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Read any guide to buying CBD hemp, and you’re likely to find one recurring entry – look for a certificate of analysis. Often overlooked by many buyers, the certificate of analysis, or simply CoA, is an important document that contains a wealth of information on the specific product you’re buying. For the most part, people check the CoA to make sure the hemp or CBD falls within the designated limits for THC. But there’s so much more to the CoA than just that.

Providing a detailed understanding of your herb’s chemical composition, the certificate of analysis should shed light on the kind of effects, benefits, and experience you’ll get from using the product in question. What’s unfortunate is that not a lot of people really understand how to read it. On the upside, we’re telling you exactly how to do just that.

Why Is the CoA So Important?

Any expert giving advice on how to choose the best hemp or CBD product will tell you that seeking out a certificate of analysis should be one of the first few steps of the consumer process. The fact that a company or brand is careful to make their CoAs available to you is a demonstration of their dedication to providing quality products. It showcases a hemp brand’s integrity and communicates that they’re not trying to fool anyone with the promises that come hand in hand with their products.

Many times, companies have recalled products based on their CoA. One prominent hemp brand recalled an entire batch of a particular strain because their CoA indicated that the amount of a certain pesticide was too high for their standards. No doubt, the concentration was actually within the designated normal and safe limit but was nonetheless over the personal standard set by the brand. Now that’s integrity.

Certificates of analysis contain so much more than just cannabinoid profile information. These documents – through the eyes of a careful consumer – will provide insight on the kind of growing conditions that hemp samples were subject to during cultivation, and will thus create a more accurate picture of the quality of the CBD product you’re buying.

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How to Make Sense of a Certificate of Analysis

Whenever confronted with a CoA, most buyers will zoom straight into the THC level to make sure it’s at or below 0.03%. What’s important to understand is that unless a hemp product meets that very basic requirement, it should never even reach a store’s shelf – virtual or otherwise. The simple fact that an industrial hemp strain or CBD product is available for you to buy already tells you that it meets THC parameters.

So instead of zeroing in on the THC, consider some of the other, equally important factors that make up the CoA. In general, there are substances that should and shouldn’t reflect on the report.

What Shouldn’t Be On a Certificate of Analysis

The Certificate of Analysis doesn’t only tell you what chemicals were found in the product, it also tells you which chemicals were undetectable or available in very small, trace concentrations. This can be important because there are certain components that you wouldn’t want in your CBD.
A few examples of chemicals to watch out for include:

  • Heavy metals like arsenic, mercury, cadmium, and lead
  • Pesticides in varieties like organonitrogen, organophosphorus, organochlorine, among others
  • Microbials like yeast, E.Coli, salmonella

A CoA report will indicate these substances in quantities designated as parts per million or ppm. Each of these different components has specific ‘detection limits’ that indicate how much of every individual substance can be safe for a product to contain. For heavy metals, the detection limit should be at 0.01ppm. Anything more than that would indicate that the product isn’t safe for human consumption.

For pesticides, your certificate of analysis should indicate that none of the listed chemicals were detected. Most CoAs will have the entire list of pesticides listed as ‘not detectable’ or ‘none detected.’ Whatever the wording, this should let you know that the coast is clear.
Finally, there are microbials. Measured in colony formulating units per gram or cfu/g, there should be none in your certificate. All microbials should return with a negative result for a specific strain or CBD product to be considered safe for human use and consumption.

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What Should Be On a Certificate of Analysis

Now that all of that is out of the way, there are the substances and chemicals that you should look for in your CoA. The first, of course, are the cannabinoids. A rich cannabinoid profile ensures that the product will provide all of the wonderful benefits of the experience that it promises. While there are no limits to the number of cannabinoids that a specific product can contain, there is one that has to be maintained within controlled restrictions – and that’s THC. According to law, delta-9 THC content should be 0.3% or below, but that’s something you probably already knew.

Apart from cannabinoids, there are certain brands that will provide information even on the terpenes found in the product. While terpenes aren’t as popular as cannabinoids, they do work hand in hand with CBD and others to produce more potent effects for those seeking a truly immersive experience. Terpenes also tell you more about the kind of flavor you can expect based on the specific types listed in the CoA.

A Certified Analyst of Certificates of Analysis

Okay, there’s no such thing as a certified CoA analyst, but with the right knowledge, anyone can be a savvy CoA investigator. There’s a whole lot more to those scanned documents than you might think, and dissecting each section will shed a world’s worth of light on the quality of the product you’re buying. So if you want nothing short of top-shelf, take some time to read through that CoA and find out how your hemp or CBD will perform way before you shell out that cash.