Since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, there has been a surge in new hemp CBD products on the market. Without federal oversight, it can seem daunting to determine which products have been tested for safety and quality. This is especially important for people who are using CBD for its therapeutic benefits. One of the most important ways to tell the difference is by looking at a product’s Certificate of Analysis, or “COA”, from an accredited laboratory. It’s especially important for those who are sick or have a compromised immune system to ensure that any product consumed contains no harmful substances. Always check a hemp CBD product for a COA before making a purchase.
What is a COA?
A COA is an official document that reports the results of tests performed on a particular batch of a hemp CBD product to determine levels of CBD, THC, and other undesirable compounds such as heavy metals and pesticides. These tests should be performed by an independent, third-party laboratory that has no stake in the product manufacturer, ensuring that the results are unbiased and objective. Each laboratory may have slight variations in the tests that they perform, but generally most laboratories will test for:
- Cannabinoid potency (CBD, THC, and others)
- Heavy metals
- Microbiological activity and toxins
- Residual solvents
- Terpenes (sometimes)
How to Find a COA
If you have a hemp CBD product in your hands, look for a QR code on the packaging. A QR code can be scanned by a smart phone and take you directly to the COA. If the product does not have a QR code, look for a batch number on the product label and find the COA for that batch number on the retailer or brand website. When buying online, first make sure that the listed COAs have a recent date. After receiving the product find the COA that the matches the batch number on the label. We recommend not consuming any hemp CBD product until you’ve found and verified the COA for your product’s batch number.
How to Read a COA
Every COA should show the levels of cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) present in the product. The COA should verify that the product contains no more than 0.3% total THC, which ensures that the product is hemp and not marijuana, and has a CBD level that matches the amount advertised on the product. The COA may also show whether the product contains any minor cannabinoids, such as CBG or CBN, which can help verify that the product is “full-spectrum”. For consumers who are specifically trying to avoid THC, make sure to look at the results for d9-THC, as this is the form of THC that has an intoxicating effect. THC-A may also be present, but it is non-intoxicating often present in hemp topicals and raw hemp flowers. However, keep in mind that smoking hemp flower will cause all of the THC-A to be converted into d9-THC, which may cause intoxication and a failed drug test.
It’s critical that every product batch is tested for pesticides. While pesticides can help maintain a healthy crop, inhaling or ingesting hemp products that have been treated by pesticides can be harmful. Many organic pesticides are safe if used appropriately, while others are toxic at any level. We recommend looking for products that are pesticide-free, which can be verified by making sure that the result for each pesticide is “ND”, meaning “not detected”. If any pesticides are present in the COA, and you still wish to consume the product, make sure to first thoroughly investigate the pesticide, as many pesticides that are present at levels deemed safe by government agencies may still be harmful for some.
Heavy Metals Testing
Hemp plants have a tendency to remove heavy metals from the soil and store them in the plant material, including the flowers. While this is beneficial for the soil, the presence of heavy metals in a product can be harmful for the consumer if ingested and especially if inhaled. Machinery used during manufacturing may also lead to contamination. Some of the metals that labs often test for are cadmium, arsenic, lead, and mercury. All COAs should include heavy metal testing, and all results should ideally be ND (“not detected”) or at least within safe levels.
Residual Solvent Testing
Most companies use solvents during the manufacturing of hemp CBD oils, including substances such as ethanol, CO2, or hydrocarbons like butane or hexane. CO2 is one of the safest solvents for extracting hemp and will leave no solvents in the finished product. Ethanol extraction is also safe in general, as any residuals are not harmful when ingested and will in fact eventually evaporate naturally. The only time residual ethanol is unsafe is in vapor products, as inhaling any alcohol can be harmful. When it comes to products extracted using hydrocarbons, the only safe level of residual solvents is zero. Make sure any product made using hydrocarbon extraction includes residual solvent testing for the particular hydrocarbon used and that the results show ND (“not detected”).
Terpenes are the aromatic compounds found in the hemp plants, mostly in the flowers, which give hemp its unique smell. These compounds are not unique to cannabis and are in fact found in many different foods, herbs, and spices, such as ginger, basil, lavender, and cinnamon. Terpenes have also been found to have certain anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. Hemp may contain up to 120 different terpenes, and the presence of terpenes indicates that the product is “full-spectrum”.
Don’t Make the Purchase Without a COA
It can be tempting to snatch up the first product on the market that seems like a good fit, but making sure you are purchasing a safe product is more important than convenience. Using this guide to verify a COA will ensure that you’re purchasing the best and highest quality products available and from reputable companies that have your best interests in mind.
Where are the COAs on Cascadia Hemp Co.’s products?
We have per-batch COAs for every hemp CBD product that we sell. You can either find the COAs directly on product page or contact us to request the one for your product and batch.
We’re moving away from publicly posting COAs on our website, as they can be stolen and used to make forgeries. This is a very unfortunate reality. Eventually we will integrate a way for customers to retrieve COAs directly from the website using the product batch numbers.
Why don’t all COAs include all forms of testing?
Foremost, not all product categories require all forms of testing. For example, topical products such as creams and balms carry a much lower safety risk, since the product is only applied to the skin. However, any hemp CBD product meant for ingestion and especially inhalation should have as much testing as possible. At Cascadia Hemp Co., we are only able to publish the COAs that are provided by the product manufacturers. Sometimes these don’t include all the testing that we would like to see, and we are constantly pushing our brands to provide more comprehensive testing. As the hemp industry matures, we are at the forefront of product safety and consistently demand transparency from our brands. It’s what our customers deserve.
How to verify a COA?
How do you know that a COA is legitimate and hasn’t been faked? The only way to know for sure is to call the laboratory that conducted the testing to verify that the COA is real and in fact applies to the correct product. Though tedious, this is an important step that should at least be done whenever purchasing hemp CBD products from a new brand or website. After verifying a few COAs, you can be more assured that any future COAs posted by that brand or website are bonafide. We at Cascadia Hemp Co. verify every COA that we publish on our website, however as a diligent consumer you should still verify them yourself as well.
Buy only verified CBD products!
All CBD products that we carry have been verified by independent third-party labs and have available COAs. Shop our selection of consciously curated CBD products today!