How To Read a CBD Certificate of Analysis

Author Zoe Hudson by Zoe Hudson

Every day new CBD products are popping up — anything from CBD dog treats to CBD-infused pillows for a better night’s rest can now be delivered right to your doorstep. With such a big (and unregulated) market, it might seem impossible to choose the right product.

But don’t worry, SHE’s here to help you through this process and give you pointers on what to look for when choosing the right hemp product. Although hemp is a safe substance, there are surprisingly many products out there that don’t contain what they claim — and in the worst cases causing unassuming consumers to lose their jobs because of a surprise drug test.

How can you know exactly what you’re getting in a CBD product? You have to read the Certificate of Analysis (COA) — here we explore what they are, why they’re so important, and what to look for before you buy.

What Is a COA?

A COA, is a document that shows what a hemp product really contains. A COA is issued by an accredited laboratory and lists all cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, pesticides, heavy metals and more that may be found in the product. You can usually find a COA directly on the website of legitimate CBD companies. If you can´t find one yourself, try reaching out to the company and ask for information about their products.

Why Are COAs Important?

More often than you’d think, the product you’re buying doesn’t actually contain what the label claims. Studies have shown that up to 70% of CBD products are mislabeled. While in some cases consuming a higher amount of CBD than expected may be a pleasant surprise, it can be very disappointing to waste your money on something that contains little to no CBD at all, and even more so if the product contains higher levels of THC than the label claims.

How To Read a CBD COA

Trying to read a COA can easily become overwhelming. But don’t fret, we´ll help guide you through it. Here we explain what to look out for when analyzing a COA: 

1.      Who performed the lab tests? Make sure that the quality tests were conducted by an independant and accredited laboratory and not the company itself.

2.      Cannabinoids: You can check that the product contains the right amount of CBD and no THC, and also check for other minor cannabinoids like CBG and CBN. A product containing these will allow you to experience the full benefit of hemp’s entourage effect.

cannabinoids certificate of analysis

3.      Terpenes: If the certificate indicates that the product contains terpenes, you can see this as a bonus. Terpenes can even increase the efficiency of CBD products, as well as enhancing their taste and aroma.

terpenes certificate of analysis

4.      Pesticides: Since hemp is farmed like other commercial crops, pesticides may be involved in the cultivation process. However, COAs will show whether or not the amount is within the legal limits. To stay on the safe side, we recommend looking for CBD brands that keep their products completely free of pesticides, like we do with our SHEbd products. 

pesticides certificate of analysis

5.      Residual solvents and heavy metals: The amount of heavy metals in a product may rise after coming into contact with manufacturing equipment, so the amount listed is usually what is contained in the crop. While most heavy metals are harmless, make sure that dangerous heavy metals such as lead and methyl aren’t listed.

6.      Microbial tests: These tests show the microbiological contamination in the plant, such as yeast, mold and salmonella. If you have a weak immune system or pre-existing conditions, we recommend double-checking on the COA that the existing microbial levels conform with safety guidelines.

Some Red Flags That Indicate You Shouldn’t Buy a Product

  •  Higher THC content or lower CBD content than the label claims.
  • A very short list of cannabinoids.
  • The test is outdated.

Final Thoughts

You should always check the COA before buying CBD products. If you can’t find one on the website, try contacting the company directly to ask for one. If they can’t show you a Certificate of Analysis, you probably may want to avoid buying their products. CBD companies that have their customers´ best interests at heart would have no problem with providing a COA. 

CBD has great potential for our health, but, unfortunately, isn’t regulated by the FDA as other nutritional supplements are. This means you´re going to have to do a bit of work yourself and research products before buying them to ensure your health and safety.  Here you can read about how we make our products, and see a Certificate of Analysis for each of our SHEbd products and be rest-assured about the authenticity of our products.

Zoe Hudson is a digital nomad freelance writer specializing in CBD. Her work has appeared in publications such as CBD Health & Wellness and Terpenes & Testing.