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How To Read a Cannabis COA - Featured Image

How To Read a Cannabis COA

For retailers, cultivators, and consumers, a Certificate of Analysis is an important document that contains information that is too descriptive for a product label.

A COA is a comprehensive report provided by an accredited laboratory that details the various components of a cannabis product, including its cannabinoid profile, terpene content, and potential contaminants. 

This document is crucial for ensuring product quality, safety, and compliance with regulatory standards. In this article, we’ll provide all the information needed for reading and interpreting a cannabis COA.

Key Takeaways

  • A Certificate of Analysis (COA) is an accredited lab document detailing cannabinoid potency, terpene profiles, and contaminant levels.
  • COAs ensure product safety, verify potency and composition, build consumer trust, and demonstrate regulatory compliance.
  • Key details include lab name, test dates, product type, batch number, client name, cannabinoid concentrations, terpene profiles, and contaminant levels.
  • Check THC, CBD levels, minor cannabinoids, and cannabinoid ratios to understand product potency and potential effects.
  • Verify lab credentials, inspector signatures, and QR code verification to ensure the COA's authenticity and accuracy.
  • Birch Biotech provides high-quality chemicals for cannabis testing, each with a COA, ensuring reliable and accurate results for laboratory needs.

What is a Cannabis Certificate of Analysis (COA)?

A Cannabis Certificate of Analysis (COA) is an accredited laboratory document confirming a cannabis product meets certain specifications. It contains testing results performed as part of quality control measures.

COAs typically include the following information.

  • Cannabinoid potency
  • Terpene profiles
  • Contaminant levels

By providing this detailed information, COAs offer transparency into product quality. They help establish trust between consumers and brands by verifying that the cannabis product has been thoroughly tested and meets safety and potency standards.

Why are Cannabis COAs Important?

Understanding the importance of COAs is vital for navigating the complexities of the cannabis industry. Let's delve into the key reasons why these documents are indispensable.

Ensuring Product Safety

Cannabis COAs are crucial for ensuring the safety of cannabis products. A COA provides a detailed analysis of the product's contents, identifying any harmful contaminants such as pesticides, heavy metals, mold, and residual solvents. These contaminants can pose significant health risks to consumers. 

By reviewing the COA, consumers and retailers can verify that the product has been tested for safety and meets regulatory standards, thereby protecting public health.

Verifying Potency and Composition

Cannabis products vary widely in their cannabinoid and terpene profiles, which affect their potency and therapeutic effects. A COA outlines the specific concentrations of cannabinoids like THC, CBD, and others, as well as the terpenes present in the product. This information is vital for consumers who rely on specific cannabinoid and terpene profiles for their medical or recreational needs. 

By examining the COA, consumers can ensure they are getting a product that meets their expectations and requirements.

Building Consumer Trust

Transparency is key in building and maintaining consumer trust in the cannabis industry. Providing access to COAs demonstrates a commitment to quality and honesty. When consumers can easily verify the contents and safety of a product through its COA, they are more likely to trust the brand and make repeat purchases. 

This transparency not only enhances brand reputation but also contributes to the overall credibility of the cannabis industry.

Compliance with Regulations

Regulatory bodies require rigorous testing of cannabis products to ensure they meet safety and quality standards. COAs are essential for demonstrating compliance with these regulations. Retailers and producers must provide COAs to prove that their products adhere to the legal standards set forth by state and federal authorities. Failure to comply can result in legal penalties, product recalls, and damage to a company's reputation.

Supporting Informed Decisions

For medical cannabis patients, understanding the specifics of what they are consuming is paramount. A COA allows patients and healthcare providers to make informed decisions about treatment options based on the detailed chemical composition of the product. This ensures that patients receive the most effective and appropriate treatment for their condition.

How To Read a Cannabis COA - Supporting Image

Understanding the Elements of a COA

With the basics now covered, here’s how to read a cannabis COA.

