TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. What Is a Certificate of Analysis for CBD?
2. How Do I Get a Certificate of Analysis (COA) for My CBD Product
3. Gain Access To & How to Read a Certificate of Analysis
4. How to Read the Certificate of Analysis Testing Results
5. What to Watch Out For In a COA
6. What is an Organic CBD Oil?
7. What Is a COA Laboratory?
8. What Is the Purpose of a Certificate of Analysis?
In a growing industry that seems to live in a constant state of evolution, the list of CBD-specific product regulations is long and continues to expand.
However, 'expansion' is not to be perceived with a negative connotation. We'll agree that too many regulations, especially if they're unclear, are not great for business.
Regulation is the main reason why customers can be guaranteed product safety, especially in an industry that keeps developing and where product innovations continuously happen. This scenario makes it incredibly difficult for regulated entities to ensure safety.
That's the reason why reports like the certificate of analysis testing are so important.
Because CBD is considered a supplement and not a medication, CBD products are not put under the same scrutiny as prescription meds are. At least for the moment.
This motivates the need for consumers to have the tools to assess a CBD product's safety for themselves. A certificate of analysis (COA) will accomplish that.
What Is a Certificate of Analysis for CBD?
A certificate of analysis (COA) is a document that details the composition of any given product. In the case of CBD products, we would be talking primarily about contents for main ingredients and potential external contaminants like heavy metals, pesticides, and solvents.
Whether the components found during testing are cannabis-derived or not is not relevant. All features found in the certificate of analysis testing sample have to be included in the final document.
A certificate of analysis document includes:
1. General Testing Information
This information is usually displayed on the upper left-hand corner of the document and details sample name, what the sample tests for, sample ID number, and sample type.
2. Full Cannabinoid Profile
Under the general testing information, you’ll find a detailed description of all cannabinoids with content details for each.
Additional ingredients are often included in supplemental products like CBD that add nutritional/functional value to the finished good. Some products use other dietary supplements that could carry a risk for allergic reactions like coconut oil. These could be displayed on the COA in the following the same format used for CBD and other cannabinoids.
3. Specific Pesticide Test Results
Pesticide test results will include a guide of the tolerated reporting limit for each pesticide and whether or not traces of the substance were found in the tested batch.
Because CBD is a plant-derived product, growers may use pesticides in their farming practices.
Plant-based products have a high risk of having residual pesticides because they are so commonly used throughout the farming process. Some pesticide residue levels are legally allowed and considered non-harmful, so it’s important to bear that in mind. However, the level of pesticides in the same mustn’t exceed the norm.
4. Microbiological Results
Usual microbiological results will show results for trace amounts found for yeast, mold, E Coli, Pseudomonas, Coliforms, Salmonella, and a total aerobic plate count.
Organic products specifically come with a higher risk of carrying microbes. There are manufacturing processes meant to abolish these microbes at the moment of producing a finished good.
5. Terpene Test Results
Like the complete cannabinoid profile, the terpene test results will show content quantities for every single terpenoid found in the tested batch.
Terpenes are an essential component of any cannabis-derived product. There is no real related risk to terpene content other than being the main reason for the product’s flavor and scent. Terpene content can also be found on the COA but is considered more of a question of personal taste than safety.
6. Residual Solvent Test Results
The residual solvent analysis usually involves utilizing gas chromatography and flame ionization detection. Because solvents are applied in some extraction processes used to manufacture CBD concentrates, residual amounts may be found in the final product.
How Do I Get a Certificate of Analysis (COA) for My CBD Product
Finding a licensed lab that will perform your certificate of analysis (COA) testing is not a very difficult task. You can find an extensive list of licensed facilities across the U.S. that can carry out the testing and provide legal documentation for you to deliver to your customers.
Analytical and microbiological testing can be done for various products in the pharmaceutical, beauty, and healthcare industries, among a few others. Because there are so many various industries to provide testing services for, laboratories tend to customize their offerings based on the industry they cater to the most.
However easy it is to find laboratories willing to carry out COA testing for your product for a fee, it might be best to stick to laboratories with demonstrated experience in your specific industry.
The same laboratories will provide additional testing services like raw material testing, forensics testing, microbiology testing, and comprehensive analytical testing for your production batches.
The budget for the certificate of analysis testing can vary depending on the industry you’re in, the size of your production batch, the type of testing you require, and other essential factors. The cost for a certificate of analysis testing usually starts at $2,000.
Gain Access To & How to Read a Certificate of Analysis
A COA is straightforward to understand if you know what you’re looking at.
The question that remains now is how to find the COA of any particular product.
Companies that pay for a certificate of analysis testing are interested in providing easy access to their passing results. You will likely find a QR code on the product label or packaging of your CBD product. By scanning this QR code, you’ll gain access to the COA.
If you are not able to find the QR code, worry not, there are other ways to get access to a specific product’s COA:
1. Contact the Company Directly
If a CBD brand does not have easy access to the product’s COA, it could mean one of two things; they don’t have a COA for the product, or the test results were not satisfactory. Both scenarios are not very appealing as a customer who will be consuming the product and putting it into your body.
