Updated on August 2, 2021

How To Read A Certificate Of Analysis

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When using CBD products, it is essential to make an informed decision before purchasing. With so many inferior, fake or counterfeit CBD products for sale, either online or in retail stores, how can you tell if a product is genuine or of the highest quality?

There are several ways, such as choosing a reputable manufacturer such as Nesas. 

Customer and peer reviews, price (good quality CBD may be more expensive), and quality packaging are just some things to identify. Purity of product and first-rate ingredients are also a must. But how can you confirm that what is inside or written on the label is what it says?

When buying CBD, asking for a certificate of analysis (COA) is one way to ensure what you are buying, both in quality ingredients and purity. 

What Is A Certificate Of Analysis (COA)?

A certificate of analysis (COA) is a verified document that provides various information, including details about the testing laboratory, the type of product, and the quality of the ingredients. 

The results will specify how many cannabinoids, such as CBD, and how much THC is in the product.

A COA will also determine if the product contains any harmful contaminants such as heavy metals, pesticides, molds, and bacteria. CBD products that do not include a third-party COA should be avoided by the customer as these may contain unknown or inferior ingredients.

The COA should be carried out by a third-party laboratory and be independent of the manufacturer and preferably registered with the FDA (Food And Drug Administration), DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), or ISO (International Organization for Standardization). 

How To Read A Certificate Of Analysis

Manufacturers that are confident in their product, who value quality and customer wellbeing, will always send their product for third-party testing to an independent laboratory. They will also publish the results online and often print QR codes on the product packaging for easy access to the COA.

While there may be some differences between how laboratories record results, the format is usually the same. The data will give customers what they need to know at a glance.

Here are the basics of how to read a Certificate Of Analysis (COA).

The Header

The first part of the certificate is, of course, the header, which will usually contain six pieces of information:

  1. Report date: This will show when the testing took place and that the results are relevant.
  2. Name of the laboratory: Identifies who is carrying out the analysis and verifies the legitimacy of the laboratory as an independent, third-party testing center.
  3. The brand name of the product: Making it simpler to cross-check the product and the manufacturer.
  4. Batch number: The batch number and the product should match.
  5. Description: As with the batch number, descriptions should match the product purchased with the batch number (above).
  6. QR code: The QR code should be printed on the packaging of the purchased product and should be identical to the QR code on the COA. Scanning the QR code will take you directly to all the information contained in the COA. Many states within the U.S require, by law, a QR code on packaging for hemp products. (1) 

Summary Of Results

The summary of results will relay all relevant information at a glance, including the potency of all cannabinoids within the tested product. Results will also show how much CBD, CBG, CBN, or THC is contained in the product. As a legal requirement, if purchasing hemp products, it must have less than .3% THC. (2) 

A summary of the safety results will reveal if the product contains any contaminants such as:

  • Pesticides.
  • Residual solvents
  • Heavy metals
  • Mycotoxins
  • Microbiology (qPCR)
  • Filth or foreign material

An in-depth look at the results will follow the summary, showing which cannabinoids and terpenes (aromatic oils) the tested product has and how concentrated they are. 


The potency results will tell you how many milligrams of each cannabinoid are within each gram of the product. The results may also be in milliliters if the product is in liquid or oil form. 

Results can be as a percentage of the overall weight for ease of reading. This makes it simpler for consumers to scan through and find what they are searching for (most often CBD and THC levels).

Safety Results

Safety testing is one of the principal sections of the COA. This section will reveal levels of any contaminants present such as heavy metals, residual solvents, pesticides, or mycotoxins.

Many inferior or counterfeit products can contain contaminants that may be potentially harmful if ingested. 

If choosing a product, make sure all contaminants are tested and below the safe limits determined by national or state law. A COA should check for at least 11 residual solvents, four heavy metals, five mycotoxins, and sixty-one pesticides. (3)  

Safety results will also show levels of any pathogenic microbiology contaminants, including the bacteria listeria monocytogenes. (4) If consumed, a person or persons may develop the following symptoms: (5)

  • Fever.
  • Muscle aches.
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms such as sickness or diarrhea. 
  • Infection may spread to the nervous system, causing pain, loss of balance, and seizures.  

If any tested product shows this type of contaminant, a COA may not be approved. (3) 


The footer will contain the signatures of the Lab Toxicologist and the Principal Scientist, the laboratory’s license number, and credentials (address, contact details).  

A CLIA number may also be present, indicating the laboratory has undergone thorough protocols to meet medical-grade laboratory standards of excellence.  

What To Watch Out For

At present, the CBD industry is widely unregulated. If a COA is not available, this is a red flag, and the consumer should be wary about making the purchase. Other concerns should be data that differentiates from the product - such as too much THC or less CBD than advertised. Missing safety tests, missing cannabinoids, missing batch numbers, or descriptions that do not match the product should also raise concerns. 

Reputable manufacturers will always supply a customer with the required information for ease of mind and to authenticate their product. If in doubt, do not be afraid to contact the company for reassurance. (6) 

Want to Learn More?

  1. Is Your CBD Oil Damaging Your Body?
  2. How CBD Helps with Holiday Stress
  3. Hemp Extract for Athletes


  1. https://hempindustrydaily.com/standardized-labeling-may-be-key-to-cbd-legality/ 
  2. https://www.fda.gov/news-events/public-health-focus/fda-regulation-cannabis-and-cannabis-derived-products-including-cannabidiol-cbd 
  3. https://acslabcannabis.com/blog/retail/how-to-read-a-coa-and-why-its-so-important/
  4. https://www.medicinalgenomics.com/applications/listeria/
  5.  https://www.cdc.gov/listeria/index.html
  6. https://www.leafreport.com/education/what-is-a-cbd-certificate-of-analysis-coa-and-why-is-it-important-to-you-4089 
The content on Nesa's Hemp blog is for educational purposes only. We meticulously research and cite our sources, but advise consulting a professional before making decisions based on our information. We derive our content from reputable studies and publications, but individual circumstances may vary. We cannot guarantee the accuracy or applicability of our content to every situation. Nesa's Hemp blog and its authors are not liable for any loss or inconvenience resulting from reliance on our information. By using our blog, you waive any claims against us regarding the accuracy or completeness of our content.

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