1. Identify the Essentials

When reading a cannabis COA, focus on these key pieces of information:

  • Lab Name and Location: Verify that an accredited, third-party laboratory performed the analysis. This ensures the results are unbiased and reliable.
  • Date the Sample Was Received and Tested: Check that the COA is current and for the relevant product under consideration. Look for the date the lab received the sample and when the testing was completed.
  • Product Type and Batch Number: Confirm the COA matches the specific product and batch. This information is crucial for tracking and quality control purposes.
  • Client Name: The COA should clearly state the name of the company or client that requested the analysis. This helps verify the document's legitimacy and the product's source.

2. Examine Potency Results

The potency results section of a cannabis COA contains details about the cannabinoids and terpenes present in the product.

Cannabinoid Concentrations

The first step is to look at cannabinoid concentrations to understand what the product will actually do. There are two terms worth knowing here: Not Tested (NT) and Not Detected (ND). These terms will most likely be present on most COAs online.

  • THC Levels: Look for the total THC concentrations, which are typically expressed in milligrams per gram (mg/g) or milligrams per milliliter (mg/mL). This will provide a clear idea of the product's potency and psychoactive effects. A product high in THC will be more psychoactive and intoxicating and will produce a head or body high depending on the staring
  • CBD Levels: CBD is the second major cannabinoid that’s a less intoxicating version of CBD and is also expressed in milligrams per gram (mg/g) or milligrams per milliliter (mg/mL). A product high in CBD is usually optimal for cannabis users seeking therapeutic effects. Products with high CBD may or may not be intoxicating depending on the consumer’s tolerance.
  • Minor Cannabinoids: The COA will also list other cannabinoids like CBG, CBC, and CBN. While these are usually present in lower concentrations, they contribute to the product's overall therapeutic profile.
  • Cannabinoid Ratios: Pay attention to the ratio of THC to CBD, as this can influence the product's potential effects. For example, a 1:1 ratio may provide balanced psychoactive and therapeutic benefits. However, it is important to note that any presence of THC can lead to intoxication, which is also dependent on the dosage consumed.

Terpene Profiles

Terpenes are the aromatic compounds that give cannabis its distinct flavors and contribute to its effects. The COA will list the individual terpenes and their concentrations, often in parts per million (ppm) or as a percentage of the total terpene content.

Some common terpenes to look for include:

Keep in mind that some COAs may show trace amounts or undetected levels of certain cannabinoids or terpenes. This doesn't necessarily mean the product is inferior; it simply indicates that the concentrations were below the testing threshold.

3. Review Safety Results

With constantly developing laws and regulations, cannabis testing has become more stringent to ensure consumer safety. The safety results section of a COA is where you'll find information about any potential contaminants in the product.

Contaminant Testing

  • Pesticides: Agricultural chemicals used to protect crops from pests and diseases. Look for the specific pesticides tested and their corresponding limits.
  • Heavy Metals: Toxic elements like lead, cadmium, and mercury that can accumulate in cannabis plants. Check that the levels are below the acceptable thresholds.
  • Microbes: Bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms that can cause illness or spoilage. The COA should indicate that the product has passed microbial testing.
  • Residual Solvents: Chemicals used in the extraction process that may remain in the final product. Verify that any detectable solvents are within safe limits.

It’s not necessary to know what each pesticide or heavy metal does. The important part is to make sure that all safety testing results say “ND” for Not Detected.

4. Verify Authenticity and Lab Credentials

Verifying the authenticity of a cannabis COA is incredibly important to guarantee the authenticity of the test. 

Here's what to look for.

Certified Lab Inspector Signature

A genuine COA will feature the signature of a certified lab inspector who has reviewed and approved the results. This signature serves as a stamp of authenticity, confirming that the information provided is accurate and reliable.

QR Code Verification

Many COAs now include a QR code that can be scanned with a smartphone. This code links directly to the lab's database, allowing verification of the results in real time. If the QR code doesn't work or leads to a suspicious website, it may be a red flag.

