What are Certificates of Analysis and Why are they Important?
A certificate of analysis (COA) is a document provided by a qualified testing lab that details the composition, breakdown, and compounds of hemp flower, cannabis flower and related products. Some COAs are more thorough by listing parts per billion (PPB) values of pesticides, solvents, and other contaminants, while others go less in-depth by simply listing a potency profile.
COAs are crucial both from the standpoint of the hemp or cannabis grower and producer, and from the standpoint of the end customer. From a customer’s perspective, reading a COA will make it easy to decide whether or not they’re purchasing a high-quality product. From a company’s perspective, comprehensive COAs from a reputable lab will help sell more products and gain customers’ trust.
Where to Find COAs
A hemp and/or cannabis company that wishes to be transparent about its product will make easy for customers to locate and review COAs for their products. If you come across a company that does not provide easy access to their COAs, buy elsewhere.
When considering doing business with a new hemp company, look for COAs on their website. You can usually find them on the page that lists all their products, but also look for a notice that says something like “COAs are available upon request.” If the company’s website does not mention COAs, look for contact information that you can use to ask to see them.
How to Read a COA
It’s worth noting that COAs are relatively complex technical documents, so the average person might have difficulty understanding how to read one and may not know what to look for. The following are the most important parts of a COA to which you should devote a lot of your attention:
- Lab test ID/certificate ID number: A number you may use to verify the results of a COA with the lab
- End product name: Make sure that this matches the product you’re looking to purchase, and not a sample of the product in a crude, base oil, or distillate sample
- Batch number: Verifies that the batch matches the advertised contents and claims
- Vendor details: Must match the name of the company that sells the product in question
- Product/sample photo: This isn’t considered essential, but it helps bring the customer extra piece of mind by verifying the product tested matches the product in question
- Weight percentage: This is most important for ensuring that the THC value of the product is less than 0.3% of its total volume
- Conc (concentration): Verifies that the CBD content of the product is as advertised, and is measured in mg per ml
- Content of CBD per ml: To get the amount of CBD measured in mg, multiply this number by the volume of the bottle and verify that it matches the advertised CBD amount
Common Acronyms Used in a COA
In addition to understanding the aforementioned sections of a COA, familiarize yourself with the acronyms that are commonly used in COAs. They are as follows:
- LLD (Lower Limit of Detection): This number is set by the lab in accordance with their state’s regulations for different compounds
- CFU/g (Colony-Forming United per gram): A unit of measurement used to measure the amount of live microbes, fungal cells, and bacteria in a product
- LOQ (Limit of Quantitation): This is the number at which predefined goals for bias and imprecision are met, and the minimum for concentration at which the analyte can be reliably detected
- LOD (Limit of Detection): This states the minimum amount of a measurand that an analytical procedure can reliably measure. A lab will typically set a predefined limit based on their state’s regulations for a given compound
- LLD (Lower Limit of Detection): A number with a predefined limit that is set by the lab according to their state’s regulations for a certain compound
- PPB (Parts Per Billion): The number of parts per billion of a substance that have been detected
- PPM (Parts Per Million): The number of parts per billion of a substance that have been detected
- UG/KG: The mass of chemical per gram which may also be written as mg/kg. This number shows the concentrations of chemicals or compounds
- NT (Not Tested): If a substance is listed as NT, it means that the lab is capable of testing for it, but the product’s producer did not request that it be tested for
- ND (Not Detected): If a substance is listed as ND, it means that it was not detected above the predetermined LOQ or LOD. In other words, the product tested negative for that substance
What Types of Tests Should be Included in a COA?
As previously mentioned, not all COAs are created equal in that some are less thorough than others and will display different results to different kinds of tests. Regardless, the most important kinds of tests that you should always look out for are the following:
- Cannabinoid content and potency: This test verifies that the product contains the advertised amount of CBD and other cannabinoids. A number that varies plus or minus 10% of the advertised amount is usually considered acceptable
- Terpene profile: This test will verify that the terpenes that a company claims to include in a product are present
- Pesticide and solvent testing: The COA should list which pesticides and solvents were tested for. A good product will indicate values of PASS, ND, 0, or 10x lower than the allowed upper limit for each pesticide and solvent. Although very small levels of pesticides and solvents are usually considered acceptable, be wary of products that test positive for traces of a wide variety of substances
- Heavy metal testing: Make sure that the COA shows that no mercury, cadmium, lead, or arsenic are present in the product
- Microbiological: A trustworthy hemp or cannabis product will not contain any traces of Bile-tolerant gram-negative bacteria, Aerobic Bacteria, molds, yeast, or Coliform Bacteria