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What is a CBD Certificate of Analysis and How to Read One?

A businessman reviewing and signing official documents.

From tinctures to tea bags, CBD has taken the health and wellness market by storm. Consumers worldwide have eagerly embraced CBD, driving a market worth an estimated $2.8 billion in 2020. But the rapid growth of this new industry has resulted in a Wild West-style expansion that has brought with it many sub-par products. A 2017 study found that 26% of tested CBD products contained less CBD than advertised and over 21% of products contained detectable levels of THC. In response, reputable CBD product manufacturers began offering a CBD certificate of analysis (COA) to help instill consumer confidence in their products. 

This post is designed for brands that work with CBD wholesalers or manufacturers. It will explain what a CBD isolate certificate of analysis (COA) is, how to read one, and what to look for in each section. We’ll point out potential red flags that may indicate your supplier isn’t producing high-quality products and explain how to obtain a certificate of analysis.

What is a Certificate of Analysis?

A certificate of analysis is a report from an accredited laboratory that details the chemical analysis of a substance, in this case, a CBD product. Typically, every batch of CBD product is tested individually, and a COA is generated for each run. Nearly all CBD certificates of analysis are done using a third-party lab. Not surprisingly, many consumers view a COA completed by the manufacturer themselves as equivalent to the fox watching the hen house. There are many accredited laboratories that offer CBD testing services, making it easy for manufacturers to offer consumers an unbiased CBD analysis.

How to Read a CBD Certificate of Analysis

Knowing what the data in each section of the COA means is important. Although there may be some slight differences in how the lab results are reported, these lab reports all follow a similar format. Here are the basics on how to pull the most critical information from a CBD certificate of analysis.

Cannabinoid Types

There are a variety of cannabinoid compounds in the hemp plant. If you’re selling full-spectrum CBD oil, your full-spectrum certificate of analysis should list all the detectable cannabinoids, including CBD, CBDV, and CBG. This section will also include THC,  the cannabinoid you don’t want if your product isn’t labeled and legally sold as cannabis — at least not at levels that exceed .3% weight. As you’re scrolling down the list of compounds, you may notice the initials ND next to some of the compounds. That’s short for “non-detect,” lab-speak for “there was so little of this compound present the equipment couldn’t pick it up.” 

Weight Percentage

This column is just to the right of the list of cannabinoid types. The weight percentage lists the percentage by weight of each cannabinoid. The reported weight is the weight of just the product itself, minus the packaging. 

Concentration

The next column reports the concentration of each cannabinoid as part of the whole product. The concentration is measured in milligrams per gram (mg/g). Especially for CBD oils, the concentration column makes it fairly easy to double-check that you’re getting what you’ve paid for. For example, if you’ve purchased a product weighing 50 grams that advertises it contains a total of 600mg of CBD, you should see a concentration of 12mg of CBD per gram.

Heavy Metal Analysis

Ingesting heavy metals in amounts that exceed safe levels can make you sick. That’s why many manufacturers test for these as part of their CBD certificate of analysis. In this section, there are two important places to look. The first is the tested concentration level of each heavy metal in the list. This number tells you how much of each metal was found during testing. The second is the Ingestion column under the Use Limits heading. This number is the maximum amount the government considers safe to consume. The tested concentration level should always be far below the ingestion use limit.

Pesticide Analysis

You aren’t the only one interested in hemp-based products — insects are big fans, too. That’s why CBD certificates of analysis often contain test results for commonly used pesticides. Results in this section look similar to the results for heavy metals. Running across each row is the name of the pesticide tested, the level at which it was detected, the acceptable level limits, and whether the results indicate a pass. 

CBD COA Red Flags

You can learn a lot from a COA, both good and bad. Results from a CBD oil certificate of analysis can raise concerns about the quality of a manufacturer. Here are three signs your CBD products aren’t up to standard. 

1. Too Much or Too Little THC

Too much THC may mean you’re selling illegal products. If the level of THC exceeds .3% weight, that’s a problem for products not labeled as including THC, especially in states where THC is illegal. Quality CBD products have THC concentrations below the legal limit. A quality manufacturer also ensures the concentrations of CBD are as advertised. CBD products are expensive, and a COA is an easy way to know you’re getting what you’ve paid for.

2. “Full-Spectrum” Products Missing Cannabinoids

One of the draws of full-spectrum CBD oils is getting all of the other cannabinoids that occur alongside the CBD compound. If you’re expecting a full-spectrum product and don’t see other cannabinoids like CBDa, CBN, and CBC listed at detectable levels, that’s not a good sign.

3. Lab Results Completed In-House

The highest-quality manufacturers send a sample from each batch they produce to an accredited, third-party lab for analysis. Having an independent entity vouch for your product is a lot more convincing than asking consumers to trust the results from an in-house lab.

Why a CBD COA is Essential for Selling Your Product

Savvy consumers expect to see a CBD certificate of analysis for the products they purchase. Lab results verifying the safety and quality of each batch have become industry standard. Most COAs for CBD products can be accessed from the manufacturer’s website or via a QR code printed on the product packaging itself. For those selling CBD products, making it easy for potential customers to access the results of the CBD analysis is very important and can make the difference between making a sale or losing one. 

Evidence of Quality Boosts Consumer Confidence

In the CBD industry, not every manufacturer is a quality producer. Companies selling CBD products have come to rely on CBD certificates of analysis as an important way to demonstrate the quality of the products that they’re selling. Consumers are more likely to buy your products when they know that a non-biased, commercial laboratory has independently verified the quality and claims made by the manufacturer. That’s a win for you and your customers.

At Frontier Label, we’ve worked with a variety of companies using CBD wholesale distributors, helping them create packaging labels that stand out. Our team is happy to answer any questions you have about CBD labeling and help you choose the best type of label for your CBD products.

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