How to Read a Certificate of Analysis (COA)

In a competitive market, consumers rarely have the assurance that their CBD product is authentic. Fortunately, a Certificate of Analysis or COA is now available by reputable brands to their customers. This helps regulate products sold left and right to unassuming consumers who are not made aware of the ingredients used.

For most newbies in the cannabis world, looking for the right products can be a confusing experience at best and a dangerous gamble at worst. Confusing because there are just so many to choose from and dangerous because not all are made with true hemp extracts or are sometimes mixed with filler components.

Not to mention, the CBD industry lacks a specific standard, so vague and incorrectly labeled products run rampant. Fortunately, you still have a way to keep yourself safe. Read their certificates of analysis to make sure the product is safe and effective. This article will help you watch out for when reading labels such as COAs.

What is a Certificate of Analysis?

What is a Certificate of Analysis?

A COA or Certificate of Analysis is a lab report that shows the materials found in a CBD product. It lists the following chemicals:

  • Cannabinoids
  • Terpenes
  • Flavonoids
  • Pesticides
  • Heavy metals
  • Microbes
  • … and other materials

They help consumers confirm that a CBD product is safe to use. While most have proper labeling, people often ignore them when buying.

According to the 2018 Farm Bill, CBD products must only have 0.3% THC or less. Buyers must check if it has stuff that is specifically bad for them.

Other products have COAs too, but they’re more important for CBD products. You want to keep the stuff above at a safe amount.

Related Article: 5 Things to Know When Shopping for CBD

How to Verify a Certificate of Analysis

How to Verify a Certificate of Analysis

Always look for a COA when you’re buying from a CBD retailer. That way, you’ll have the complete details about what you are buying.

That document should come from a third-party laboratory as well. If the CBD seller wrote it, that’s a huge sign that its products are questionable.

You could ask the staff in the CBD store for it, and they should be able to provide one for you. Alternatively, you could search it online.

Getting a copy of the COA is just the start. You have to verify the details it contains too. Here are the things you should check:

  • Microbes – Plants naturally have bacteria on them because they’re exposed to the outdoors. They should not be in CBD products to make people sick. That’s why the microbe test result should be “ND” or “none detected.”
  • Heavy metals – Examples include lead, mercury, and arsenic which are poisonous even in small amounts. That’s why your CBD product should not contain any of these.
  • Pesticides – Farmers use them to keep insects from harming their crops, but they must stick to a safe amount. You should require the same for your CBD goodies.
  • Terpenes – You’ll often find these in full-spectrum and broad-spectrum CBD products as they help improve its effects. Still, you might want to keep your eyes peeled for them because some might not be good for you.

How to Read Impurities and Test Results on a Certificate of Analysis

The COA will show you the amount of these impurities present, if any. If you find any heavy metals, check the units and concentration.

The former determines how the amount was measured. These documents typically use micrograms per kilogram.

Meanwhile, the concentration refers to the levels of the heavy metals found in the product. It’s usually written as “conc.”

Afterward, you should check the Food And Drug Administration to see the safe limits for these metals. If the product goes above those, don’t use it.

Next, look at the pesticide amounts. The COA must show the limits for each substance. This depends on your state laws, though.

Related Article: Can CBD Oil Get You High?

Regulatory Requirements in a Certificate Of Analysis

Regulatory Requirements in a Certificate Of Analysis

Aside from those things, you should check the other details on the Certificate of Analysis. Here are the bits of information you should check:

  • Dates
  • Product batch
  • Batch number
  • Lot number (the code that links a COA to a certain product)
  • Testing method (e.g., test conditions and requirements)
  • Test results
  • Approval signature

Then, you must see information regarding the manufacturer that needed the lab tests.

The COA should provide related details of quality control such as

  • Its name
  • Address
  • Telephone number
  • Email address

How Can I Tell if a Certificate of Analysis is Fake?

Sadly, some companies may write fake Certificates of Analysis to fool customers. That’s why you should confirm that the COA you got is legit.

It may feel like a hassle, but it could save your life. Taking in the wrong substances could mean serious illness or worse!

Besides, confirming a COA is surprisingly simple. You could even do this right at the CBD store if you want.

Here’s how to verify a COA from a material supplier:

  • Get your smartphone or computer, and make sure it has internet access.
  • Then, look for the lot number and the laboratory that supposedly tested the product.
  • Open your web browser and search for the lab. Its website should appear in the results.
  • Next, look for its Certificate of Analysis search. Most of these laboratories have one. You might want to check supplier information on that website as well.
  • Type the lot number into the search bar, then hit Enter.
  • See if it shows the corresponding COA that the CBD retailer provided. If it doesn’t, that could mean the lab has no record of ever testing that store’s products.

You may even contact the lab directly for further confirmation. However, it would be better to look for another CBD store.

Related Article: How Much Does CBD Oil Cost?

Other Ways to Buy CBD Products Safely

What Types of CBD Products are Available?

Aside from a customer-specific request for a COA, you should look for other evidence that can confirm that a CBD business follows industry standards. Prepare to do a lot of research!

Start by learning more about the types of CBD products that you want. Decide if you’re willing to try full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, or CBD isolates.

Here’s a brief overview of each one:

  1. Full-spectrum CBD has 0.3% THC or tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive substance found in hemp. The 2018 Farm Bill keeps it at this tiny amount to reduce the chances of getting adverse effects. Yet, a CBD business may keep its products to improve its effects.
  2. Broad-spectrum CBD doesn’t contain any THC, but it has the other stuff found in the hemp plant, such as cannabinoids and terpenes. This is often not as effective as full-spectrum CBD.
  3. CBD isolates contain cannabidiol (CBD), but they are usually the least effective products.

After that, you should check how you would like to use CBD. Do you want to munch on them as gummies or apply them as a skincare product? Various websites can provide an overview of each.

Look for specific characteristics that you might want to avoid in your product, such as allergens. You may have to narrow down your search if you’re following certain diets like vegan or paleo.

You must consult a doctor before buying CBD in the first place. They will provide more information about cannabidiol and how you can use it safely and effectively.

Moreover, make sure you buy from stores that source their materials from the US. That way, you’re sure that the finished products meet performance standards.

Also, this will ensure that the company meets shipping requirements. You might want to check your local government for a list of licensed CBD retailers in your area. You’ll find many manufacturers nowadays due to the growing CBD trend. These tips might be time-consuming, but they will ensure you get a safe and quality product.


The CBD industry is growing rapidly nowadays, so you’ll see more CBD retailers appear. This makes checking the Certificate of Analysis (COA) more important than ever. They let you confirm that a retailer is reputable and that its products are safe. Still, you must confirm the evidence presented by checking the document’s details. Get your CBD products elsewhere if the store refuses to give a COA or provides a fake one. Head to a store that maintains compliance with safety requirements.

Updated December 16, 2021.

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