How to Understand a COA (Certificate of Analysis)

When you are shopping for cannabis products, you need to verify that it's clean, potent and as-described.

How to Understand a COA (Certificate of Analysis)

Though THC-containing cannabis strains and products are becoming legal in some states, only products with less than 0.3% THC are permissible at the federal level. The 2018 Farm Bill legalized non-THC strains of Cannabis Sativa L. (hemp), allowing for the production and sale of hemp-derived CBD (Cannabidiol) products across America. Since CBD products are part of an emerging market, numerous companies peddling CBD have sprung up seemingly overnight. Unfortunately, regulations have not kept up with that speed.

Unlike Cannabis, Hemp does not have the same stringent lab-testing regulations. In order for any Cannabis product to be stocked and sold at a legal dispensary, it must be lab-tested by a third-party independent laboratory. Hemp products are being used in a similar fashion as Cannabis products, but why isn't lab-tested CBD a standard? Fortunately, despite the lack in regulation, many CBD companies have taken these necessary procedures upon themselves.

COAs are important regardless of what intake methods you've picked for your CBD. Whether you are smoking, vaping, eating, drinking, or applying it topically, it is important to know that your product is free from pesticides and other heavy metals because it is coming in contact with your body and entering your bloodstream.

But how exactly do you know your CBD is coming from a trustworthy source? You need to see the Certificate of Analysis (COA) for each product you consider. Any reputable company will test their products at a third-party laboratory and make the results readily available for their customers. If you’re concerned about the potency of a product, whether it contains terpenes, or if it will cause you to fail a drug test, it’s essential to review and understand the COA.

What’s in a COA?

What’s in a COA?

Just because a company provides a complete and accurate Certificate of Analysis doesn’t mean you’ll be able to decipher it with a glance. It may include terms that are unfamiliar, but after reading this we promise it'll be less daunting. After a simple explanation of these terms, you can confidently interpret COAs and make an informed decision when shopping for CBD cannabis and hemp.

Important Terms:

important terms to know for cannabis COA

LoQ = Limit of Quantification. This is the smallest amount the test will quantify, or list.

LoD = Level of Detection. This is the smallest amount the test can detect

ND = None Detected

NT = Not Tested

CFU - Colony-Forming Units (for microbes)

The COA Header

First, check that the company producing the item didn’t analyze it themselves. You want to be sure than an independent lab conducted the test.

Next, verify that the COA names the company selling the product, unless they are testing ingredients that are repackaged and sold under their own brand. Also, be sure that the test date is recent. Months-old test result could indicate inadequate testing protocols, or a recent result the company doesn’t want you to see. There should also be a lot number from the sample taken.

The COA Footer

At the bottom of the COA, you should see the certifications for the lab, indicating that they follow careful protocols and standards of practice that validate the results. You should also take note of the signatures of the laboratory technicians certifying the accuracy of the test. Once you’ve confirmed that the header and footer is legitimate, it’s time to dive into the juicy details in the middle.

Results Columns

Make sure to read the cannabis COA results

The contents of a product may appear in several different ways: milligrams (mg) in the full product, milligrams per milliliter (ml), or mg per gram (g). The measurement used should be listed in the column where the content results are displayed.


Most tests generally list several other chemicals besides CBD and THC. These are usually abbreviated, though THC could appear as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, Δ-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or Δ-9-THC. The product’s COA might also display Δ-9-THCa and Δ-8-THC contents. The critical thing to know is that a product’s total THC content is below 0.3% by dry weight, to comply with the 2018 Farm Bill’s definition of industrial (non-psychoactive) hemp.

Aside from CBD, some products may contain other cannabinoid compounds such as CBG, CBDa, CBDA, CBN, and aromatic compounds called terpenes. These all have various benefits, and terpenes can add to the flavor profile of full-spectrum extracts. The entourage effect refers to how multiple compounds can synergistically work together to produce an enhanced result.

Therefore, don’t be alarmed if several other chemicals with names sounding similar to cannabidiol also appear in the results. Of course, if you’re buying a product specifically for the CBD content, it pays to make sure that it contains the amount claimed on the label.

If the test measures CBD levels in mg per ml (typical of extracts and vape juice), then all you need to do is multiply the mg/ml result by the total contents of the product. For example, if a product claims to contain 1000mg of CBD per 30ml bottle, the mg/ml needs to be 33.3 or higher.

For tinctures, one ml weighs roughly one gram, so the calculations will remain the same even if the results are rendered in mg/g. Milligrams per gram is more common with pure herb, powders, and capsules.

If the sample is an entire dose or unit of product, it should be even easier to calculate how many mg of CBD you are getting for your money.

Other Results

Things that should not be in your cannabis products

A thorough COA will also tell you whether the sample is contaminated by microbes, pesticide residues, or heavy metal contaminants like mercury, lead, arsenic, and cadmium. Hemp plants do pull metals and certain toxins from the soil, so good cultivation practices are necessary.

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