What is a Certificate of Analysis for CBD products and How Can it Make you a Smarter and Safer Consumer?
In general, a Certificate of Analysis (or COA) is a report issued by a testing laboratory that details the quantities of specific substances found in the product. In science, there is no single test that simply identifies and measures everything in a sample.
The testing lab can only test for specified substances. Note that there are always limits on the accuracy of the testing equipment (Limits of Quantification or LOQ) - and sometimes choices on the degree of accuracy (typically parts-per million – ppm, or parts per billion - ppb. More on this later.
In the CBD space, COAs are ordered and often displayed publicly by reputable companies to provide product transparency and assurance that the product is safe, legal, and conforms to its packaging. The COA will reference a batch number that should match a batch number on each bottle of the product. Some companies provide links via QR codes on the bottle to their website, where you can reference the COA that matches your bottle.
A comprehensive COA will tell you about:
This applies to the strength of Cannabinoids and Terpenes in the product. One of the main Cannabinoids of interest is THC. For a hemp product to be legal under the 2018 Farm Bill Act, the product must contain less than 0.3% THC by weight. Do not think that “less is more” with THC. Products containing 0% THC (for instance, isolates) do not offer the benefit of the Entourage Effect, which depends on THC and a full spectrum of other ingredients to synergistically create an effect that is greater than the sum of its parts.
As for CBD, the COA should back-up the claim on the product packaging regarding the concentration level of key Cannabinoids, including CBD, CBDA, CBDN, CBG, and others. To do so, check the total Cannabinoids per Unit, or multiply the Total Cannabinoids per Dose by the number of doses in the bottle to get the total. This total should be within 10% of the product strength listed on the bottle (500mg, 1000mg, etc.)
Here the COA is intended to show the absence of many different types of substances that can be harmful if consumed. A lab can never say that there is zero amount of a substance in a product. Each test has a limit on how small an amount it can detect. This is called the Limit of Quantification or LOQ. A test will show “Not Detected” if the substance is not present in an amount greater than the LOQ.
Also, the level of accuracy of a test varies by the capabilities of the lab and its equipment. Labs typically report results measured in parts-per-million or ppm. As an example, 1ppm would mean that one drop of the substance would be present in one million drops of product, or 1 milligram in a kilogram of product. Some companies, such as Nesa’s Hemp, use labs capable of testing their products at the parts-per-billion level of accuracy or ppb. These tests are 1000 times more sensitive than ppm tests and provide a much higher level of confidence that a product is safe to use.
For most substances tested for safety purposes, the FDA has determined a “safe” or allowable limit called an Action Level.
If the product tests below the Action Level, it gets a Passing Grade, but it is still much better to use a product that has zero detectable amounts, especially if the test is measured in parts per billion! In reviewing a COA, you will want to see if any of the unwanted substances are detected, as well as making sure it gets a passing grade.
Types of Safety Tests
The product should be tested for a minimum of 61 pesticides. Although pesticides might not be intentionally applied during the growing process, they can carry onto hemp crops from neighboring farms that grow different crops and use a wide variety of pesticides.
Residual solvents can result from the harsh handling and processing of the hemp during the extraction process. Some rare forms of extraction, including that used by Nesa’s Hemp, avoid the use of chemicals and solvents altogether, which ensures the highest level of safety on this measure. A minimum of 11 Residual Solvents should be tested for, although comprehensive testing includes several more of these potential contaminants.
Microbes within hemp can occur during the growing process or during the transport and storage stages after it’s been harvested. Substances such as Salmonella and E. Coli can cause serious health issues and must be tested.
Mycotoxins are toxic chemicals produced by fungi that can often appear on plants and crops and, if ingested, can have potentially serious health consequences. The COA should show passing results for five common mycotoxins.
Heavy metals can be absorbed from the atmosphere, especially the soil, by the hemp plant while it is growing. The four most important heavy metals to be tested for are arsenic, cadmium, mercury, and lead.
What else to look for
In addition to checking for passing grades on all tests and digging deeper into the COA to spot results that may be borderline, make sure that the testing was performed by an independent lab that’s been certified (preferably ISO certified) and licensed by the DEA to test for THC. Look for any missing tests and any missing cannabinoids or terpenes. The COA should also be signed by the chief scientist and the director or lab technician responsible for the tests.
Certificates of Analysis are a critical source of information about the quality and safety of hemp products. Be careful of suppliers that don’t offer COAs or provide COAs that are light on information.
Some companies, like Nesa’s Hemp, provide complete transparency by making it easy to get COAs that are packed with information and demonstrate the highest level of safety with results that consistently show that hazardous substances do not exist in their products at levels that can be detected. Nesa’s even goes to the extent of testing for Heavy Metals and Mycotoxins at the parts-per-billion level of precision in order to give you the utmost peace of mind about the safety of their products.
That’s 1000 times greater precision than testing done at the parts-per-million level. During this time of regulatory uncertainty, you want to know all the facts about the hemp products you use.