Educational

How to Read a Certificate of Analysis (COA)

How to Read a Certificate of Analysis: Overview

You may have received one if you’ve ever bought CBD hemp flower online and every hemp distributor must get one, but what is a certificate of analysis? And, how can a certificate of analysis help you understand your CBD product? 

We’ll be answering these questions and more in the following post, like: 

  • What’s a certificate of analysis?
  • Where do you get a certificate of analysis?
  • How do you read a certificate of analysis?
  • How do you understand cannabinoid, mycotoxins, heavy metal, and pesticide analyses?
  • What to do if there’s something wrong with your certificate of analysis

What is a Certificate of Analysis?

A certificate of analysis, or COA for short, is a document from an accredited third-party lab that confirms that your hemp product meets advertised specifications. Your CBD certificate of analysis should tell you a few things, most importantly the concentrations and variety of cannabinoids present in your product. 

See our certificates of analysis here.

Certificates of analysis are important and should be included with every CBD purchase because…

  • They ensure that your product contains advertised levels of CBD.
    • Some studies have found that nearly 7 out of 10 hemp products do not contain the advertised level of CBD. 
  • They indicate whether or not the cannabis (product) in question is federally-legal hemp or a federally-prohibited cannabis product.
    • Products with over 0.3% of delta-9 THC by dry weight are considered to be THC cannabis. 
  • Depending on how your product is advertised— full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, THC-free, etc.— the presence of additional cannabinoids may raise an eyebrow. 

Read more about the differences between full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, and isolate here.

Where Do You Get a Certificate of Analysis?

When you read a certificate of analysis, be sure to look for the lab that produced it. Aboveboard vendors will always have their products tested at accredited third-party laboratories.

Why? 

Imagine you’re buying a used car. A majority of us aren’t mechanics; we can look at the exterior and even look underneath for obvious problems, but would you really buy a car without having your mechanic take a look under the hood? Probably not. 

The same goes for CBD vendors. They’re probably telling the truth about their products, but every vendor should readily provide you with test results from a neutral third party.

How to Read a Certificate of Analysis Lab Test

From the Top, Of Course!

Top of 3,000mg CBD Oil Tincture Certificate of Analysis

Who conducted the test: Bia Diagnostics Laboratories. On this particular certificate of analysis the lab’s contact information is to the right of the name. That might not always be the case. Underneath the lab’s name, we see:  

  • The unique identification number assigned to the sample – C21012AH
  • The name of the sample – 3000 mg tincture (60mL)
  • And, what the sample is – Oil

Find Sunset Lake CBD’s 3000mg tincture here. 

Who’s getting the test: That’d be us, Sunset Lake CBD (Sunset Lake Enterprises.) Under our name, we see our incorporation address (street address omitted.) Our Vermont Hemp Program grower’s license number is also listed at the bottom of the first column.

How to Read Your Certificate of Analysis: Cannabinoid Profile

Now we’ve hit the meat of the certificate of analysis. What cannabinoids are in your product and in what concentration? Below is the cannabinoid summary of our 3,000mg CBD Oil Tincture.

3,000 mg CBD Oil Tincture Cannabinoid Profile

How to Read Your Certificate of Analysis: CBD

CBD (cannabidiol) – Wait… what gives? You buy a CBD tincture advertised at 3,000mg and your certificate of analysis says that there’s only 4.79%

Both can be true. Let’s take a look at the “Concentration mg/g” column. Our 3000mg tincture has 47.87mg/g of oil. To get our total mg per bottle we need to do a little math. 

MCT oil, our carrier oil weighs nearly 1 grams/mL. Our 3,000mg tinctures contain 60mL meaning that they also weigh just about 60 grams. We need to take that number and multiply it by our 47.87mg/g CBD concentration to get 2,872.2mg total; well within the 10% margin of error.

How to Read Your Certificate of Analysis: CBD Flower

Our total CBD calculation can be a bit different when looking at your CBD Flower certificate of analysis. Let’s take a look at our 2019 Hawaiian Haze flower cannabinoid report from ProVerde Labs:

Cannabinoid Report for 2019 Hawaiian Haze CBD Flower

This flower was advertised as containing at ~ 15% and your certificate of analysis says that there’s only 0.15% CBD present. What gives? 

Let’s talk about CBDA and conversions, shall we. CBDA, short for cannabidiolic acid, is the precursor to CBD and is mainly found in raw forms of cannabis. When it’s heated, exposed to light, or ignited, CBDA will convert to CBD via a process called decarboxylation; wherein CBDA will drop an extra carboxyl ring. 

Accounting for a loss of mass (the lost carboxyl ring) during conversion, this certificate of analysis suggests that our Hawaiian Haze flower will contain 15.68% total CBD post-decarboxylation.

How to Read Your Certificate of Analysis: THC

D9-THC (Δ9 tetrahydrocannabinol) – This is the phytocannabinoid that will get you “high,” and the only cannabinoid specifically restricted in the 2018 Federal Farm Bill. According to the feds (and most states), cannabis is only considered to be hemp if D9-THC makes up less than 0.3% of the sample by dry weight. 

THCA (tetrahydrocannabonic acid) – Tetrahydrocannabonic acid, like CBDA is to CBD, is the precursor to D9-THC. It is not counted against a CBD product when determining legality though.

How to Read Your Certificate of Analysis: Minor Cannabinoids

THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin) – Similar to THC in molecular structure sans a few carbon chains. 

CBDV (cannabidivarin) – Similar to CBD in chemical makeup. Like THCV, this phytocannabinoid is still largely unresearched. But early studies are suggesting that this could help with a number of maladies. 

CBG (cannabigerol) – A genetic precursor to both CBD and D9-THC. Think of it as almost a cannabinoid stem cell.