However, it is impossible to find that the COA is just not a part of its marketing strategy. You could call the company or contact them through their official website.
2. Official Company Website
3. Laboratory Websites
Finding the CBD certificate of analysis test results online doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll find them on the company website. While this is not common practice, some laboratories share test results with customers on their official website.
If this does indeed happen, then it’s very likely that the test results are on the laboratory’s website and the CBD company’s website, especially if the same company owns the laboratory.
4. Product Review Websites
Product review websites usually are a reliable source of information. It behooves review websites to display accurate and unbiased information.
When shopping for CBD products, most consumers are aware of testing and reliability. Because certificate of analysis testing is a big part of safety, review websites probably take them into account.
How to Read the Certificate of Analysis Testing Results
It is one thing to get access to the results, a completely different one to understand the certificate of analysis testing results coherently. Results may show one of two ways:
1. Total mg content in the product
If the COA shows ‘mg’ as a lone single measurement unit for any of the cannabinoids and components analyzed, it’s likely to refer to the total content found in the product.
2. mg/gram or mg/ml
This indicates how much content of each component tested was found per unit of measurement. In the case of concentrates like hemp flower, you will likely find the results expressed in mg/gram. For liquid concentrates like oils, tinctures, and serums, the measurement unit utilized will be mg/ml.
If you know how many grams or milliliters are in your product, then you’ll be able to calculate the total amount per item. Bear in mind that the weight amount you will find on the label does not include the weight of the packaging.
Content-related information should be available for all cannabinoids found in the product and not only for CBD.
At the top of each section found in the CBD certificate of analysis, you might have noticed three various abbreviations; LoD, LoQ, and LoB. These abbreviations stand for Limit of Detection (LoD), Limit of Quantitation (LoQ), and Limit of Blank (LoB). They are used to describe the most negligible concentration of any measurable substance that can be reliably detected and calculated in the analytical procedure used to create the COA.
1. Limit of Detection (LoD)
The LoD is the minimum concentration that the test can reliably detect with statistical significance.
2. Limit of Quantitation (LoQ)
The LoQ is the smallest concentration at which the particular substance can be detected reliably and the level at which said substance could meet predefined goals for bias and imprecision determined before the test. LoQ can be the same as the LoD, but it may vary as well.
3. Limit of Blank (LoB)
The LoB is the highest possible concentration expected in the blank sample containing no analyte.
What to Watch Out For In a COA
You’ve already learned how to access and read a CBD certificate of analysis, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that you know when something is wrong. On top of reading the results, you have to understand them and learn to interpret them.
For instance, compounds like contaminants, solvents, and pesticides can turn out to be present. While most contaminants need to be completely absent from the testing sample, some pesticide quantities are not considered toxic and can be present in minimal amounts.
These are the types of analysis that you need to make to know when something is wrong with your product. Here are a few pointers on things you need to keep an eye out for:
1. CBD Level Lower Than Expected
CBD products will display a CBD quantity on their label or packaging. CBD quantity will vary depending on the type of product you purchase and the intention of the product at hand.
Although not likely to be found on a public COA, the level of CBD in the product is the first thing you should be looking for. If the CBD content does not comply with the
quantity displayed on the packaging of the product then it means that you are being sold a ‘faulty’ product.
If CBD levels are above what the product label shows, then the fault is not that grave. But being undersold CBD quantity means that you paid for more than you got.
2. THC Higher Than Expected
The lack of psychoactive effects is one of the main reasons why consumers buy CBD in the first place. The non-psychoactive properties of CBD products are due to the lack of
THC, the primary psychoactive compound found in cannabis.
CBD extracts from the hemp plant, a form of Cannabis Sativa that does not have an effective THC content. Hemp is non-psychoactive, legal, and the primary source of CBD extract in the U.S.
THC levels on any CBD concentrate are expected to be kept below 0.3% per unit of dry weight. In other words, negligible.
If THC levels are higher in the certificate of analysis testing results, then it could mean that the main reason why you consume CBD is not compliant with this specific product.
If THC levels are above 0.3%, it could also mean that the CBD you're buying is not extracted from hemp. In which case, your product could turn out to be illegal, depending on the state you reside in.
But most importantly, you want to make sure that a product doesn't 'get you high' if you're not expecting it to do so.
3. Suspiciously Short List of Additional Cannabinoids
There are three types of CBD extracts used to produce finished goods; full-spectrum extract, broad-spectrum extract, and isolates. All three of these extracts come from hemp sources, but their compound composition is a bit different.
Full-Spectrum extracts contain a holistic blend of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. While CBD is still the prominent ingredient frown in the resulting section, the contents will also include other cannabinoids like THC, CBC, CBN, CBG, and a few others.
If you purchase a product that uses full-spectrum extract as an ingredient, the COA needs to reflect it. A suspicious shortlist of other cannabinoids could imply that something doesn't add up with this particular item.
Broad-Spectrum extracts contain a very similar blend of components to those found in full-spectrum products. However, the broad-spectrum extract should not have any trace amounts of THC. So the list of cannabinoids on your COA should show an equally extensive spectrum of compounds but should have THC at a 0% concentration.
