read articles about purchasing CBD products, this is a common phrase you will come across throughout the industry. But, what does it mean? Where do you find these lab tests, what do they look like, and how do you read them? They are filled with scientific words and abbreviations which can be challenging to tell if the product you are investigating is what you think it is. Another important consideration is the lab reporting the analysis, is it reputable? How do you know? Where do you start? Don’t worry, this article will go over all of these questions and make this confusing topic easier to navigate.
What is a Certificate of Analysis (COA)
A certificate of analysis is a lab report on the chemical properties of the product being tested. In the case of cannabis, the COA will report on the cannabinoids, terpenes and contaminants present or absent in the product. The COA will verify if the CBD product has the legal amount of THC (less than 0.3% by weight). They will also check for dangerous substances and compounds that can be found in CBD products, such as heavy metals, residual solvents, microbes, and pesticides.
Why is a COA So Important?
You would think that the CBD market is highly regulated--and it is in places--but there are a lot of people who are making CBD products under questionable circumstances, using products that are sub-par and even dangerous. While the industry is regulated, there is a lack of certain industry standards especially when it comes to labelling. One study from 2017 showed that as many as 70% of CBD products are mislabeled. This includes the amount of THC in a product--and that can be a huge deal, because THC is the psychoactive ingredient that many CBD users are trying to avoid and it is only legal under 0.3% according to the 2018 Farm bill.
Because the products (and companies) are relatively new on the market, many consumers aren’t as informed about them as they are about, say, their prescription medication, or even a bottle of aspirin. They don’t know what to expect from the product, and the label is often misleading.
How to Read a COA
Who Performed the Test?
The first thing you want to check on a COA is right up at the top, and it’s the name of the lab that performed the test on the product. This should not be a manufacturer or a company that sells CBD products, and if it is that is an automatic red flag. COAs need to be performed by a third party laboratory, meaning a certified hemp processing lab and not the company who’s selling it. A legitimate COA should have a certificate ID and the product tested should be batch specific, which adds another layer of accountability. The lab should also be ISO 17025 and CLIA accredited to ensure that they have the proper credentials to process and report samples.
Important Terms and Definitions
List of Cannabinoids
There are going to be terms and abbreviations on the COA that are not immediately understandable unless you are properly trained, starting with potency. Potency is the measure of cannabinoids present and the amounts of each in the product. Cannabinoids are often abbreviated (such as CBG, CBC, and CBN) and are listed under the word "analyte", which just means it is the component being measured. CBD is a cannabinoid, and these are related but all possess their own properties and are found in different concentrations in each product.
This list of cannabinoids is where you can check the THC content in a product. Legally, a CBD product cannot contain more than 0.3% THC. Keep in mind that the lab is only testing for a panel of cannabinoids. There are 100+ known cannabinoids that could be present, the lab is only testing for the few most common ones.
There are more acronyms you need to know:
- LoD: Limit of Detection
- LoQ: Limit of Quantitation
- LoB: Limit of Blank
The main thing you need to know about these items is that they show the detection levels from the lab for various compounds. For example, LoD or Limit of Detection refers to the specific detection level the laboratory equipment is able to recognize. LoQ or Limit of Quantitation refers to the limit at which the laboratory equipment is able to quantify that detected result and assign a concentration value. The LoB, or Limit of Blank refers to the amount of a substance that is present in a blank sample being tested. These will be quantified by either a percentage or in a unit that measures concentration..
The test results will be displayed with one or more of the following measurements:
MG in the Full Product
This is the most straight forward measurement because it tells you exactly how much CBD is in a given product. You can do math on your own based on this number to know how much CBD is contained in smaller portions.
MG Per G
This is a measurement of CBD per gram. It is close to the milligram concentration per 1mL of CBD oil, however the density of the oil is slightly different from water. So mg/mL would be easier to understand. Labs provide this number because that is the measurement they are testing in. They often will convert it to the proper mg/mL or the total mg in the full product.
MG Per ML
This is used for liquids and is easier to understand: you can take the total amount of the product in milliliters and multiply it by the concentration listed of CBD. Liquid CBD products always have a volume on the label, such as ounces or milliliters. For example, if you have a 1 oz CBD Oil, which is equivalent to 30mL and your COA says 20mg /mL, then multiply 20mg /mL by 30 mL to get the total mg per bottle (600mg in this case).
Because this is an easier number to understand, it’s a good way to check if the product is really as advertised, or if the amount of CBD is more or less than what it says on the packaging.
Microbials or Pathogenic SAE
The microbial section of the COA will explain if the product was tested for microbes and bacteria, such as salmonella, yeast and molds. The COA should list any of these and determine if certain microbes are present. Some COAs refer to this panel as a Pathogenic SAE test because it tests for Salmonella, Aspergillus, or E. coli.
Heavy Metals Analysis
The heavy metal analysis chart indicates which metals were tested for using their chemical symbol and name (for example: As -- Arsenic). The term “Conc” is the concentration of the metal in the sample, and “Units” refers to the measurement type (example: ppb or parts per billion). “MDL” is the lower limit of detection for the lab instruments, and “Use Limits” is the most important part of this chart because it states the amount of the metal that is determined by the Department of Public Health and US Pharmacopeia that is safe to ingest per day. So, as long as the number listed under “Conc” (the concentration) is less than the “All Limits - Ingestion” or “Action Level”, then it is considered safe. Make sure that the result is less than the Action Level or less than the Limit of Quantitation, which is listed as “<LOQ” on the COA.
The COA will also list pesticides found in the sample. “ppb” refers to the concentration in parts per billion, and “LLD” is the lower limit of detection or “LoD” which is the limit of detection based on each pesticide. The “Limits” or “Action Level” column states the maximum amount of the pesticide allowed by law. (This limit may vary depending on the state regulations where the test was performed.) Again, make sure that the result is less than the Action Level or less than the Limit of Quantitation, which is listed as “<LOQ” on the COA.
Terpenes are the chemicals that give plants, like hemp, their flavors and aromas, and the terpene profile will show how much of each terpene was present and in what amount.
The footer of the COA is straightforward. It contains the name, date and signature of the laboratory technicians who performed the test, and will swear to its authenticity. It should also have contact information for the lab and certification numbers.
Where Can I Find Naternal’s COAs?
If you wish to inspect any of the COAs for any of Naternal’s products, they can all be found here. They were all performed by an independent, certified third party and all indicate that the products in the bottles match what the labels on the bottles say.If you have any questions about anything you see on one of our COAs, or the composition of any of our products, or questions about anything presented in this article, please reach out to us on our contact page. We would be more than happy to walk you through the COA!