Read more about CBG here. 

CBC (cannabichromine) – Considered one of the “big six” cannabinoids prominent in medical research. CBC isn’t intoxicating, but there is research into this phytocannabinoid’s medicinal benefits. 

CBN (cannabinol) – Think of cannabinol as THC in old age. As time passes, THC degrades into the non-intoxicating CBN. 

CBGA (cannabegeriolic acid) – The acidic form of CBG. 

D8-THC (Δ8 tetrahydrocannabinol) – Chemically different from D9-THC, but still intoxicating. 

Read Sunset Lake’s Ultimate Guide to Delta-8 THC and how it’s different than Delta-9 THC here

exo-THC (exo-tetrahydrocannabinol) – Exo THC is an impurity formed during the synthesis of D9-THC.

How to Read Your Certificate of Analysis: Weights and Concentrations

Let’s see that 2019 Hawaiian Haze Flower cannabinoid profile again, shall we?

Cannabinoid Report for 2019 Hawaiian Haze CBD Flower

In the weight column, we see what share (%) of the Hawaiian Haze flower sample is each cannabinoid. For example, CBDA made up 17.7% of the flower sample’s dry weight. 

Concentration is a similar measurement. Instead of considering the whole sample of flower, we can boil it down to: if we had one gram of flower, how many milligrams of x cannabinoid would be present. In the case of D9-THC, in one gram of flower, there are 0.15 milligrams of D9-THC. 

You can also use concentration to calculate the potential CBD mg total in your hemp flower. For example, if you buy 3.5 grams of Hawaiian Haze flower, you can multiply the weight by the total CBD for: 

3.5 g x 156.78 mg/g CBD = 548.73 mg

How to Read Your Certificate of Analysis: Mycotoxin and Heavy Metals?

Most certificates of analysis end with cannabinoid reports. Some, more in-depth, certificates of analysis can include heavy metal, fungi, and pesticide reports. Below is the heavy metal analysis of our 2019 Hawaiian Haze flower analysis.

2019 Hawaiian Haze CBD Flower Heavy Metal Test

Important definitions: 

  • Conc. – Concentration. 
  • µg – Microgram (.000001 gram)
  • Ppb – parts per billion
  • MDL – Method detection level – the minimum concentration of that substance that can be measured and reported with 99% confidence. Read more about the MDL here.
  • ND – Not detected to the lowest limit of detection.

Reading the Heavy Metal Analysis

There are really three columns in this section of our certificate of analysis we want to take a look at on the heavy metals test— Conc., MDL, and Status.  

Conc. tells us how many micrograms per kilogram of that metal our Hawaiian Haze hemp flower contains. 

Our flower contains traces that exceed the testing threshold— the MDL— but test well under the established limits. Under the status column, we pass with flying colors.

Reading the Mycotoxin (Fungal) Analysis

The three columns to pay attention to on the mycotoxin test are the results, MDL, and status. Our hemp flower has non-detectable amounts of both fungi and test below the detection threshold (MDL.) Our Hawaiian Haze passes this test, too.

Reading the Pesticide Analysis 

Last, but certainly not least, we come to the pesticide analysis portion of our certificate of analysis. Most simple certificates of analysis won’t contain one of these, like our heavy metal and mycotoxin tests.

2019 Hawaiian Haze CBD Flower Pesticide Analysis

Important definitions:

  • Ppb – Parts per billion
  • LLD – Lower limit of detection 

Much like the heavy metals testing, this table tells us the lowest amount of each pesticide that the lab can pick up (LLD,) while also telling us the upper limit of acceptable consumption. 

All of Sunset Lake CBD’s hemp flower is pesticide-free, hence the full column of “nondetectable” in the result column.

Concerned About Your Certificate of Analysis?

There are a few instances where you should make a stink about your certificate of analysis. 

  • You didn’t get a certificate of analysis This is a big red flag. Every CBD hemp vendor is required to include a certificate of analysis. Without the proper documentation, there’s no way for you to verify what’s in your product. There’s also no paperwork to show authorities should your CBD be mistaken for marijuana. 
  • Your certificate of analysis doesn’t match the product you received – Do the strain names match? How about the identification number? If not that could be a problem. Check the company’s website for the correct paperwork. If it’s not present, you could and should request the correct certificate of analysis before placing an order. If they’re worth their salt, they should provide it free of cost and ASAP. 
  • Your certificate of analysis isn’t from a third-party lab – Getting a certificate of analysis is better than nothing at all. But unless you trust the company, don’t be afraid to reach out to the vendor and ask for a third-party results.

If you ever have any questions about our COA’s PLEASE reach out to us. If you’re looking for more information in general or on another companies COA’s we would be happy to either help you out or provide you with more resources.

 

Updated August 5, 2021

Sources:

  1. Bonn-Miller MO, Loflin MJE, Thomas BF, Marcu JP, Hyke T, Vandrey R. “Labeling Accuracy of Cannabidiol Extracts Sold Online.” JAMA. 2017;318(17):1708–1709. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.11909
  2. University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. “Nearly 70 percent of cannabidiol extracts sold online are mislabeled, study shows: Mislabeling may lead to adverse effects for patients, including children with epilepsy.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 November 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171107112244.htm>.
  3. Adlin, Ben. “Is the Cannabinoid THCV Psychoactive?”.  Leafly. Leafly Holdings Inc. 23 March 2017. <https://www.leafly.com/news/science-tech/is-thcv-psychoactive>
  4. Ghezelbash, Philip. “Can CBDV Help Kids With Autism, Seizures, and Rett Syndrome?”.  RxLeaf.com, RxLeaf Media Inc. <https://www.rxleaf.com/cbdv-minor-cannabinoid-helping-neurological-problems-asd/>