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. 

In this post, we’re going to go in-depth into,

  • What certificates of analysis are
  • What information they provide us with
  • And, how to read them

And for the purpose of this post, we’ll be using our comprehensive field heavy metal and pesticide test, our 1,500mg CBD Oil Tincture, our Hawaiian Haze Hemp Flower certificate of analysis. You can find both of them in our Quality Test directory.

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. 

Why? 

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 e-commerce vendors will host their COAs on their websites. Sunset Lake CBD’s can all be found on our Quality Test page.

How To Read A Certificate of Analysis

The Header

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. 
  • 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/Client ID: This is the unique identification number or name assigned to the brand/manufacturer by the laboratory.  
  • 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/Certificate ID – This is the certificate’s unique identification number and should match the number on your product if provided on the label.

Header of heavy metals certificate of analysis. ID: 110639

Above, you’ll see that this certificate of analysis was produced by ProVerde Laboratories. Underneath their name, we’ll see that this sample is being tested as “flowers/bud-dry flower.” This tells the lab technicians what data they should be collecting for this report. You’ll also see Sunset Lake Enterprises (that’s us) is getting this test done. Underneath that, you’ll see our incorporation address. 

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 current Hawaiian Hemp Flower, ID number: 110654

The cannabinoid profile of our Hawaiian Haze hemp flower

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

0.36 + (16.1 x 0.877) = 14.5% CBD

Accounting for the lost mass, this certificate of analysis says that after optimal decarboxylation (smoking, vaping, etc.) our Hawaiian Haze flower will contain 14.5% CBD.  

CBD Oil

The cannabinoid report of Sunset Lake CBD's 1500mg CBD oil

 Our 1,500mg CBD Oil Tincture contains 33.1mg of CBD and 16.6mg of CBDa 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 1,500mg CBD Oil  Tincture contains 30mL of CBD-infused oil, so let’s assume that our 30mL of oil weighs 30 grams. We need to take that number and multiply it by our Max CBD concentration (found at the bottom of the image) to find our total milligrams per bottle. 

47.6mg/g x 30g = 1,428 mg 

While we undershoot the 1,500mg mark, the tincture is still within the allowable 10% margin of error. These calculations will apply to most other oil, topical, and edible products, too. 

THC

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 0.51%, our delta9-THC concentration is only 0.05%, meaning that our flower is federally compliant.

Minor Cannabinoids 

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

The terpene profile of our hawaiian haze hemp flower

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. You’ll see that many tested terpenes are “ND” meaning non-detectable. They may be present in the flower, but at levels so low that it impossible to detect them. 

The usual suspects beta-Myrcene, alpha-Pinene, and beta-Caryophyllene are all present in high concentrations.

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(s))
  • kg – Kilogram (1000 grams)
    • The “Limits” column is reported in µg/kg which we can think of as parts per billion. These are the limits that are safe and acceptable according to the state of Massachusetts (where ProVerde is located) 
  • RL/LLD – Reporting limit/ lower limit of detection
    • These are usually specific to laboratories and or states where that lab is located.
  • 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. 

Concentration

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 columns marked with “ND” means that none of said metal is detectable in the flower. 

Reporting Limit

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. 

Status

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. 

Summary

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.

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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 July 31, 2023 

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