What Is a Certificate of Analysis (COA)

& How to Read One

With new CBD products springing up every week, learning how to choose the best one for you is more important than ever.

This can be as simple as checking its packaging. However, there’s a chance that the products are mislabeled—after all, CBD-related products are still quite unregulated. 

That’s why you need to look for the Certificate of Analysis (COA). This will raise your confidence in your purchase while protecting you from low-quality or fake products. If you can’t find a COA for a particular product, you already know that it can’t be trusted.

So, what is a COA? Read on to learn about this useful report.

Table of Contents

What Is a COA?

The Certificate of Analysis or COA is a document that’s issued by an accredited laboratory to illustrate the different quantities of cannabinoids in the product.

This is why reputable manufacturers send their batches to the lab for testing in order to protect their customers and themselves. After all, this may be the only proof that their products are actually what they were advertised as.

Why Does a COA Matter?

Before I convince you to have a look at every CBD product’s Certificate of Analysis, we should discuss why they’re needed in the first place.

To date, the cannabis industry has largely remained unregulated. A loophole in hemp legislation has encouraged a “Wild West” sort of market for CBD, which leaves you confused and without guarantees.

This also means that there are literally no cannabis-based products and medications out there that have been approved by the FDA.

That’s why processors and manufacturers of this herb can get away with just about anything. It wouldn’t even matter how these companies label their products.

Naturally, innocent customers and patients have a major conundrum on their hands. How can these people search for safe and effective CBD products to relieve them of their specific conditions?

This is where the Certificate of Analysis enters the picture.

Before jumping into how to read a COA report you need to identify the type of CBD you are purchasing.

Types of CBD

You will find products on the market classified as full-spectrum, broad-spectrum and isolate. These classifications indicate the type of CBD that each product contains.

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So what are the differences between them?

FULL-SPECTRUM

Also known as whole-plant products. They consist of everything the plant contains.

Meaning the natural fatty acids that are present in the hemp plant—terpenes, flavonoids, and other cannabinoids such as CBN, and CBG. These products also contain trace amounts of THC.

THC is the compound that gets you high.

Some say the Full-Spectrum CBD works better because of its “entourage effect.” This signifies when the terpenes and cannabinoids work together in perfect harmony and synergy. This is my personal favorite type of CBD.

BROAD-SPECTRUM

These types of products contain an array of terpenes and cannabinoids but will have ZERO THC. 

In this light, you still get the entourage benefits of full-spectrum extracts without the side effects of THC.

These products are perfect for those consumers who don’t want the psychoactive compound in their system – whether for legal, medical, or personal reasons.

ISOLATED CBD

This is probably the product of choice for most newbies out there, as many people might be sensitive to some cannabinoids—such as THC.

As the name suggests, CBD is isolated for all the other forms of cannabinoids to create this product. While the purity can range from 99.9%, you may find some low purity ones too with options like 99.5% or lower. These traces, however, are quite negligible.

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ANOTHER THING TO KEEP IN CONSIDERATION IS:

THE THIRD-PARTY LAB

The “third party” in the name simply points to the fact that these laboratories are separate business entities. They have no affiliation whatsoever with the CBD brand that’s being tested.

This also means that these laboratories aren’t working in synergy with organizations that mandate specific results in the industry.

What Do You Find in a COA Test?

The first parts of COA are simply the product’s basic information – which is quite similar to any other product you can find in the market.

All of this is usually also accessible with the help of a scannable QR code and can be easily understood by a layman. The second part is the in-depth analysis of the product.

The most important basic info from your CBD’s lab report is:

  • Date of submission
  • Batch ID
  • Product or sample ID

Always keep an eye on the date of submission, to ensure the lab report is up to date. The batch ID and product ID should match the product’s label.

In-Depth Analysis Results

Now let’s dig into the juicy part of the COA. This is where you’ll find all you need to determine whether you will be purchasing this product or not.

CANNABINOID PROFILE

The active cannabinoid profile is the most important test for determining the actual presence and potency of CBD in the product.

These potencies of different cannabinoids are measured in “mg” and can have an allowable variable of about +/- 10%.

TERPENES PROFILE

Terpenes are quite similar to essential oils. Due to terpenes, CBD products have a flavor or an aroma and these may have similar benefits to the CBD you are using – except these effects will be much milder.

These Terpenes contribute directly to the entourage effect and cause synergy amongst other cannabinoids.

MICROBIOLOGICAL SCREENING

Using the term ‘microbe’ may be quite vague here because there are billions of different microbial organisms out there—some good and some bad.

Speaking in general terms, you shouldn’t want any of these living organisms present in your CBD products. If anything shows up here in the third-party lab result, then you should probably return to the shelves.

HEAVY METALS ANALYSIS

Heavy metal content signifies the presence of metal elements that can be hazardous or toxic for human health.

These results are measured in ‘ppm’ alongside the acceptable limit of the compound. An example can be:

  • Arsenic (As) 0.01 ppm (*acceptable limit 1.5 ppm)
  • Mercury (Hg) < 0.01 ppm (*acceptable limit 15 ppm)

PESTICIDES SCREENING

This part of the test illustrates the presence of substances such as fertilizers, growth hormones, herbicides, and pesticides.

In case you need more clarification on the topic, the best CBD products in the market will be 100% free of these potentially harmful byproducts.

RESIDUAL SOLVENT ANALYSIS

This is probably the most important part of the third-party lab report and you should definitely keep an eye out for it.

If you see any forms of ‘glycols’, then you need to get rid of the product right away.

This especially applies to propylene glycol PG or polyethylene glycol PEG.

These chemical solvents are used to breakdown carcinogenic (cancer-causing) aldehydes such as acetaldehyde and formaldehyde.

Summary

As you may have deduced by now, lab results for CBD products are quite simple to understand and straightforward as long as you know what to look for.

In addition to CBD, your choice of product may contain other cannabinoids like THC. You may avoid such products especially if you have an impending drug test coming up and you really need to pass it.

Remember—these tests are your only shield against the largely unregulated Cannabis industry.

Be wary of those products that consist of microbial growth, pesticides, solvents, or any such unwanted traces. These represent poor quality and are bad for health.

Be responsible and make an informed decision when purchasing CBD products.