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What’s in My CBD Oil? How to Read a CBD Certificate of Analysis (COA)

We don’t have to tell you.

You already know that CBD oil is one of the most important wellness discoveries of all time. Whether you’re a veteran wellness enthusiast or new to a healthy lifestyle, once you’ve experienced the benefits of CBD, you know you’ve found something special.

But not all CBD oil is special. Or potent. Or even safe.

New CBD companies are popping up every day in this largely unregulated space — some looking chiefly to cash in, some with more altruistic intentions.

In the current sea of enterprises whose hemp CBD products, like other dietary supplements, are NOT (repeat) are NOT tested or regulated by the FDA, how can you know who to choose?

LEARN HOW TO READ A CBD OIL CERTIFICATE OF ANALYSIS (COA).

Why?

You want quality. You want safety. And you want to get what you pay for.

Are you getting drug tested and need a CBD vape cartridge with 0% THC?

Do you want a full spectrum CBD tincture for your aging pet?

Do you want to see specifically which other cannabinoids are in your CBD product?

Correctly interpreting a CBD vendor’s Certificates of Analysis or COA(s) will help you get exactly what you want. It’s also not a bad way to hold CBD merchants accountable for their claims.

We’ll break down how to read a CBD lab report, so that by the end of the article, you’ll know your way around CBD COAs like a seasoned pro. Because the best decisions are the informed ones.

Why CBD Certificates of Analysis Are Important

First things first. For any CBD oil or CBD oil product to be considered federally legal, it must contain 0.3% or less THC by volume. Anything higher, and the product is technically still on the Controlled Substances list, though it could be legal at a state level, depending where you are.

HOWEVER.

The FDA does not specifically require any tests whatsoever of CBD companies because CBD oil is categorized as a dietary supplement, so it’s part of an unregulated industry where anyone can put virtually anything in a capsule and sell it.

THAT’S why CBD COAs are so important.

CBD certificates of analysis serve as the bastion of accountability in what’s largely considered an unaccountable space. But in order to serve their purpose, YOU (the consumer) must be able to understand them.

By correctly reading a comprehensive CBD lab report, you’ll be able to see:

  • THC content
  • CBD content
  • Other cannabinoid content (if applicable)
  • Terpene content (if applicable)
  • If the product is made with CBD isolate, broad spectrum CBD, or full spectrum CBD
  • If the product is SAFE aka free of contaminants
  • If the product has the potency you’re looking for

COAs are a surefire check to make sure you’re getting what you want and expect from your CBD oil. You can verify the CBD content is what’s advertised on the bottle, that your product is safe, and more.

CBD Certificates of Analysis: What to look for

At CBD Oil Review, we are notorious for holding CBD vendors to high testing standards with our methodology for the Safety Badge. Here’s what we look for:

  • Current test results (within 6 months is generally acceptable)
  • Third-party testing (performed by an independent lab, not internally by the vendor)
  • Cannabinoid profiles for each SKU
  • Contaminants tests for
    • Residual solvents
    • Microbials
    • Pesticides
    • Heavy Metals

Want to be able to decipher CBD Certificates of Analysis like we do? Let’s dive in and take one apart, piece by piece.

CBD Certificate of Analysis (COA) Basics

Top Section

The Top Section of a CBD lab report aka Certificate of Analysis has basic info. You can in fact derive a few important details. Zero in on the following:

  • Company name- This sounds like a no-brainer, right? Wrong. Oftentimes, CBD vendors source their cannabidiol from other producers and will therefore post test results ordered by their supplier. If the company name on the COA is not that of the vendor you’re buying from, it may be worth checking to see if the source company has the level of quality you want i.e. organic sourcing, USA-grown hemp, etc.
  • Lab name- It’s critical that the test results you’re viewing are conducted by a third party laboratory, NOT an internal team. Internal testing is great; the best CBD vendors out there do it. But they also always provide independent lab reports. If you see an internal test for a CBD product you’d like to buy, you can request the company send you the independent lab report instead.
  • CBD product name/description+photo+type- Pay attention to what you’re seeing here. Is this test for a batch of cannabidiol or a specific product like CBD gummies? You can make sure your product is safe with contaminants tests for CBD oil batches, but to verify the CBD and/or THC content in the product you want, you’ll need to see a cannabinoid profile specifically for that product.
  • Date prepared/performed– The larger CBD producers tend to provide test results more frequently, since they’re making more product, whereas smaller vendors may last months on one batch. Here’s a go-to timeline:
    • COA from 3 months or less: EXCEPTIONAL
    • COA from 6 months or less: ACCEPTABLE
    • COA from 6 months to 1 year: POOR
    • COA from 1 year or more: UNACCEPTABLE

