In short, COA stands for Certificate of Analysis. A COA is used by both companies and consumers to verify the quality of a product. COA's should always come from third-party accredited laboratories and manufacturers should send every batch from each product they make to these labs.
A study conducted in 2017 reported that almost 70% of online CBD products are mislabeled and contain substantially less or more CBD than reported on the label. This is a large reason why COAs are so important in our industry.
The main purpose of a COA is to report on the contents inside of a product. In the hemp industry, COAs typically report on the cannabinoid, terpene and contaminate profiles of a product.
Most companies today will have a QR code on their product that will take you directly to the test results of that product. When you first look at a COA you may find yourself a little confused. Don't be worried, we're here to help! Let's break it down step-by-step.
The first step is to verify that the COA was performed by a company other than the company that manufactured the product. This is known as a "third-party" test and ensures there is no bias in the reported results.
The next step is to look at the results themselves which are broken up into what are known as panels. There are typically 6 different panels of testing that can be seen in a COA. These 6 panels are:
Cannabinoid Profile (Potency)
Below you will see a sample COA so we can go through it together. You will notice on this page that this company tests for 15 different cannabinoids. As the industry matures we expect to see this number grow. Next to each cannabinoid compound you will see three columns.
The first column is titled LOQ and stands for Limit of Quantification. Essentially this means that a product needs to contain at least that amount of a cannabinoid to appear on the test at all. In the test below this could mean that a product could have 1.55mg of THC in it and it would be reported as 0 THC since it is below the LOQ amount.
The next column you see is Result(in mg). This result is easiest for consumers to read as it reports on the total milligram content that exist in a finished product. If the product tested below was a 500mg tincture you will notice that it actually only contains 484.5 milligrams of CBD.
The third column is Result (in mg/g) and requires a bit of math. Typically, edibles are weighed in grams and liquids like tinctures are weighed in milliliters. However, a general rule of thumb is 1ml = 1 gram. So looking at the results below, we can see that the sample/fill weight is 48 grams. You would take the result multiplied by the total weight to find out the total potency of each product.
Terpenes are constituents of plants that give them their color and distinctive flavors. In the cannabis plant, over 100 different terpenes have been identified and each one may come with its' own benefits. Terpenes are considered to contribute to what is known as "the entourage effect" where it is believed that cannabinoids and terpenes work together synergistically to provide more benefit than they do by themselves.
A sample terpene analysis has been provided below:
You can ready this test much like you would the cannabinoid potency test. If you are looking for certain results from a product it may be beneficial to look at the terpene profile results.
Heavy Metal Analysis
Heavy metal analysis is important. As we talk about in our Buyer's Guide, hemp is great at a process known as Phytoremediation. Phytoremediation means that when hemp is grown, it can clean up the soil that it is grown in. In some cases, this can be great! When hemp is specifically grown to clean up areas of soil that may have been exposed to radiation or other harmful chemicals.
In other ways, phytoremediation can be harmful for a consumer. Take, for example, China who is the largest producer of hemp in the world. China is heavily industrialized, and a lot of China’s soil contains heavy metals because of that. So, when you grow hemp in soil with heavy metals, the hemp can absorb the metals in the soil and that can transfer to end products.
A sample heavy metals test is provided below. You'll notice a column that says reporting limit which is much like a LOQ we talked about above. A product must contain that amount or greater to show up on the test at all. You will also notice an acronym PPM. This stands for parts per million and is the number of units of mass of a heavy metal per million units of total mass.
A pesticide/herbicide test is important because hemp is typically grown outdoors on farmland. Although organic growing processes can help limit that amount of pesticides that a hemp plant will encounter during it's life cycle, it has been witnessed that pesticides can blow over from neighboring farms and wind up in the extracts from the plant. A sample pesticide test has been included below. You should know by now what limit of detection is. Also note that these results are typically shown in parts per billion (ppb) instead of parts per million (ppm).
Microbial tests test for molds and other toxins are important in the hemp industry to ensure safety from food-borne diseases. These tests are simple because you don't need to do any math on a good test. You just want to see that the result shows "None Detected". A sample microbial test has been provided below.
Residual solvent tests are important in the hemp industry because all CBD products are made from extracts of the hemp plant. To perform an extraction, in almost every case, a solvent is used. These solvents are then pulled out of the extract before creating the finished good. If the extract has not been cleaned or refined well enough, residual solvents can make their way into finished products. A sample residual solvents test has been supplied below:
After reading this, we hope you feel more informed when looking at COAs of all types and understand how important they are in our industry!