Ultimate Guide to Understand the CBD CoA

Ultimate Guide to Understand the CBD CoA

  • On 2022-03-16

The Ultimate Guide to Understand the Certificate of Analysis (CoA) for CBD tinctures and edibles

The 5 Pillar Method

Learn how to read and interpret CBD product CoAs (certificates of analysis) to know what your are buying.

What you will learn in this article using the 5 PILLAR METHOD

  • Should hemp derived products have a Certificate of Analysis (CoA)?
  • What should I look for in a CoA?
  • How to interpret a CoA


When you visit a store that sells CBD, CBDA, or delta-8 products, or searched online, the first item you look at is not typically the Certificate of Analysis (CoA). How do you know what you are getting is the correct dose and is manufactured with your safety in mind? For comparison, when was the last time you saw this level of transparent testing at the grocery store? A number of studies have shown pesticides in common oils, such as corn and soy oil, in products from the grocery store (e.g. see here).


A brief understanding of what to look for will help you quickly separate the good products from the mediocre.


Guide Sections

  1. Introduction to 5 PILLAR METHOD
  2. Industry report on CoA in CBD products
  3. Understand the terms used in the CoA
  4. How to read and understand a CoA
  5. Summary and conclusion


SECTION 1: Introduction to 5 PILLAR METHOD

With the passing of the 2018 Federal Farm Bill, growing and processing hemp became legal in all states that set up a regulatory framework to monitor in state economic activity. Because the hemp industry is new, common testing protocols, regulatory oversight, and manufacturing practices are still being developed, and has led to a lot of variability in what consumers see in their end product.


Understanding and reading hemp products with CoA’s (for example) is critical to identifying high quality CBD and CBDA products.


The 5 Pillar Method to determine high quality and pure hemp products:

  • PILLAR 1 – Potency, does the product contain the amount of cannabinoids listed on the label?
  • PILLAR 2 – Pesticides, is the product free of potential pesticide contaminations?
  • PILLAR 3 – Solvents, is the products free of potential harmful residual solvents?
  • PILLAR 4 –Heavy Metals, is the product free of metal contaminants?
  • PILLAR 5 – Microbials, are there any bacteria growing in the product?


Why is it important that a hemp product with CBD, CBDA or delta-8 have a CoA?

The supplement industry is still starting to coalesce around common testing practices and has identified the 5 main critical components when testing hemp products: Potency (cannabinoid levels), Pesticides, Heavy Metals, Residual Solvents, Microbials. While these 5 targets are not the only compounds that can be tested, they represent the minimum requirements for Hemp products (see Vermont Cannabis Quality Control Program as example).


Hemp plants are bioaccumulators, which means that they can extract heavy metals and compounds from the soil, so much so, they have been used to remediate contaminated grounds from industrial runoff (see here and here). This means it is extremely important to test for heavy metals in any product derived from hemp, since soil often contains low amounts of some heavy metals. Additionally, while most conventional pesticide use for hemp farming is federally illegal, some may still get into the plant since previous crops with approved pesticide use can leave residue in the soil that the hemp plant may accumulate.


Conventional extraction and purification of CBD, CBDA, and other cannabinoids from the hemp plant often utilize solvents, such as ethanol, propane, hexane (commonly used in soybean and corn oil extraction), and CO2. There are numerous steps where solvents can be used, and proper removal of solvents is critical to a high quality hemp product. Since not all  manufacturers have rigorous testing and production processes, it is important to test for possible residual solvents.


Lastly, microbial testing of the final product is important to show that there is no contaminating growth from potentially harmful microbes. This test for common pathogenic microbes as well as general microbial growth analysis is typical for most food products sold in stores, and is recommended by the FDA. Within the hemp industry, this test is most important for products that contain the raw flower (i.e. smokable hemp flower), but is still important for final CBD and CBDA products like tinctures and gummies.


Section 2: Industry report on CoA in CBD products

Industry CoA Report – How often are these 5 tests found in CBD tinctures and gummies?

Before we go over the details of each of these critical tests, lets see how well the online industry that sells CBD tinctures and gummies performs. We went to the top 50 companies that showed up on Google Search and looked at their CoA reports. Here is what we found:

CBD Tincture market report

Company CoA Market Report: Review of top 50 companies on google selling “CBD Tinctures”

CBD Gummy market report

Company CoA Market Report: Review of top 50 companies on google selling “CBD Gummies”


Most companies (~90%) will have a testing report showing the amount of CBD in their product, with only ~10% of those reporting showing a lower amount of CBD than on the label. We should note that a lot of companies had higher amounts of CBD in their product, but we did not count that as miss-reporting the amount. For both the CBD tinctures and CBD gummies, only around 50% of all companies had testing reports for contaminants, with solvent being the least tested. We only found 1 company that failed a contaminant test and reported, which is a good indicator that those companies that do test contaminants do not put out contaminated product.


