Let’s “Dig Into” a Real COA: How to Read a CBD Certificate of Analysis (COA) Video Guide

In this detailed video guide, the experts from Canalysis Laboratories show us step-by-step how to read CBD third party lab reports (AKA Certificate of Analysis or COA) , and how to interpret them in the most effective way possible.
Zora Degrandpre
Written by Zora Degrandpre, MS, ND
Last Updated
How to read a COA

In the previous article “What is a COA and Why is it Important to you?” we tried to give you a good idea of why looking at a COA was a good idea and some definitions and explanations that hopefully, should make it easier for you to understand. In this article, let’s follow the video along with giving you more examples of how different labs display results.

Leafreport has collaborated with a real lab Canalysis Laboratories in LV that analyzed several different brands for us, so that we could independently determine how accurate the brands’ results really were. This video guide was developed to help get you through these lab reports, and we’ll use the sample reports from Canalysis and others, as well as follow the video. We know most consumers are not scientists, so this video will walk you through all the important parts of a COA.

 

Table of Contents

 

Example of real COA:

Real COA Example

COA Headings

First, Trevor Low, the Lab Director of Canalysis, talks about the importance of 3rd party lab testing of all CBD products—this is to protect YOU the consumer and to ensure that you are getting what you think you are getting and are paying for. He also discusses the importance of getting 3rd party testing in face of the fact that currently, the CBD industry is not regulated.

At the top of a COA, you will find the name of the lab, the title “Certificate of Analysis” as well as a unique sample or batch number—this batch number refers to the batch received from the manufacturer. There may or may not be a QR code at the top of the report. Dates representing when the product was received and tested should be included.

Remember that every lab has a different format, but this information should be included in all of them.

COA Header

 

Safety Boxes

Next in the interview, the “Safety” boxes are discussed. In this example, pesticides, solvents, microbials, heavy metals, mycotoxins and foreign matter weren’t tested. “Not Tested” is often abbreviated as NT. “Not Determined” is often abbreviated as ND.

 

Cannabinoids

Cannabinoids

Now let’s look at one of the more important parameters (they are ALL important, but this part lets you see if you are getting the CBD you are paying for, if the THC levels are as low as claimed AND what other potentially beneficial cannabinoids you are getting.)

Here, a summary is included in the boxes below the heading “Cannabinoids”. In this sample (as in the video) no THC was detected—meaning it was below the LOQ. In this example, the Δ-9-THC’s LOQ is 57.612 mg/unit. Since 1 unit is defined as 28.806 g (see the note at the bottom of the figure—this can be thought of as the total volume, in this case 30mL), that means that the LOQ for one of the main forms of THC is 57.612 mg/28806 mg of material—so this test could in theory detect as little as 0.2% Δ-9-THC—and that is below the legal limit.

Cannabinoids Profile

 

The amount of CBD in the sample is determined to be (yellow box) 19.515 mg/mL…just a bit over the 17mg/mL of CBD in the sample. Why doesn’t the company make it exactly 17mL? Good question—but it is likely because it would require quite a bit more handling and processing which is probably not cost efficient. The end result is that the product contains a bit more than the label says, but not by a great deal.

To determine the variance (how much the absolute amount differs from the amount on the label) you can use the following formula:

Variance [%] = [amount of CBD claimed by the brand]-[amount of CBD found by the lab]∕|[amount of CBD claimed by the brand]*100

In this case, the Variance [%] = [17] – [19.515] ∕ 17 *100 = (-)2.15/17 * 100= – 14.79%. The negative number indicates there is more product than is claimed.

If the Variance </= 10% then the brand passed the accuracy-test successfully. In this case, it didn’t.

 

Terpenes

Both broad- and full-spectrum hemp extracts will contain terpenes. Not every company tests for terpenes—the analysis given by Trevor Low from Canalysis is quite extensive, testing for terpenes like limonene, bisabolol, humulene, myrcene and others. Remember that terpenes are the substances which protect the plant and which gives plants their unique aromas. In addition, terpenes may provide additional health benefits such as anti-inflammatory actions, pain relief anti-microbial actions and relief from depression and anxiety.

Cannabinoids and Terpens Profile

Terpenes are also often associated with colors. Orange or yellow are associated with a spicy and sharp taste and are associated with plants and herbs such as saffron, mint, sage, rosemary, pepper and others. Green is associated with bitter tastes found in some nuts, teas, peas and cucumbers. Red is associated with sour taste and is commonly tasted in citrus fruits while blue is sweet and associated with various fruits and berries.

