While a lack of regulation within the CBD industry can mean buying products that simply don’t work, a more frightful consequence can mean ingesting unknown and possibly harmful chemicals. Reading the named ingredients on the label is not enough to ensure the safety of the products content. Confusion over industry standards and common practices means CBD products are all too often mislabeled. Unfortunately, this means consumers can easily get their hands on a product they don’t have the full story on.
Fortunately, companies that offer quality products can ensure safety by providing what’s known as a COA for each product.
A COA, Certificate of Analysis, is a detailed lab report from a reputable laboratory on the chemical makeup of a products formula. COA’s for a CBD product will include a full list of cannabinoids, microbiological levels, terpenes, and possible contaminants such as pesticides, solvent residue or heavy metals.
How to Read a COA
The first thing to look at when reading a COA is who it was done by. Accredited laboratories are the only ones who can give accurate results. A COA should not be done by a company or a manufacturer, this may be your first red flag that a product is not legit. Third-party lab reports are the best way to ensure the efficacy and quality of a product.
Next, you’ll want to identify the cannabinoids and terpenes found inside the product. Make sure the CBD content on the label matches the amount in the COA. It’s also important to verify the amount of THC found in your product because this is the cannabinoid associated with the psychotropic side effects of the marijuana plant. If the amount of THC is too high and the amount of CBD doesn’t match what’s on the label, then this is another red flag. Broad spectrum CBD products should contain 0% THC while Full Spectrum CBD products need to contain less than .3% to be compliant with laws and regulations. Some other common cannabinoids you may find in a COA include CBG, CBC and CBN. Many terpenes have been found to have therapeutic benefits and extra care must be taken during the extraction process to ensure they aren’t lost. The more terpenes listed the better!
After you’ve confirmed all of the cannabinoids a product contains, the next step is to make sure the product is safe. 3 tests are necessary to ensure the safety of a product:
- Microbial - Because all plants contain different microbes and bacteria that aren’t ideal to ingest, a microbial test provides information about any microbiological contamination including salmonella, yeast and mold. The content of all microbes and bacteria should be labeled ND for non-detected or indicate if the amount is unsafe.
- Residual Solvents and Heavy Metals - From soil to manufacturing equipment a plant may accumulate heavy metals or residual solvents harmful to the body. The COA should verify that no heavy metals were detected or that the amount found inside your product won’t be harmful to the body.
- Pesticides - Pesticides are difficult to avoid when it comes to any kind of plant. Because regulation in hemp farming is relatively new it's important not to overlook this portion of the COA. Like the other 2 safety tests, the pesticide test will verify that the pesticides from the hemp plant in your product are non-detected and will indicate if the amount of pesticides detected is unsafe.
Once you’re done ask yourself a few questions:
Is the COA Valid? Confirm that the COA is up to date, matches the lot number of your product and that the packaging hasn’t changed.
Was there a noticeable excess or lack of information in any section? If the breakdown of the content of the product is scarce or too detailed to get through easily, this may be a sign that the COA wasn’t carried out by an accredited lab.
Does the CBD and THC content match the label?
Do everything you can to look at a COA before buying it. If you’re having trouble finding a COA don’t hesitate to contact the company and even the accredited lab to ask for it. Once you’ve received a CBD product there should be a QR code included on the label. Simply scan the QR code to visit a webpage with the products COA.