CBD isolates are a type of hemp extract that does not contain any cannabinoid blend. Products claiming to be made with CBD isolate should only have CBD content, and the range of other cannabinoids should be completely lacking.
Because CBD needs to be completely separated from other cannabinoids and compounds, isolates' extraction process usually involves solvents. That said, solvents' appearance in the final product is much more likely when the sample tested is made with CBD isolate.
4. Outdated Test
As you would check for the expiry date on a perishable product, you also want to know how long ago your CBD was tested.
Manufacturing techniques in the cannabis industry are continually evolving, and the purity of a product is likely to change when processes make it alter.
For that reason alone, you’ll want to make sure that your COA is up to date. It could also be that the formulation on the product has changed since then, and the COA is no longer applicable to this product, so make sure you answer those questions as well.
5. Tested In-House
One of the few pointers you’ll get from every CBD expert before purchasing a product is ensuring that the product was third-party tested. There are a few reasons for that.
Third-party testing means that the lab testing the product utilizes professional techniques and people to analyze and record results. Testing is directly related to their business’ revenue.
Third-party labs are also not likely to be coaxed into releasing inaccurate results. Again, testing is the laboratory’s core trade, and releasing untrue information is not good business.
These should both be more than enough reason to understand why a third-party lab is a good thing for choosing a CBD product.
In-house testing also has a few disadvantages.
Some CBD companies own testing facilities as a vehicle to ensure testing happens promptly and adequately. However, as a consumer, this is not the most attractive situation.
Large CBD companies with a big enough budget can be relied upon because you can be sure they will be doing their testing properly and hiring professionals with experience in the certificate of analysis testing. But other CBD companies might not have the luxury of bringing the best resources on board, and this could result in inaccurate testing results.
As a consumer, it’s best to look for products tested by third-party laboratories with top-notch experts that ensure testing accuracy and reliability in the results.
Unreliable results could be caused by multiple causes and not only a lack of testing experience. Consumers want a guarantee that their products are safe, and companies cannot produce false results. Not all of them, but a simple way to ensure this doesn’t happen is using a third-party laboratory for COA testing.
6. Who Requested the Test?
The certificate of analysis could be FDA-required or directly requested by the manufacturer or brand owners. Some laws require brands to provide a COA, but in most cases, it is the manufacturer/brand owner who petitions for it.
The party that requests the test isn’t a tell-tale sign that the COA cannot be trusted, but as a frequent CBD consumer, the best-case scenario is for the company to request the test directly.
What is an Organic CBD Oil?
Labeling a product ‘organic’ takes a lot of work from the manufacturer, a large amount of investment in resources, and the willingness to have a slower launch to market on a product.
You can probably spot why organic manufacturing products are a massive hassle for companies. However, there are brands committed to the quality of their products. They have a firm grasp of their vision for their products and remain committed to that cause.
However, other brands want the ‘organic’ label on their label but don’t want to go through the same obstacle course that other companies do to get there. These are the requirements that CBD products need to comply with to qualify as an organic item.
1. Compatibility with sustainable farming and manufacturing practices
2. Crop importance as a source of food or medicine
3. Untouched hemp seeds. No feminized or modified seeds allowed
4. Plants are 100% naturally fertilized
5. No growth stimulators
6. No radiation. This involves keeping a close lookout for soil contamination.
7. Restricted pesticide use. Levels may vary depending on location and local laws.
You’ll notice that CBD oil products may call out different versions of organic compatibility. Here’s what each of those levels means:
- 100% compatibility means that all processes and ingredients comply with organic production standards.
- When a product labels ‘organic’ instead of 100% organic, it could mean the product contains more than 95% organic ingredients, with some chemical additives still used.
- If a product comes with a ‘natural’ label, it means that only some of the ingredients utilized in the manufacturing process are classified as organic.
The best way to guarantee your CBD product is organic is if you trust the regulating party. Our suggestion is to go by FDA rules and look for a ‘USDA organic label’ on your product. This way, you’ll know the product you are purchasing follows FDA organic standards.
What Is a COA Laboratory?
By now, you’ve heard of in-house and third-party certificates of analysis testing. In both cases, the COA needs to be issued by an accredited test lab. Regardless of who the lab owner is.
What Is the Purpose of a Certificate of Analysis?
The information contained on product labels should be more than enough for you to trust a product as a consumer. In reality, this just doesn't cut it.
Not all businesses can be trusted equally. That's not a critique of CBD brands, but the reality is that not every company follows the same safety and quality standards.
Some brands have been around long enough to build empathy and trust in their customers. New brands don't have that luxury in the beginning. They need to slowly build a rapport with their customer and demonstrate why their products are trustworthy, safe, and high-quality items.
A typical analysis certificate helps brands demonstrate that their products contain every ingredient mentioned on the label and state that they don't have unwanted components, which builds trust.
Additionally, regulations are in a constant state of evolution in the CBD industry due to the product's novelty and the cannabis market in general. As regulations continue to develop, the best way to ensure your product meets all the safety and quality standards required, in addition to ensuring that you get what you're paying for, is a CBD certificate of analysis.
A product certificate of analysis results in happier customers, a safer product, and better brand perception.