Different terpenes found in these plants in higher amounts are responsible for the various tastes and smells. β-caryophyllene is found, for example in cloves at high levels. Humulene is found in oats and is anti-inflammatory and reduces swelling and edema.

Here are some other samples of lab results for different terpenes. Here the LOQs are not given, nor are any colors.

Terpenes % of sample Terpenes % of sample
ß-Caryophyllene 0.112% farnesene 0.0604 %
Humulene 0.0497 % caryophyllene oxide 0.0243%

Here is another form of listing of terpenes from a full-spectrum CBD oil. These %ages can differ from batch to batch with, for example the terpene humulene higher than farnesene in another sample, but for the most part, you should see similar profiles for terpenes in hemp-derived CBD products.

Terpenes Method J AOAC 2015 V98-6 Batch # 2xxxxx

Analyze 01/03/20 01:38 PM

Analyte Result LOQ % of Total
ß-Caryophyllene 0.112 0.020 45.53%
Humulene 0.0497 0.020 20.20%
a-Bisabolol < LOQ 0.020 0.00%
(-)-Guaiol < LOQ 0.020 0.00%
farnesene 0.0604 0.020 24.55%
(-)-caryophyllene oxide† 0.0243 0.020 9.88%
Total Terpenes 0.246

 

Trevor Low goes on to talk about the lab certifications, signatures and badges at the bottom of the page. You should check to see what lab certifications a particular lab has—this indicates that the lab conforms to certain standards and has appropriate internal quality control measures in place. Every lab should have some form of accreditation– two types of the images you might see are given here.

 

Pesticide Levels

Many states DO regulate the amounts of pesticides allowed in any plant products. These are usually reported as Pass/Fail, but it’s important to know this—it is a bit (just a bit!) counterproductive to be seeking a product to boost your overall health or to deal with a specific health issue only to find it has higher-than-acceptable levels of pesticides! Most labs follow the most stringent state regulations for pesticide levels—these are produced by the state of California, but if you want to make certain, call the labs and ask them! There is a long list of pesticides that can be tested for. We are showing an abbreviated list, but it gives you an idea of how the information is expressed.

Pesticide and Microbials levels

Another example of how pesticide test results may be displayed:

Sample Results

 

Pesticides

Method AOAC 2007.01 & EN 15662 (mod) Units mg/kg

Batch 2xxxxxx

Analyze 01/07/20 08:56 AM

Analyte Results Limits LOQ Status
Abamectin <LOQ 0.50 0.250 Pass
Cypermethrin <LOQ 1.0 0.500 Pass
Diazinon <LOQ 0.20 0.100 Pass
Malathion <LOQ 0.20 0.100 Pass
Pyrethrin I <LOQ 1.0 0.500 Pass
Parathion-Methyl <LOQ 0.20 0.200 Pass

Each pesticide tested for was less than the LOQ and less than the maximum allowed by the standards followed by the lab—so each got a “pass”.

 

Microbials

So, in addition to what you can see in the video, let’s take a look at how another lab (Eurofins Microbiology Laboratories) reported a test for microbials for a batch from Charlotte’s Web. Here they report several different tests as “Pass” or “Fail”:

Pesticide and Microbials levels

• “Total Aerobic Plate Count”—the total number of colony-forming units (CFUs) that form on a bacterial culture dish. Aerobic indicates these are oxygen-requiring bacteria.

• Total Yeasts and Molds—this is test for common fungi

• Total Coliforms—these are a broad class of bacteria found in human and animal fecal matter as well as in the general environment

• Specific species of bacteria that can cause disease or distress—in this case, they tested for Salmonella and E. coli species (spp).

MICROBIAL
Testing performed by Eurofins Microbiology Laboratories – Lafayette, CO
Total Aerobic Plate Count Pass
Total Yeasts and Molds Pass
Total Coliforms Pass
Salmonella spp. Pass
Escherichia coli Pass

Another example:

Microbiology
Analyte Result Units LOQ Batch Analyze Method Notes
E cole <LOQ cfu/g 10 2000080 01/06/20 AOAC 991.14 (Petrifilm) X
Total Coliforms <LOQ cfu/g 10 2000080 01/06/20 AOAC 991.14 (Petrifilm) X

The units—cfu/g – stands for Colony Forming Unit per gram of material. A Colony Forming Unit (cfu) is used to estimate the number of living (viable) bacteria or fungal organisms in a sample. There are several ways of culturing bacteria or fungi, but in general a solution containing the dissolved sample is placed in an environment conducive to either bacterial or fungal growth and after a set period of time, the bacterial or fungal colonies are counted. That number correlates to the cfus.

