How to Read a Certificate of Analysis (COA)

COA Sample

You’ve probably heard how important it is to accurately disclose the contents of a hemp-derived product, such as dosage and the psychoactive compound that should be below 0.3%, and how doing so helps you establish transparency and gain customer trust.

But there’s another way to provide product clarity and protect consumers: a Certificate of Authenticity (COA).

A COA is a document from an accredited laboratory that provides reliable information about the chemical contents of a sample. This document may profile cannabinoid strains and terpenes of hemp-derived products, verify that the tetrahydrocannabinol levels are under the legal limit, as well as to detect dangerous compounds like pesticides and heavy metals.

Related Article: What’s in Your Cannabidiol? 6 Tests That Will Help Improve Your Hemp Crop

Why is a COA important to hemp-derived products?

A 2017 study by Penn Medicine found that nearly 70% of all cannabidiol products sold online were either over or under labeled. Marcel Bonn-Miller, Ph.D., adjunct assistant professor of Psychology in Psychiatry and lead author of the study, believes that the mislabeling is a result of inadequate regulation and oversight.

Bonn-Miller adds that consumers “may not be getting the proper dosage; they’re either not getting enough for it to be effective or they’re getting too much.”

While the industry remains unregulated, farmers and entrepreneurs should understand that labels are not enough, especially since it is difficult for customers to fully grasp everything that goes into the products they are purchasing.

Most companies include COA reports on their websites, and while not all states are required, it has become common practice to place a QR code that allows consumers to look up the product’s specific COA. 

But once you find it, how do you make sense of what you’re reading?

How to Read a COA

While it depends on the test administered to a particular sample, a typical COA might include:

  • Cannabinoid Profile: A cannabinoid profile names the cannabinoids present and their respective concentrations. If there’s an “ND” or “non-detect,” next to a particular cannabinoid, it means the instruments found no traces in the sample.
  • Terpene Profile: A terpene analysis presents the terpenes detected in the sample, followed by their weight percentage.
  • Pesticide Analysis: When analyzing pesticides, a third-party laboratory will test several conventional pesticides. The units are expressed in parts per billion (ppb), and, depending on each pesticide, the report will list the lower limit of detection against a “Limits” column, which is the maximum amount allowed for consumption. After the analysis, each pesticide tested will indicate whether it passed (under the legal limit) or not passed (above the legal limit).
  • Heavy Metals Analysis: This portion of the report shows the chemical symbol and name of the metals tested and their concentrations. These are followed by the “Use Limits” section, which includes the amount determined by current regulations (“Ingestion”).

Although COAs may test for different things, the information it contains should deliver relevant and pertinent information about your hemp crop, and you should pay close attention to dates and batch numbers from where the samples came from. If a product fails to offer a COA, that brand or company should be avoided.

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