How to Read a COA (Certificate of Analysis)

How to Read a COA (Certificate of analysis)

As of July 2021, the use of CBD is legal across the US, with laws regulating its use varying from state to state. This is excellent for those who desire medicinal effects such as stress relief or pain mitigation without the body/brain high associated with typical marijuana use. Additional care must be taken when purchasing CBD products, however, given that they are growing in popularity and greater numbers of people are using them. According to federal law, “THC levels must be 0.3% or lower to be considered a hemp product; anything higher is considered marijuana. ii” Understanding how to read a COA (certificate of analysis) and lab credibility is therefore essential for today’s consumer.

Importance of a Certificate of Analysis by a Third Party

Look for companies that offer a certificate of analysis by a third party. Why? Simply put, there is a lack of centralized regulation for the production of CBD products. The regulation standard has not yet caught up with the popularity and demand of CBD as it has for other controlled substances such as alcohol and tobacco. According to research, “Discrepancies between federal and state cannabis laws have resulted in inadequate regulation and oversight, leading to inaccurate labeling of some products.” iii Until standard regulation is established, it is imperative that users not only check for a certificate of analysis but understand how to read one as well. Consider it your “Nutrition Facts” panel on the side of food labels that lets you know about the essentials. Transparency is a key in determining reputable CBD companies. In other words, consumers deserve to know exactly what they are paying for and subsequently ingesting.

According to field professionals, a certificate of analysis is essentially how consumers can evaluate factors such as purity and standards as there is nothing that legally prevents dispensaries from selling potentially hazardous or subpar products. Third-party companies are bound to impartiality and not only that, their reputations are on the line as well. Their role is to test for concentration and contamination.iv

Look for the following:

  • Cannabinoids indicate the potency of the CBD product and ensures there is no THC contained therein (or that it is over the federal requirement). Most frequently, lab testing reveals a lack of accepted dose, meaning consumers are receiving less CBD than what is advertised on products. In fact, just over 1 in 4 products tested contain less than the advertised level of CBD and some contained more.v

  • Terpenes are associated with flavor and smell. As well as the “feel” of the strain

  • Pesticides/Herbicides are undesirable as in food products. High concentrations of the same can have harmful effects on human health.

  • Metals are absorbed by plants (especially leafy ones) through the soil and air. These may include lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury. The source of your CBD products should be researched when it comes to growing location and methods. For example, a crop near a busy road could mean higher amounts of metal concentrations. These metals are associated with neurological and behavioral changes that include tremors, depression, anxiety, as well as motor and memory disruptions. vii

  • Microbials are other living organisms that can contaminate CBD products such as fungi, bacteria, and viruses that will make users sick if consumed.

  • The following COA is from Hempexco’s PainEx lotion which says 300mg on the label and as seen in the analysis area the CBD value is at
    11.63mg/ml. Because there are 30ml in the bottle there are 348mg in the bottle. A little more than claimed. Microbiology passed which means it is safe to use.

How to read a COA

How to tell if you are being misled / How to read a Certificate

Just because a company makes a statement on a label does not make it true. Start by doing research.

  • Standardized and trustworthy labs are accredited, and state-regulated.

  • Do a thorough review. Official Certificates include the lab name, sample/batch number, and date prominently displayed. It will tell users what safety measures are passed (according to state regulations) as well as units and concentration levels. For example, microbials and metals work on a pass/fail basis while cannabinoids and terpenes are measured by mg or percentages. viii

It is critical that as consumers, we do our due diligence in ensuring we use safe products with minimal health impact. This is possible by asking a few preliminary questions and understanding what to look for in quality, standardized laboratories, and testing.

Some reputable CBD companies that offer a COA

Hempexco Makes topical, tinctures, and some edibles but also carries other reputable brands



iii Bonn-Miller MO, Loflin MJE, Thomas BF, Marcu JP, Hyke T, Vandrey R. Labeling Accuracy of Cannabidiol Extracts Sold Online. JAMA. 2017;318(17):1708-1709. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.11909


v Bonn-Miller MO, Loflin MJE, Thomas BF, Marcu JP, Hyke T, Vandrey R. Labeling Accuracy of Cannabidiol Extracts Sold Online. JAMA. 2017;318(17):1708-1709. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.11909




Dakota Bryan

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