What is a COA?
A Certificate of Analysis, COA, is a document from an accredited laboratory that describes the number of cannabinoids, terpenes, and various contaminants inside a product. COAs are the best way to verify the ingredients of a product and compare them to how the product is advertised. These tests also provide a check on how many dangerous compounds such as heavy metals or pesticides have made their way into the product, ensuring a higher degree of safety for consumers as a result.
A study from 2017 revealed that nearly 70% of online CBD products are mislabeled, having either substantially more or less CBD than their packaging and marketing materials suggest. The unregulated nature and sudden growth of the industry allow for disreputable companies to fudge their numbers with less fear of being punished. This difference can be incredibly dangerous for users who either suffer unexpected side effects from a product with too much CBD or simply have a disappointing experience if there's too little. Customers deserve to feel confident about their purchases. COAs create a standard of transparency that everyone can understand and follow. Manufacturers should send a sample of every batch to a lab for testing to protect buyers and their business. If you can't find one on the product or on their website, the only option is to stay away.
Every COA Should Have This Basic Information
COAs can vary in appearance depending on the lab, but the basic information should be the same across labs. Dates and product batch numbers should be listed so that consumers can trust that the report is up to date and specific to the batch that their product was made in. The cannabinoid profile should be the same as the product description, down to the type of extract (broad-spectrum, full-spectrum, etc.) and the potency of the product.
COAs can be found in a few different ways. The label of your product may come with a QR code that takes you to a webpage that lists the product's COA. Only Indiana, Texas, Utah, and Florida have passed state laws to make QR codes a requirement on all CBD products, but most CBD companies are making the transition to include QR codes on their packaging even if these state laws don't apply to them. You can also reach out to the company's customer service line and request one without using a QR code.
If a manufacturer refuses to provide a COA in any form, you should think twice before using their product. At Arrive Market, we believe that any quality CBD company should make this information readily available. That's why we verify full panel third-party testing for all our products on our site and make sure that the COAs are easy to locate. You shouldn't have to go out of your way to obtain and review the results before deciding to buy one of our products.
How to Read a COA
Once you have a COA, the first thing you want to check is that the company that performed the lab test is not the company selling the product. You don't want this for the same reason that students don't grade their own papers and alleged criminals don't prosecute their own acts. The inherent bias and lack of transparency would make it impossible to trust the final results.
Once that trust is developed, you can get into the details of the COA, beginning with the header. The listed report date should be recent to confirm the relevance of the results. After that, you'll want to cross-reference the name of the product's brand with the name listed on the packaging. The names should match up exactly unless the company hired another manufacturer to make the product.
If that happens, then you may need to dig deeper to confirm that the COA is directly connected to the product in question. Another thing to look out for is that the batch number and description in the COA match what you see on the item you're purchasing.
The Testing Summary Has Most of the Information Consumers Need to Know
When it comes to the results of the tests listed in the COA, consumers can go straight to the summary section of the document to see all the key results they need. If ingredient and safety information are both listed, then you know that full-panel testing was done, as opposed to only potency testing.
Under the testing summary is the potency results for the most well-known cannabinoids. Customers can look at the % column, which converts the concentration of each cannabinoid from mg per gram to a percentage of the overall weight of the product, for an easy-to-understand summation of the potency results.
Full panel COAs should also report the levels of other potentially harmful substances that may have made their way into the product.
The COA Provides Info on More Than Just Cannabinoids
The COA also includes results of safety testing for the most common contaminants such as residual solvents, heavy metals, mycotoxins, and pesticides. Look for COAs that test for at least 11 residual solvents, 4 heavy metals, 5 mycotoxins, and 61 pesticides.
Heavy Metal Analysis
The heavy metal analysis chart indicates which metals were tested for and lists them by their chemical symbol and name. 'Conc.' is the concentration of the metal measured in the sample. 'Units' refers to the measurement size, in this case, micrograms per kilogram (1,000,000,000 micrograms in 1 kilogram). 'Use Limits', the most important of which being 'Ingestion', is the amount determined by the State Department of Public Health and U.S. Pharmacopeia that is safe to ingest per day. Any product with more than 1,000 micrograms per kilogram is deemed unsafe.
Another report in the COA is the pesticide analysis, which names the pesticides tested for in the sample. The unit in this case is 'ppb' or parts per billion. LLD is the "lower limit of detection" based on each specific pesticide, and the 'Limits' column is the maximum amount allowed for consumption based on the established safety regulations. The 'Status' column indicates PASS if the sample is under the legal limit or NO PASS if the levels are above the limit.
The terpene profile analysis shows which terpenes were detected in the sample and the relative amount of each by weight percent. Terpenes give hemp products their unique flavors and aromas. The variation in kind and abundance can give consumers information on how it may smell or taste.
Pathogenic Contaminants Detection
Pathogenic microbiology contaminants are the most dangerous substances to ingest. Symptoms of these bacteria include fever, muscle aches, and nausea. The infection could spread to a person's nervous system, causing a loss of balance and seizures. The result column of the COA must confirm absence in order to be safe. Any detectable level will warrant a failed result.
Don't Forget to Read Through the Footer
The footer is the final part of a legitimate COA. This is where the third-party laboratory holds itself accountable and provides contact information. You'll want to locate the lab's licensure and credentials to confirm their methods and results. The appearance of a CLIA number is a deeper level of security. Not every lab needs one to test for hemp and marijuana, but if they do have one, then you know they have undergone the strongest protocols to meet medical-grade standards.
Beware of Fake COAs
COAs are clearly an important resource for CBD consumers on their discovery and purchase journey, but unfortunately, popular demand has driven some companies to produce fraudulent COAs. Third-party labs lack a regulatory foundation that audits or standardizes testing procedures across the industry, so some products may make their way onto shelves via fake or altered lab results. For CBD consumers, it takes more effort than usual to assess which retailers or brands are safe.
That's why Arrive Market makes it a point to verify each and every product sold on our site. Customers can trust that we have full-panel testing, so you can rest assured that the products you buy will give you the expected results.