Note 1: Ethanol sometimes shows up in the CoA section for solvents, and when present, is typically in a very small amount (less than 1/100 of a beer amount). We don’t consider this a harmful compound, and unless you are particularly sensitive to alcohol, it is not a worry.


Note 2: We have left out terpene testing and analysis since we mostly focus on contaminants, but if you are interested in these compounds certainly look for them in the CoA report. Also, most terpenes are found in very low levels in hemp products, and unless the product is live resin, or the terpenes are added back in at a higher concentration, the low amounts would have minimal effects.


Market CBD CoA Summary

  • Half of companies do not perform adequate contaminant testing or report results on their website.
  • Most companies provide good potency testing that aligns with their label statements.
  • Companies that do test contaminants do not typically have them in their product.


Section 3: Understand the terms used in the CoA

How to read a Certificate of Analysis (CoA)

The purpose of a Certificate of Analysis (CoA) in the cannabinoid industry is to create trust and transparency around a product. The CoA shows the consumer that the product is clean of specific contaminants that can arise during production, and that the amount of cannabinoids present are what is listed on the packaging. It is important that the company performing the analysis is a 3rd party, no internal analysis to prevent conflict of interest, and with a good reputation and certifications. This is typically indicated by either GLP or ISO 17025 certifications specific to the set of analytical methods they use. At NaturalDos we use SC Laboratories who employ advanced analytical tools, such as HPLC and GC mass-spectrometers, and have both State and ISO 17025 certifications.


Common language used in CoA’s and how to understand them

Below is a list of the definitions of each column and what they mean:

-Compound: This is the list of cannabinoids that are analyzed by the testing laboratory.

-LOD/LOQ: Limit of Detection (LOD) is the lowest possible amount of the cannabinoid (compound) that can be detected by their instrument (in this case an HPLC). Limit of Quantification (LOQ) is the lowest amount of the cannabinoid that can accurately measured. Sometimes an instrument will signal that a compound is found, but the detection is so weak that it is hard to distinguish from background noise.

-Measurement Uncertainty: This is the variability of the assay. No assay is perfect, and thus there is a range of what the real concentration is. For example, if the concentration reported is 100mg/mL, and the uncertainty is ±2.5mg/mL, then we know the concentration is somewhere between 97.5-102.5mg/mL.

-Result: The reported concentration of the compound, either in mg/mL or in %. ND stands for not detected.


Understanding concentration and amount

In medical practice, the effect of a compound, whether harmful or beneficial, is largely determined by how much you intake. While some compounds are more potent than others, and thus require less intake amount to have an effect, most of the time the concentrations are in a certain range. A common term you may see is ug/g (aka ppm; part per million), and is often used in the CoA of hemp products. These concentrations are not very intuitive, so the figure below may help in understanding how much a ug (microgram) is in relation to a gram:


learn what is CBD concentration amount

Breaking down gram (g), milligram (mg), microgram (ug), and nanogram (ng), all of which are 1/1000th the amount of each previous amount.


Most of the contaminants are reported in ug/g, and the action limit of the contaminant can give you an idea of how toxic that compound may be. Its also important to remember that a small amount probably wont harm you, but consistent ingestion of some over time may be toxic.


Section 4: How to read and understand a CoA

PILLAR 1: Potency of CBDA and other cannabinoids test

The CoA should always have a section on the concentration and type of cannabinoids in the product. Figure 1 is an example of the cannabinoid potency results from one of our CoAs. The total amount of cannabinoids is shown in the blue circle at the bottom of Figure 1, 105.8mg/mL, the sum of each individual cannabinoid listed in that column. This yields 52.9mg per recommended serving in our tincture product for this batch run.

Important note for acidic cannabinoids: Because the hemp industry is used to analyzing for total CBD and not CBDA, they often convert CBDA amount into CBD amount (or THCA into THC), and release a total CBD concentration result. However, this is inaccurate, since there is a mass difference between the two compounds, which is why we focus on the actual concentration of all cannabinoids and not an adjusted number.

