Chances are if you’ve ever purchased CBD before, you’ve come across something called a certificate of analysis, or COA for short. It’s a technical document that serves to inform consumers about their CBD product’s potency and safety.
What Is A Certificate Of Analysis?
A certificate of analysis is a document from an accredited laboratory that provides details about a product, the potency of the ingredients in the product, and the lab itself. The hemp industry uses certificates of analysis to confirm the potency and concentration of CBD (and THC) in a product. Certificates of analysis can also confirm the absence of contaminants like heavy metals, pesticides, and dangerous fungi.
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. Vendors should always have their products tested at third-party laboratories.
Imagine you’re buying a used car. Many of us aren’t mechanics— we look at the exterior and underneath for obvious problems, but would you really buy a car without getting the carfax or 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. Many eCommerce vendors will host their COAs on their website. Sunset Lake CBD’s can all be found on our Quality Test page.
How To Read A Certificate of Analysis
The header of your COA will contain information about what kind of test was run, by whom, and when.
- Who conducted the test – The name of the laboratory will always be on your certificate of analysis. Check and see if they’re a legitimate lab.
- Company – The name of the brand on your certificate of analysis should match the brand name of your CBD product.
- Sample – This is the name of the product getting tested. It should match or be similar to the name of your product.
- Matrix – This will tell you what kind of testing your product underwent. For example, smokable flower will be tested under the flower matrix and your CBD gummies will be tested under the edible matrix.
- Customer ID: This is the unique identification number assigned to the brand/manufacturer by the laboratory.
- Grower License # – All hemp growers must be registered with the State of Vermont. When a grower brings a sample in for testing they must provide the laboratory with their grower’s registration number.
- Dates – These are the dates that the sample was received by the lab, the date the sample was analyzed, and the date that the certificate of analysis was produced.
- Analyst – For the laboratory’s record keeping, this field denotes which laboratory technician carried out the testing on the product.
- Report ID – This is the certificate’s unique identification number and should match the number on your product if provided on the label.
Above, you’ll see that this certificate of analysis was produced by Bia Diagnostics Laboratories. To the right, you’ll see their contact information. Underneath their name, we’ll see that this sample is a 3,000mg tincture (60mL) and is being tested as a CBD oil.
You’ll also see Sunset Lake Enterprises (that’s us) is getting this test done. Under our name, you’ll see our Vermont hemp program’s growing license number.
The Cannabinoid Profile
This is the real meat of our certificate of analysis. What cannabinoids are present in your product and in what concentration? Below is the cannabinoid profile of our 3,000mg CBD Oil Tincture, ID number: C210921AV
Let’s take a look at the “Concentration” column. Our 3,000mg CBD Oil Tincture contains 52.99mg of CBD per gram of oil. To find the total number of milligrams contained in a single bottle, we’ll need to do a little back-of-the-napkin math.
MCT oil, our carrier oil weighs nearly 1 gram/mL. Our 3,000mg CBD Oil Tincture contains 60mL of CBD-infused oil, so let’s assume that our 60mL of oil weighs 60 grams. We need to take that number and multiply it by our CBD concentration to find our total milligrams per bottle.
52.99mg/g x 60g = 3,179 mg
While we overshoot 3,000mg, the tincture is still within the allowable 10% margin of error. These calculations will apply to most other oil, topical, and edible products, too.
Our calculations will look a little different when we look at certificates of analysis for smokables.
Because smokables are more often than not “raw” products, they will contain higher concentrations of CBDa, CBD’s acidic precursor.
CBDa, short for cannabidiolic acid, converts to CBD via a process called decarboxylation wherein CBDa will drop a carboxyl ring and lose some of its molecular mass. We must take this loss into account when we calculate total CBD content.
([CBD] + [CBDa] x 0.877) = Total CBD 0.46 + (19.88 x 0.877) = 17.89% CBD
Accounting for the lost mass, this certificate of analysis says that after decarboxylation (smoking, vaping, etc.) our Hawaiian Haze flower will contain 17.89% CBD.
You’ll also notice room for delta9-THC (Δ9 tetrahydrocannabinol) on most of your certificates of analysis. Delta9-THC is the only cannabinoid specifically restricted in the 2018 Farm Bill because of its psychoactive properties. According to the Farm Bill, cannabis is only considered to be hemp, if the delta9-THC concentration is no higher than 0.3% of the sample by dry weight.
We see that while the total THC in our Hawaiian Haze is 0.72%, our delta9-THC concentration is only 0.07%, meaning that our flower is federally compliant.
Depending on the depth of your certificate of analysis, you may also see other minor cannabinoids listed. Here’s what you might see:
- THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin) – Similar to THC in minus a few carbon chains.
- CBDV (cannabidivarin) – Similar to CBD in chemical makeup. Early studies suggest that CBDV could help with a number of maladies.
- CBG (cannabigerol) – A genetic precursor to both CBD and THC. Think of CBG as a cannabinoid stem cell.
- CBC (cannabichromene) – 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) – The so-called “sleep cannabinoid.” 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.
- exo-THC (exo-tetrahydrocannabinol) – Exo THC is an impurity formed during the synthesis of D9-THC.
Terpenes are aromatic hydrocarbons found in many plants and responsible for some of the various therapeutic properties of hemp.
In our Hawaiian Haze Terpene Certificate of Analysis provided by ProVerde Laboratories, we see that terpene levels are presented in a simple bar graph, with concentrations and weights listed on the left.
Heavy Metals, Pesticides, & Fungi
Some comprehensive certificates of analysis called full-panel COAs will also include reports on heavy metals, fungi, and residual pesticides that may be present in your product.
Below is a list of handy definitions that you’ll want in order to better understand these reports:
- Conc. – Concentration.
- µg – Microgram (.000001 gram)
- Ppb – parts per billion
- RL/LLD – Reporting limit/ lower limit of detection
- ND – Not detected to the lowest limit of detection.
There are a couple of columns in these sections that we want to pay attention to.
Conc (µg/kg) is going to tell us how many micrograms of that substance are in each kilogram of our product. In this particular case, the column is marked with “ND” as these metals are non-detectable in our flower.
A reporting limit is the limit of detection for a specific target for a sample after adjustments have been made for dilutions and moisture content. In other words, the sample may have trace amounts of the substance being tested for, but not detectable by the test because of instrument limitations.
This column tells us whether or not our product passes the test and is safe for consumption. In this case, we pass with flying colors.
Certificate Of Analysis Red Flags
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 Your Product
Do the product 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’s Measurements Are Off
There will be some times when your certificate of analysis’s concentrations and measurements may be off the mark when it comes to advertised CBD and THC levels. In some cases, that may be fine— the State of Vermont, for instance, allows for a 10% variance between testing and advertised CBD concentration. This is due in part to the sensitivity of the tools each lab uses and the variance between samples.
If your COA is off by more than 10%, then something may be wrong and it could be worth getting in touch with your vendor about their COA’s accuracy.
Certificates of analysis aren’t the most user-friendly documents, but understanding how to read them will make you a decisive CBD consumer— from determining the legitimacy of the testing lab to finding the milligrams of CBD present in your product. Hopefully, this post has given you some guidance on how to approach COAs.
If you ever have any questions about our COAs, please reach out to us. If you’re looking for more information in general or on other companies’ COAs we would be happy to either help you out or provide you with more resources.
Updated September 30, 2022