Lab Licensing and Accreditations

Reputable cannabis testing labs will display their licensing number and any relevant accreditations prominently on the COA. Look for recognized standards like ISO/IEC 17025, which demonstrates the lab's commitment to quality and competence.

Additionally, it might be worth it to cross-reference the lab's information with state regulatory databases to confirm their legal status and compliance history.

Tips for Choosing Safe and Reliable Cannabis Products

Selecting the right cannabis products requires diligence and an understanding of what to look for in terms of safety and reliability. Here are some strategies to choose the best options available:

  • Request a COA: Before making any purchase, ask for the product's Certificate of Analysis. This document provides a comprehensive overview of the product's quality and safety.
  • Third-party Verification: Ensure the COA comes from a third-party, accredited lab. This step confirms the testing is unbiased and meets industry standards.
  • Compare with Product Label: Match the information on the COA to what's indicated on the product's label. Any discrepancies should raise a red flag.
  • Potency and Safety Information: Opt for products that detail both their potency and safety measures. This transparency is a good indication of a brand's commitment to quality.
  • Transparency and Quality Control: Choose brands known for their transparency and rigorous quality control measures. These brands are more likely to provide reliable products.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, COAs are indispensable for ensuring the safety, potency, and transparency of cannabis products. They are crucial in protecting consumer health, verifying product contents, and maintaining compliance with regulatory standards.

When sourcing chemicals for cannabis testing, Birch Biotech stands out as a reliable and trusted provider. Birch offers a comprehensive range of high-quality chemicals essential for accurate and thorough testing. Every product from Birch Biotech comes with its own COA, ensuring you receive only the best and most reliable chemicals for your testing needs.

Explore Birch Biotech’s range of testing reagents and take the first step toward accurate cannabis analysis. Contact our team for more information.

How to Read a Cannabis COA: Frequently Asked Questions

How to Interpret a COA?

To interpret a Certificate of Analysis (COA), first, identify the tested product and batch number. Review cannabinoid profiles for THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids. Check terpene profiles, if available. Examine contaminant results for pesticides, heavy metals, residual solvents, and microbial contaminants. Ensure all results are within acceptable limits. Verify the lab's accreditation and the date of the report. The COA ensures the product’s safety, potency, and compliance with regulatory standards.

How Do You Verify a COA?

To verify a COA, confirm it comes from a reputable, accredited lab. Check the lab’s certification, such as ISO/IEC 17025. Match the product name, batch number, and test date with the COA. Compare cannabinoid and contaminant results with acceptable industry standards. Contact the lab directly to authenticate the COA if needed. Ensuring the COA's authenticity guarantees the product's safety and compliance with regulatory standards.

What Is a COA for Cannabis?

A COA for cannabis is a Certificate of Analysis provided by a licensed laboratory. It details the product's cannabinoid profile, including THC and CBD levels, and terpene content. It also reports on contaminants like pesticides, heavy metals, residual solvents, and microbial impurities. The COA ensures the product's potency, safety, and compliance with regulatory requirements. It is essential for consumer safety and industry transparency, providing detailed information about the cannabis product’s composition and purity.

Sources for this Article


Disclaimer: The content provided on the Birch Biotech blog is for educational and entertainment purposes only. The information offered here is designed to provide helpful insights and advice related to laboratory practices and supplies.

Readers are advised to refer to our product-specific quality data sheets and Certificates of Analysis (COAs) available on our website for detailed information on product specifications. It is essential to handle and store all materials according to the safety guidelines and regulatory requirements applicable to your area.

While we endeavor to ensure the accuracy and relevance of the information published, it should not be used as a substitute for professional advice or official protocols. We encourage all our readers to consult their institution's guidelines, local regulations, and professional standards before implementing any practices discussed here.

Birch Biotech does not accept liability for any actions undertaken based on the information provided in this blog nor for the misuse of our products. Furthermore, Birch Biotech does not guarantee the completeness, reliability, or timeliness of the information contained on this website.

This disclaimer is subject to change at any time without notifications.

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