How To Read A Certificate of Anlaysis

Apr 21, 2021


What Is A Certificate of Analysis?

You may have heard the term COA, but what does that mean? A COA stands for certificate of analysis. These are great assets to customers and all CBD companies should carry them. Why? Certificates of analysis assure testing standards and quality were met.

CBD is made in batches. These batch records or COA’s, record the safety of your product from any unwanted contaminants, pesticides, heavy metals, residuals, and toxins. In addition to documenting chemical treacants, testing is also important to ensure THC levels are within legal limits. Because hemp contains small levels of THC, it is important to make sure that CBD products contain no more than 0.3% THC as is the federally safe and legal amount.

What Is Tested In A Certificate of Analysis?

Three things are tested when it comes to CBD oil. These tests vary by method.

  • Potency (CBD amount is as it says it should be)
  • Purity (Is it void of any impurities)
  • Identity (It is the oil it says it should be)

Purity is the main one we will break down. Purity is broken down into several categories. 

What is reported for purity?

  • Metals: iron, silver, copper, aluminum, alloys (4 species)
  • Toxins: harmful substances produced within organisms or living cells (6 species)
  • Residual solvents: organic volatile chemicals produced during manufacturing (7-15 species)
  • Microbiology: bacteria, viruses, fungi, algae, mold (4-10 species)
  • Pesticides: pesticides are meant to prevent pest infestation (20-120 species)
  • Organoleptic properties: aspects of food such as smell or color (1-5 species)
  • Unknowns: unknown analyst that could be potentially harmful

While there are so many species of each specific analyte, only so many will be tested depending on state requirements. For example, even though there are 120 pesticides and they could be tested for, holus for example tests for 60 known pesticides.

Terms You Will See In A COA

We already know your an expert when it comes to analytes and microbiology… but just to refresh, lets look at some common verbiage you’ll see in our COA’s and others like ours. 

Analyte will be all over your COA. An analyte is simply the type of compound that’s being tested. An analyte can be a pesticide, a phytocannabinoid, a mytoxin, heavy metal, or solvent. It is simply the thing being tested.

  • Analyte: A substance whose chemical constituents are being identified and measured
  • N/D – Not detected
  • PPM – Parts per million
  • PPB – Parts per billion (a measurement, or number of units of mass of a contaminant per 1000 million units of total mass)

Among other terms, you will also see a a few variations…

  • LOQ – Limit of quantitation (under set of parameters)
  • LOD – Limit of detection (under set of parameters)
  • LOB – Limit of Bank (under set of parameters)

*LOQ is also interchangeable with N/D. 

These terms are used to describe the smallest concentration of an analyte that can be reliably measures by an analytical method (Little, Thomas, PhD). Testing parameters will differ between labs. All this means is that what one laboratory finds to be beneath the detectable level, another may not.  

How To Approach A Lab Report

Approaching a lab report can be overwhelming. Some can get as long as ten pages! Consumers try to read these for a variety of reasons, for expiration dates or CBD content for example. Whatever the reason for looking at a product’s lab report, there are a few things to consider…

  • Don’t assume the manufacturer is out to get you. Consumers often come with the idea that a CBD company is out to get them, steal their money, etc. While some do, most are trying their best to provide their customers with the most information they can regarding their products. COA’s establish trust and legitimacy between manufacturer and consumer.
  • A PASS does not mean a product is pure! Consumers look for the green, the PASS, but that doesn’t make it pure. Meeting state testing standards or even the technology used can make it a pass, but that doesn’t make it good for your body. The fact is, testing standards vary.

Buyer Beware Red Flags

While most CBD brands are not out to rip you off, blind trust is never the way to go. Find answers to your questions in a sites FAQ page or go to them directly with questions you may have like what they stand for, where they are located, the hemp they use, etc. Use your gut and best senses. If something seems off, take it with a grain of salt, but look into it, because there are some red flags to mention. 

There are a few things that can help you identify a red flag before making a costly purchase.

  • Multiple third party testing companies are present: Most of the time, a brand will only have one third party laboratory testing their products. For example, at hōlus, we use one third-party assessor to make sure all purity requirements are met. Sometimes brands will lab jump for a pass result. If a brand goes through more than one third party tester, a red flag found.
  • Labeling products as THC-free: While many trusted brands use the term “THC-free”, it is slightly misleading to the consumer. When a product is tested to be a “THC-free product,” by the end of that assessment, THC should not be detected. CBD will always have a a slight amount of THC in it. For “THC-free” products, a very very small percentage of THC is still present, but it is not detected. THC-ND is a more exact term for a CBD product without THC, although it can be confusing to consumers if you do not understand the context or what ND stands for. 

Process for testing unknowns: Does the company test for unknowns? The Vaping Crisis of 2019 that left sixty-eight dead was caused by unknown spikes in testing across multiple brands. It is very important that a company test for unknowns, flag them, and figure out what it is rather than being careless with the lives of their customers.

How Do We Test?

We test in house and third party. We know what we are doing. hōlus was in fact, built on science, a team that started off with PhD level chemical analysts and separation chemists and continued  High performance liquid chromatography or HPLC testing and third-party testing are effective ways to test materials and products for chemical residuals, molds, solvents or other contaminants and is also a way to certify a legal product by measuring delta-9 content in CBD products. Without these methods of analytical testing, it would be impossible to ensure safe and legal products from hemp and botanical extracts. 

Why We Test For Unknowns

Remember the Vape Lung Crisis of 2019? Sixty-eight deaths across twenty-nine states have been confirmed as of February 2020 since the outbreak occurred August 2019. Cause of death?  Lung damage from vitamin E acetate. After investigations by the CDC, it was found that vitamin E acetate in THC containing e-cigarettes was the cause of death. Vitamin e acetate when smoked, coats the lungs from the inside like grease, causing extensive internal injuries.

This outbreak could have been prevented if unknowns (vitamin e acetate in this case) were tested in the lab prior to sale. This case should be a testimony to all CBD brands. Sometimes unknown chemicals arise in testing results in spikes. These spikes should be flagged and identified prior to sale. It is a given, we want as little chemicals to enter our bodies as possible, which is why as a CBD company that cares what you put in your body, we test for unknowns.

In The End

At hōlus, our goal to give you the purest CBD experience ever. That starts with transparency and care. If we didn’t trust our process, we wouldn’t be here today. If it’s going into your body, we want you to know what’s in it. 

In the end, listen to the company you are buying from. Are they talking about their testing or sharing how they go about their testing? Those companies that aren’t talking about it, should. If you want to dig deeper, look into your states testing standards and what “passes”. Keep in mind a manufacturer is not out to get you, but observe when something seems off, multiple third party testing facilities or if they don’t test for unknowns. Stay safe and be aware of what you are buying.


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