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How to Read a Certificate of Analysis

June 16, 2020 6 min read


Envy CBD
Introducing a revolutionized holistic lifestyle through Full Spectrum CBD.

We place a heavy emphasis on all of our customers to pay attention to Certificates of Analysis or COAs. As the industry continues to grow and evolve, new vendors are popping up left and right, saturating the market. Subsequently, there is a wide offering of CBD products available to choose from, not all of which are quality.

The only way to verify and validate what is actually in each product is to refer to the COA. Even then, it can be difficult to know what to look for and what to watch out for. If a vendor does not provide a COA, that is definitely a red flag to watch out for. Reputable brands will be transparent and have nothing to hide in their product makeup .

Before we dive into how to properly read a COA, let’s discuss what the purpose of a COA is. In short, a Certificate of Analysis is a lab report, from an accredited laboratory, that shows the breakdown of various substances in a product, and the individual quantity of those substances. Since there isn’t an industry standard for regulation on the acceptable levels of compounds, the tests that Envy CBD complete are based on the California Bureau of Cannabis Control's standard for cannabis products.

Due to the industry being relatively new and unregulated, having a neutralizer that allows consumers to objectively look into the product breakdown is crucial. We already know that manufacturers and vendors are inconsistent with labeling, while others deliberately leave their ingredients ambiguous to hide subpar products. Without having quantifiable metrics to look at, consumers would have to blindly believe what is labeled and trust the brand. This could be a concern. As such, COAs become the reputable vendor’s method for keeping in line with best practices and self regulate.

WHAT SHOULD A COA CONTAIN IN THE REPORT?

According to state law and various other industry-wide regulations, the ideal COA should contain information on cannabinoid potency, terpenes, pesticides, heavy metals, and residual solvents.

The cannabinoid profile is the primary test for purity and potency, as it measures the level of active cannabinoids in that sample. What we are really looking for here are the THC and CBD levels. The presence of terpenes on the other hand may improve or enhance the efficacy of the plant extract. Pesticides is the category used to show how pure or contaminated the hemp extract is, which is something a consumer should want to know. Heavy metals are measured to be in compliance with Prop 65. And lastly, residual solvent levels are tested to ensure overall quality and safety of a product.

While that is a lot to think about at once, we can really narrow down the three core factors to look for on any test:

  • The Δ9-THC content must not exceed 0.3%
  • The total CBD content must be within 20% above or below the advertised amount
  • The product must be free of contaminants

WHAT DO YOU NEED TO PAY ATTENTION TO IN A COA?

We get it. There is a lot of scientific jargon and industry terms in a large report. It can feel overwhelming and hard to comprehend. Where do you begin and what do you even do with all the information? Don’t panic. It looks far more intimidating than it actually is. Having a lot of data is actually a good sign that a brand has nothing to hide (if it is good data, of course).

Let’s start with some basics.

Is the company legitimate?

This might sound like common sense, but it may surprise you how many people overlook this detail when scanning over a page. Does the brand name on the COA or lab report match the company you are purchasing from? While it isn’t extremely common, there are un-reputable companies that try to pass other COAs as their own.

A good way to verify that the company is legitimate is to do a bit of fact checking. Both the company and the lab that completed the tests should be fully traceable. This means, there should be contact information and an address that you can look up online. If the address doesn’t exist or the phone number isn’t real, it wouldn’t be illogical to say that something is amiss.

Are cannabinoids clearly stated and quantified?

Once again, this may seem fairly obvious. In CBD products, one of the most important things you are looking for is the total CBD content. A trustworthy brand should have CBD levels close to the amount that is advertised. If the total CBD is completely different than the description or the label, this is another warning sign.

The other key thing to look for is the presence of THC. The THC content cannot be higher than 0.3% and in most products should be 0% or not detected at all.

Does it clearly show what is being tested and the result?

As a reminder, there are several tests that we conduct to ensure statewide laws and regulations are met. A concise certificate of analysis should clearly showcase the necessary tests that were conducted on each sample or batch. It should indicate that the product is clear of contaminants and tests are passed.

Additionally, each test should have a quantified result showing the metrics that were used to conduct the test. For example, when testing for the presence of heavy metals, a good COA would indicate the limit that is acceptable and the result of the test showing the levels that were detected. This gives the consumer a clear idea of the quality that the product is being measured against. Be wary of COAs that simply say “pass” or “not detected” without providing supporting data.

WHAT ARE SOME OVERALL RED FLAGS?

As a rule of thumb, if it doesn’t make sense, something is probably wrong. While lab reports can take some getting used to, most certificates should be presented in a way where the data is straightforward. Ultimately, the only thing a COA is structured to tell you is the breakdown of substances within a product and its quantities.

Depending on the product, there may be different thresholds for different substances. However, the one thing that should be consistent is that all reputable CBD products should be free from contaminants i.e. pesticides, residual solvents, and/or  mycotoxins. If this is an area that is not tested, that could be a bad sign overall. The other areas are simply a matter of due diligence.

Ensuring that CBD quantities match what is advertised is for peace of mind and to ensure you are making the best value purchase. Being able to trace the lab and the company is another quick and easy test to do. The less obvious red flags are when information is presented without a clear category and/or lacks crucial information on how the test was conducted.

THE BOTTOM LINE

At the end of the day, research and due diligence will get you very far in your product journey, but you will ultimately have to make the purchase decision on your own. The purpose of having a Certificate of Analysis to provide transparent reporting on what goes into each product, in an industry that is unregulated and new.

There are risks with buying anything from an unregulated market. And with the number of new vendors and brands that are introducing CBD products each day, it can be hard to decipher the high quality products from the low quality ones. Especially since labeling is inconsistent, terminology and vocabulary is still often misused, and price points vary so much as well.

Having a COA simply puts the data back in the consumers’ hands and allows them to hold the brand accountable for its products. Whenever you are looking to buy a product from a new vendor, double check all the information that is presented on the report. You should be able to verify all the information that is available.

Sometimes, you may even need to call the lab directly if something feels off about the results being presented. Keep in mind that reputable companies have nothing to hide and want to provide the COA to reassure their customers. If you get severe push back or indirect responses to questions about a company’s COA practices, run the other way!

Envy CBD continues to take pride in all of our products and provide Certificates of Analysis with every single item we offer. We fully believe in being transparent as a business and want to give our customers the greatest sense of confidence whether it is their first purchase or their 50th purchase.

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