Not all hemp products are made alike. With the rising popularity of CBD, many unscrupulous companies are marketing hemp and other oils as therapeutics — but these products often have little to no benefit.
So, how can you identify legitimate products? All CBD companies are required to obtain a Certificate of Analysis (COA) for each of their products. These aren’t always made available to their customers. As a responsible consumer, it’s up to you to review a product’s COA. Here’s how to read this technical document and identify high-quality CBD products.
Beyond the packaging: Is that CBD product safe?
Opportunistic CBD companies are quick to label their products as real CBD, free of THC and potent enough to have health benefits. Unfortunately, this young industry isn’t consistently regulated, which allows fake CBD products to come into the market. Other products don’t meet the (few) federal standards for CBD products or make claims that are not FDA-approved.
Consumers who aren’t fully educated on CBD products may inadvertently purchase:
- “CBD” products that are actually hempseed oil — which does not contain cannabidiol — or worse, dangerous synthetic cannabinoids
- Highly diluted tinctures with only trace amounts of CBD
- Products that contain more than the federal limit of 0.3% THC for non-prescription hemp products
- CBD sourced from hemp that is grown with lots of pesticides or processed in facilities with pathogens or heavy metals
Some companies attempt to maximize profits by cutting corners on production or even masquerading non-CBD oils as authentic, properly sourced hemp products. In best-case scenarios, these products are simply a waste of money. Worst-case, they can cause unwanted psychoactive effects or toxic side effects.
If you’re wondering if fake or poorly crafted CBD products are really that common… they are. A JAMA study found that 70% of product labels misrepresented the actual chemical composition. Keep in mind that many CBD companies don’t have an internal laboratory. They may also source their hemp from what they believe is a sustainable source. So when reviewing a potential CBD product, know that even detailed labels may not tell the whole story.
That’s where the COA comes in.
How a Certificate of Analysis can help
A Certificate of Analysis (COA) is a verified laboratory report of a hemp product’s chemical composition. It also includes safety screenings to check for heavy metals and other contaminants. Even if a CBD company seems to be above-board, it’s always a good idea to ask for the COA.
The COA documents several key characteristics of legal, safe CBD products:
- Less than 0.3% THC. Everything from improper harvesting to the fraudulent use of cannabis plants rather than the domesticated industrial hemp. (Note: While full-spectrum CBD products do contain THC, the ratio must be below 0.3%.)
- The ratio of CBD to the carrier oil or other medium. This describes the product’s potency. A COA will also list the “Action Level” of the product, which indicates whether it’s within safe consumption levels.
- The absence of pathogens, heavy metals, chemical solvents, and mycotoxins.
Note that because CBD is harvested and processed in batches, you can and should obtain the COA for each batch. Always check that the COA’s batch matches the batch listed on your product. Some unscrupulous companies will get the labs done on legitimate products, then start cutting corners but keeping handing out the old COAs.
What happens if you consume a fake or unsafe CBD product?
You may be wondering: is it really necessary to do all this homework before buying some CBD gummies? Yes, absolutely. Due to patchwork legal guidance, unregulated processing plants, and potential cross-contamination with other botanicals including THC-rich cannabis, it’s easy for subpar products to get into the market. As we mentioned, 70% of tested products had substantially lower levels of CBD than advertised, and some were substantially higher to the point of being unsafe.
If you consume a CBD product that was manufactured unsafely or that contains THC, you could experience:
- Unwanted intoxication by and illegal possession of THC. If a product measures above 0.3% THC, it is automatically classified as Schedule 1 cannabis, not hemp.
- Bacterial infection, usually by Listeria. This can cause severe intestinal distress, flu-like symptoms, and even seizures.
- Heavy metal contamination. Regular consumption of arsenic, mercury, lead, and cadmium can lead to infertility, cognitive issues, psychosis, and even organ failure.
We’re not trying to scare you but rather keep you safe so you can enjoy the benefits of CBD worry-free. Here’s how to read a COA to be sure your desired product is safe and legal.
The anatomy of a COA
A COA is basically a lab report that can be daunting to read. Here’s how to find the most important information.
- Start at the top and find the laboratory name. Make sure that the laboratory is not associated with the CBD company; it should be a third-party independent analysis.
- Check that the batch number and testing date match what’s listed on your product.
- Scan the QR code, if available, to verify the COA and make sure it wasn’t altered.
- Head down to “Cannabinoid Profile.” Here’s where you can check that THC is below 0.3% and that CBD is high enough to have an effect (usually about 17-20%). In addition to the percentage result, the COA will also list the weight of the product (usually displayed as mg/g or mg/mL).
- You’ll also see a bunch of other cannabinoids, including CBN, CBG, and CBC. These substances have specific effects such as anti-insomnia, anti-inflammatory, and antidepressant benefits, respectively. So if you’re buying a product to help relieve insomnia but your COA says the product is very low in CBN, it may not have the effects you want.
- Check the Heavy Metal and Pesticide Analysis sections. The COA will list the allowable limits and what the product actually contains, then give a pass/fail determination. Obviously, look for “pass” across the board.
- Review the Terpenes Profile. Terpenes are the plant-derived aromatics that enhance a product’s taste, smell, and sometimes benefits as well. As with the cannabinoids themselves, different terpenes have different properties. Check that your product will have the synergistic benefits you want. For example, valencene and eucalyptus can boost CBD’s anti-inflammatory effects while terpinolene has antioxidant properties.
After you’ve reviewed the COA, remember that a product’s potency varies by how it’s consumed. For example, a package advertising 1000 mg CBD may not actually contain that amount. The COA is a better indication of the actual amount of cannabidiol you’re buying. Multiply the mg/g or mg/mL of the volume listed on the package. For example, if you purchase a 30mL bottle of CBD tincture and the COA says the weight is 40mg/mL, the bottle contains 1200 mg of CBD.
We hope you’ve found this guide useful. As part of our commitment to making hemp products safe and sustainable, we’re eager to help educate consumers on this emerging industry. Should you have any questions about our products, please do request the Certificate of Analysis so you can make an informed decision.