Important Acronyms

NT- Not Tested

ND- Not Detected

LOD- Limit of Detection (the point at which an analyte is detectable)

LOQ- Limit of Quantification/Quantitation (the point at which quantitation is accurate — in layman’s terms, the lowest amount that matters)

PPM- Parts Per Million

PPB- Parts Per Billion

ND versus NT

Anytime you see ND, that means the test has been run, and said compound was NOT DETECTED; NT means no test was done at all. We’re mentioning this because we often run into CBD COAs with full lists of contaminants tests and itsy-bitsy NTs. At first glance, this can appear that the vendor has performed more lab tests than they actually have, so keep that in mind.

LOD versus LOQ

Don’t get hung up on the definition of these terms. On contaminants tests for CBD oil, you simply want to be sure there is a “<” in front (<LOD or <LOQ) for each contaminant in question, meaning that it was detected in unharmful, trace amounts. On the flip side, if you’re wanting a full spectrum product with multiple cannabinoids, you’ll want to be sure the cannabinoids in question have numerical amounts, not <LOD or <LOQ.

Where can I find a CBD company’s COAs?

Vendors will sometimes include CBD Certificates of Analysis on product description pages or an individual page dedicated to third-party testing. Other times, it can take some fishing around on the website. After you’ve purchased a CBD oil product online, many vendors will include a QR code on the packaging; so upon delivery, you can see test results for what you ordered.

When in doubt, contact the CBD manufacturer and ask for one!

What are the lab tests I should look for in a COA?

You’ll want to locate the following current, independent lab results on one or more COA:

  1. A cannabinoid profile for the product in question
  2. A contaminants test panel for the product or batch of CBD oil used to make product.

CBD Potency: The Cannabinoid Profile

Moving onto the tests themselves, the first one we’ll look at is the cannabinoid profile.

A cannabinoid profile is just what it sounds like. It details what cannabinoids are present and how much; it’s sometimes presented with a visual like a bar graph or pie chart.

Cannabinoid profiles are conducted for batches of CBD oil, but the most reputable vendors post them for each SKU.

On the profile, cannabinoids are listed along with their concentrations. These numbers are presented as a percentage of the total weight, in mg/mL or mg/g, and/or mg/unit.

So, what do you do with these numbers?

For one, if you are being drug tested or have other reasons, you’ll want to be sure that your product does not contain THC.

The thing is, there are actually four THC cannabinoids: delta-9 THC or THC (psychoactive), delta-8 THC (psychoactive), THCa (non-psychoactive), and THCv (can be psychoactive).

If you need to pass a drug test, you’ll want 0% or ND for all four THC cannabinoids. If the concern is psychoactivity, your only concerns are with delta-9 THC, delta-8 THC, and THCv. Remember, the federal legal requirement for delta-9 THC is at or below 0.3% in the USA and the EU.

Next, viewing the CBD percentage on the cannabinoid profile and comparing it to what’s listed on the package is a great way to verify you’re getting what you pay for and that the CBD vendor you’re buying from is honest. Rarely, the COA results show CBD content actually greater than what’s advertised, but we’ve only seen this a couple of times in our research.

Other Promising Cannabinoids on the COA (Besides CBD)

If you’re looking for the CBD entourage effect, you’ll want to see more than just CBD on your cannabinoid profile. Aka, you don’t want a product made from CBD isolate. For example, if a  COA shows that cannabinoids CBG and THC are also present, you know CBD isolate is not being used.

The principle behind the entourage effect is that CBD and other cannabinoids are more effective when working synergistically with one another and with terpenes present in the hemp plant.

Some other powerhouse cannabinoids include:

CBG– Cannabigerol is coming in hot behind CBD in popularity with increasing data showing its amazing natural benefits and therapeutic applications. Like cannabidiol, CBG has powerful anti-inflammatory properties and is linked to positive effects on anxiety, chronic pain, and irritable bowel syndrome.

CBNCBN has not been studied as much as CBG, but it’s known for its sedative effects, making it a great contender for those with anxiety or insomnia.