Some of the common abbreviations used are ND (not detectable), NT (not tested) or NR (not reported).

 

Heavy Metals

Most labs will test for, at a minimum, levels of arsenic (As), cadmium (Cd), mercury (Hg) and lead (Pb).

Heavy Metals and Mycotoxins Test

Here is another way these heavy metal tests may be reported:

Heavy Metals
Arsenic Pass
Cadmium Pass
Lead Pass
Mercury Pass

Canalysis provides us with more detailed information by providing the LOQs as PPB or Parts Per Billion. In the case of arsenic (As), the LOQ is 250,000 ppb or 250,000/1,000,000,000.

Another example of heavy metal testing gives some limited information but ultimately, all these formats let you know that the CBD you are ingesting or using on your skin has very little heavy metal contamination—they are below the LOQ:

 

Metals
Analyte Result Units LOQ Batch Analyze Method Notes
Arsenic <LOQ mg/kg 0.0453 2000160 01/07/20 AOAC 2013.06 (mod.) X
Cadmium <LOQ mg/kg 0.0453 2000160 01/07/20 AOAC 2013.06 (mod.) X
Lead <LOQ mg/kg 0.0453 2000160 01/07/20 AOAC 2013.06 (mod.) X
Mercury <LOQ mg/kg 0.0453 2000160 01/07/20 AOAC 2013.06 (mod.) X

 

 

Mycotoxins

Mycotoxins, as mentioned previously, are toxins produced by fungal organisms—they are also evidence that at one point at least some plants in the batch were infected with fungal organisms. Aflotoxin, for example, is a carcinogen formed by Aspergillus molds. Children chronically exposed to aflatoxins exhibit slowed growth and development, liver damage and liver cancer. Ochratoxin A is a toxin produced by Aspergillus and Penicillium species and can damage both the kidney and the liver. It is a possible carcinogen and can suppress the immune system.

Heavy Metals and Mycotoxins Test

 

Residual Solvents

Canalysis did not test for residual solvents, so here is a sample presentation of those types of results:

Solvents Method EPA5021A Units (mcg/g)

Batch #2xxxxxx

Analyze 01/03/20 01:43 PM

Analyte Result Limits LOQ Status
1,4-Dioxane < LOQ 380 100 Pass
Benzene < LOQ 2.0 1.0 Pass
Hexanes (sum) < LOQ 290 150 Pass
Methanol < LOQ 3000 200 Pass
Ethylene glycol < LOQ 620 200 Pass
Total Xylenes < LOQ 400 Pass

This is from an extensive list of potential hydrocarbon solvents that could be used to extract CBD from hemp plants. All the solvents tested for were lower than the LOQ, so this sample passed.

 

Summary

It is very important that any CBD product you purchase is tested by a 3rd party lab that is not financially or in any way dependent on the results. The lab itself should be state certified at a minimum, but any other certifications such as ISO/IEC 17025, ILAC Mutual Recognition Arrangement (ILAC MRA), or from the NSF.

This testing is critical to ensure safety, transparency and accurate labeling in the current un-regulated environment for the sale of CBD.

At a minimum, you need to know that any product you purchase has an accurate amount of CBD listed, is free of dangerous materials such as heavy metals or bacterial and fungal toxins.

Importantly, you also need to know that the company from which you purchase your CBD cares enough about their product—and about you—to provide necessary and important information to you, the consumer. If a company’s ultimate goal is to provide you with a healthy product for a healthier you!

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Dr. Zora DeGrandpre practices naturopathic medicine (home visits) in rural Washington and is a professional medical and scientific writer and editor, specializing in naturopathic, functional, botanical and integrative medicine. Dr. DeGrandpre has degrees in drug design, immunology and natural medicine and has extensive research experience in cancer and molecular immunology. In her practice, Dr DeGrandpre has found the use of CBD with elderly patients and others to be safe and clinically effective. She brings to all her writing a straightforward approach that is accurate, clear and authentic.

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