In case you haven’t noticed, the cannabidiol (CBD) industry is growing at supersonic speed. What was nothing more than a fringe topic in 2016 is predicted to become a $20 billion dollar industry by 2024.
And this is great news, especially as we learn more about how CBD can benefit out health. That said, this massive growth comes with a unique set of issues, including standardization of products and quality control.
Much like supplements, the FDA does not approve CBD products before they’re sold, which means the responsibility falls on the consumer to make sure they’re buying a legit product.
So how do you know if your CBD product is safe and effective? The number one rule for buying CBD products is to ask for a COA. But what is a COA—and what can it really tell you about your CBD product? Read on for the full intel.
What’s a COA?
COA stands for certificate of analysis. If you’ve read up on CBD and where to buy it, you’ve most likely been told to buy from a company that’s third-party lab testing their products. Well, the product of third-party lab testing is a COA, which is just a document that tells you what tests were run and how your CBD product stacks up against the rest.
Since the CBD industry is exploding and not well-regulated at the moment, third-party lab testing is the best—and really, the only!—way to make sure you’re getting what you paid for.
What will a COA tell you about potency?
One of the most important things a COA will tell you is whether the amount of CBD on the label is actually in the product. This might seem obvious (or even ridiculous), but when the FDA tested random CBD products in 2015, they found that many of them contained less CBD than was listed on the label and some of them didn’t contain any CBD at all.
Yes, you read that correctly. No CBD at all.
By requesting a COA from the company or lab, you get an unbiased report from a third-party lab with no obligations to the company. That way, you can feel confident in your purchase.
Can a COA confirm a product’s purity?
On top of the CBD content, a COA will tell you what other cannabinoids are present in the extract. This includes THC. For hemp-based CBD products that are sold nationwide, the amount of THC should be less than 0.3% by dry weight. If it’s over that, it’s technically considered marijuana and might not be legal in your state.
Testing for THC is also helpful if you want to avoid the compound entirely. In this case, should be looking for products that say “<LOQ” or “undetectable” under THC on the lab test. LOQ stands for limit of quantitation and means that the THC levels are so low they aren’t being picked up by the test at all.
Will a COA tell you if a CBD product is safe?
Even more important than potency and purity is safety. As a general rule, the CBD compound has an excellent safety profile. And it’s not the CBD you should be concerned about, anyway. Instead, other unpleasant ingredients—like heavy metals, solvent residue, pesticides, and microbes—can find their way into your CBD product.
To avoid pesticides in the first place, it’s always a good idea to buy CBD products derived from organically grown hemp. That said, hemp is a bio-accumulator, which means it absorbs toxins from the soil. Because of this, it’s always better to test.
The same rule applies to other contaminants. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
How do you read a COA?
So how do you get your hands on a COA? Many companies will post their lab results right on their website. You can also reach out to them via their website or social media to request one.
COA’s will look slightly different depending on the lab and type of product tested. But as a general rule, they’ll include the following items:
- Basic info: This will include the manufacture date, storage information, and a product and packaging description. It will also include the date the product was tested and handled as well as license numbers and some info about the laboratory.
- Batch number or batch identification: This helps you identify which batch of products were actually being tested. The company should be sending every single batch of their product out for lab testing.
- Cannabinoid profile: This is a potency analysis and will tell you how much CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids are in your CBD product. Many labs will also include a pie chart with the breakdown of the different cannabinoids displayed visually.
- Pesticide/heavy metal/microbiological analysis: These three sections will list different contaminants that could be in your product and the levels detected by the lab. They should all say “none detected” and then specify what exactly that means. Typically, these numbers are displayed in units called parts per million (PPM) or in mg/kg.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a good place to start! At a minimum, you should learn how to look for the above items on a COA. And as with so many things in life, the more detail the better.