CBDa– The benefits of CBDa are strikingly similar to those in CBD; it’s the ‘parent’ molecular compound. All CBD begins as CBDa but is converted upon heating, a process known as decarboxylation. Usually, you won’t see significant concentrations of CBDa in products like CBD tinctures or CBD edibles, but you’ll find them in raw products like CBD hemp flowers.

CBC– In addition to antidepressant and anti-inflammatory properties (think pain relief), cannabinoid CBC has been shown to promote neurogenesis and even combat acne.

How to tell if your CBD oil is full spectrum vs broad spectrum vs CBD isolate from a COA

Depending on which CBD product you want, the Certificate of Analysis will show you whether or not you’re getting what you expect when it comes to cannabinoids and which type of CBD oil you’re looking for. Here’s a quick guide when reading COA lab results to know if a product is made with full spectrum CBD, broad spectrum CBD, or CBD isolate:

Full spectrum CBD Certificate of Analysis– Full spectrum CBD made from whole-plant hemp extract should have a COA with a cannabinoid profile showing detectable values for more cannabinoids than just CBD. Additionally, full spectrum CBD from whole-plant extract should show detectable values on a terpene profile.

Broad spectrum CBD Certificate of Analysis– Broad spectrum is more of a loose term and can mean anything from a product containing CBD and one other cannabinoid to CBD isolate infused with terpenes. The main indicator of broad spectrum CBD is the complete absence of THC cannabinoids along with one or more cannabinoids and/or terpenes in addition to CBD.

CBD Isolate Certificate of Analysis– Finally, a cannabinoid profile COA for CBD isolate should ONLY have numerical values for CBD, CBDa, or CBDv. No other cannabinoids are present.

Terpene Profile on a CBD Certificate of Analysis

Terpene profiles are only included on COAs for full spectrum and/or broad spectrum CBD products. Like cannabinoids, the number values for terpenes on a Certificate of Analysis are based on weight and will be given as a percentage and/or mg/g measurement.

From a safety perspective, there’s no need for a terpene profile (CBD Oil Review doesn't require one for the Safety Badge). However, they’re a great way to double check that you’re getting a truly full spectrum CBD product.

Also, the entourage effect isn’t just about cannabinoids; terpenes are part of the synergistic dance that makes CBD oil so beneficial. They help enhance the positive effects of cannabinoids and have powerful health benefits in their own right. Some of the more common terpenes found in full spectrum CBD hemp oil include:

Beta-caryophyllene- Beta-caryophyllene has been shown as an effective therapeutic for ulcers, immunity, and more. In fact, this terpene acts on the endocannabinoid system very similarly to a cannabinoid, prompting certain scientific researchers to advocate for its classification as a dietary cannabinoid.

Myrcene- Research on the hemp terpene myrcene has shown this phytochemical to have powerful anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.

Linalool- Linalool is a good terpene to look out for if you want CBD oil for anxiety, as it’s known for its calming effects. Like CBD, linalool has been studied to help manage symptoms of anxiety-related issues.

CBD Oil Safety: COA Contaminants Tests

You’ve seen the cannabinoid and perhaps the terpene content of a CBD product you’re interested in. Now, it’s time to check for safety.

Considering most people turn to CBD for wellness to AVOID chemicals and toxins, it’s especially important to make sure something you’re ingesting, inhaling, or putting on your skin to enhance your health isn’t undermining it at the same time.

Up-to-date contaminants panels should be provided for each batch of CBD oil/CBD isolate used to make product. Unlike the cannabinoid profile, responsible CBD vendors don’t need to run these and provide the responding COA for every product SKU. But if they do, that’s above and beyond industry-best testing practices. As long as CBD vendors provide current, negative contaminants panels on their bulk cannabidiol, you are most likely buying a safe product.

The contaminants tests we look for on the CBD Certificate of Analysis to determine safety are as follows:

Residual Solvents

Many CBD producers use what’s called solvent extraction to procure their cannabidiol. Food-grade ethanol is acceptable, but some vendors use harmful chemical solvents like butane or propane. That’s why it’s critical to check for residual solvents, particularly if your CBD oil is imported. And CO2 extraction doesn’t mean you don’t need one of these tests —solvents can still be left over after the process.

Microbes

This test is often listed as ‘microbiological’ or ‘microbiology’ and involves checking for harmful bacteria and pathogens in the CBD oil or CBD product.

Pesticides

The best CBD vendors out there utilize pesticide-free growing practices. Chemical pesticides have been linked to a barrage of health problems, and they’re the last thing we want lurking in our bottle of CBD oil. Again, if your CBD oil is imported, it’s especially important to see these results.