Learn potency CBD CoA analysis


PILLAR 2: Pesticide Testing and Results Test

Currently, there are strict federal regulations limiting the use of pesticides for growing hemp. However, pesticides may still get into the hemp flower if the field where it was grown has seen pesticide use in the past. Because of this, Natural Dos screens all products coming into our facility, and employs 3rd party testing before we put any product on the market. Figure 2 below is a truncated version of a full pesticide section from a Natural Dos CoA. A new column appears in the CoA, “Action Limit” (red circle), which defines the maximum amount of the compound (pesticide) that can appear in the product. This amount is usually set by the state or the FDA/USDA depending on the guidelines the laboratory is following.


What do you want to see on the pesticides analysis section?

  1. A) No concentrations listed in the results section. You want to see either a ND or <LOQ, which indicates none of that compound was detected, or not enough detected to even quantify.
  2. B) Results should show a “Pass”, indicating that either none were found, or if some are found that it is below the maximum limit set by the FDA/USDA. This is shown in the blue circles of Figure 2.

How to read CBD pesticide CoA analysis


PILLAR 3: Residual Solvents Test

Often during processing of oils, residual solvents are used to extract or purify the oil from a starting material. For example, almost all vegetable, corn, and soy bean oil use solvents such as Hexane to separate the oil from the solids. If the solvents are not properly removed, they leave residual solvents in the final product, often found in every day oils at the grocery store. Natural Dos employs a proprietary water purification process to obtain Natural Spectrum CBDA, and uses SC Laboratories stringent testing for transparency. Figure 3 shows a truncated sample of the residual solvents analysis from a Natural Dos CoA.


What do you want to see in the residual solvent analysis section?

  1. A) No concentrations listed in the results section. You want to see either a ND or <LOQ, which indicates none of that compound was detected, or not enough detected to even quantify.

*The one exception on the solvent list that is not as harmful may be ethanol (alcohol, typically found in beer and spirits), this is more of a personal choice.

  1. B) Results should show a “Pass”, indicating that either none were found, or if some are found that it is below the maximum limit set by the FDA/USDA. This is shown in the blue circles of Figure 3.

How to read CBD CoA solvent analysis



PILLAR 4: Heavy Metals Test

The four common heavy metals, lead, mercury, arsenic, and cadmium can all cause significant health complications if enough is ingested, or passed on through breastmilk. This is a significant test to pay attention to since Hemp plants are bio-accumulators, which means this species is very good at pulling out contaminants from the soil. In fact, hemp is often used to remove chemical contaminants from the soil at clean-up sites where spills have occurred. Shown in Figure 4 is an example of a heavy metals analysis from a Natural Dos CoA.


What do you want to see in the residual solvent analysis section?

  1. A) No concentrations listed in the results section. You want to see either a ND or <LOQ, which indicates none of that metal was detected, or not enough detected to even quantify.
  2. B) Results should show a “Pass”, indicating that either none were found, or if some are found that it is below the maximum limit set by the FDA/USDA. This is shown in the blue circles of Figure 4.

How to read CBD CoA heavy metal analysis


PILLAR 5: Microbial Test

Everyone knows that when you improperly store food it can easily get moldy, and breakdown due to microbial growth. The circle of life! However, when storing and transporting supplements for consumption, its important that it get tested for those microbes that can cause harm. While uncommon, its important that tinctures, and especially edibles with CBD are tested prior to being shipped out for harmful bacteria and mold.


What should you see in your microbial test results?

  1. A) Look for a test that shows either “Microbiology Test” or “Microbial Test”.
  2. A) You should see a PASS sign in the results indicating that there was minimal to no microbial contamination found.

How to read CoA microbial CBD analysis


Section 5: Summary and Conclusion

While only around 50% of CBD tincture and gummy suppliers perform the requisite testing levels (or report them to customers) that are common for the cannabis companies, the industry has identified the critical contaminants for its ingredients. While beyond the scope of this article, it is critical that companies use certified and reputable laboratories for their testing. For example, we use SC Labs which has multiple state certifications, but is also ISO 17025 certified, a gold standard for analytical laboratories globally.

Using the 5 PILLAR METHOD to asses your hemp CBD or other cannabinoid product will guide you to the highest quality tincture or gummy product you are looking for.


Thanks for reading, we hope you found this helpful. If you have any further questions or suggestions for a blog post feel free to contact us, and you can find a list of Natural Dos CoA’s here.


Team Dos

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