Heavy Metals

Arsenic, Cadmium, Mercury, and Lead are unfortunately common in the U.S. food supply and regular consumption of heavy metals can cause health issues like poor digestion, anxiety, reproductive problems, and more. Not all CBD vendors out there test for heavy metals, but the best ones do.

What to Look For on a CBD Contaminants Panel Certificate of Analysis

Honestly, we could bore you here with how many parts per million (PPM) are permitted for each pesticide or a list of the common residual solvents, but all you really need to see are one of the following next to each contaminant: PASS, ND, <LOQ, or <LOD.

Sometimes, the third-party testing lab will make it easier for you and include a contaminants summary at the top of the COA.

To Use: Certificate of Analysis COA Checklist for Legit CBD Brands

We hope this in-depth guide will empower you to understand CBD Certificates of Analysis in a complete and practical way. You’ll be able to view your CBD products through a more analytical lens and scrutinize them carefully the way we do:)

CBD Certificate of Analysis Checklist

🔺Performed by an independent laboratory

🔺Up to date (within 6 months)

🔺THC at or below 0.3% or ND, depending on your needs

🔺CBD quantity matches what’s advertised on the product

🔺If full spectrum, other cannabinoids and/or terpenes present

🔺Free of contaminants

+ 13 sources

Sources:

  1. Commissioner, Office of the. “FDA Regulation of Cannabis and Cannabis-Derived Products” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA http://www.fda.gov/news-events/public-health-focus/fda-regulation-cannabis-and-cannabis-derived-products-including-cannabidiol-cbd
  2. Drug Scheduling.” DEA, US Drug Enforcement Agency http://www.dea.gov/drug-information/drug-scheduling
  3. Mealy, Rick. How to Read and Interpret a Lab Report. Wisconsin DNR. 20 Oct 2009 https://dnr.wi.gov/regulations/labcert/documents/training/RPT-Interpret.pdf
  4. HempToday®. “European Parliament Signs off on Raising EU THC Limit to 0.3%.” HempToday®, 30 Oct. 2020 https://hemptoday.net/european-parliament-signs-off-on-raising-eu-thc-limit-to-0-3/
  5. Rahul Nachnani, Wesley M Raup-Konsavage and Kent E. Vrana. “Potential Clinical Uses of CBG.” Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics November 9, 2020, JPET-MR-2020-000340; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1124/jpet.120.000340
  6. Tambaro, Simone, and Marco Bortolato. “Cannabinoid-related agents in the treatment of anxiety disorders: current knowledge and future perspectives.” Recent patents on CNS drug discovery vol. 7,1 (2012): 25-40. doi:10.2174/157488912798842269
  7. Russo, Ethan B. “Cannabinoids in the management of difficult to treat pain.” Therapeutics and clinical risk management vol. 4,1 (2008): 245-59. doi:10.2147/tcrm.s1928
  8. Tambe, Y et al. “Gastric cytoprotection of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory sesquiterpene, beta-caryophyllene.” Planta medica vol. 62,5 (1996): 469-70. doi:10.1055/s-2006-957942
  9. Askari, Vahid Reza, and Reza Shafiee-Nick. “The Protective Effects of Β-Caryophyllene ON LPS-INDUCED Primary MICROGLIA M1/m2 Imbalance: A MECHANISTIC EVALUATION.” Life Sciences, Pergamon, 5 Jan. 2019 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0024320518308610
  10. Jürg Gertsch et al. “Beta-caryophyllene is a dietary cannabinoid.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Jul 2008, 105 (26) 9099-9104; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0803601105
  11. Rufino, Ana Teresa et al. “Evaluation of the anti-inflammatory, anti-catabolic and pro-anabolic effects of E-caryophyllene, myrcene and limonene in a cell model of osteoarthritis.” European journal of pharmacology vol. 750 (2015): 141-50. doi:10.1016/j.ejphar.2015.01.018
  12. Karolina Połeć, et al, The impact of β-myrcene – the main component of the hop essential oil – on the lipid films, Journal of Molecular Liquids, Volume 308, 2020, 113028, ISSN 0167-7322 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.molliq.2020.113028
  13. Linck, V M et al. “Effects of inhaled Linalool in anxiety, social interaction and aggressive behavior in mice.” Phytomedicine : international journal of phytotherapy and phytopharmacology vol. 17,8-9 (2010): 679-83. doi:10.1016/j.phymed.2009.10.002

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