Edited 06/19/2020

In a previous blog post on Certificates of Analysis: Why it’s Critical to Know What’s in Your Hemp Extract CBD Product, we explained what a Certificate of Analysis (“COA”) is and addressed why it’s important.

Here, we provide a general overview of what tests are commonly reported on a COA and why each test is important. Bear in mind that which tests are performed varies based on product type, federal and state requirements, and sometimes the testing laboratory.

Cannabinoids

Cannabinoids are the naturally occurring compounds found in the flowers and leaves of the hemp plant, including the main cannabinoid you are likely seeking, Cannabidiol (“CBD”).

Cannabinoids are one of the most common testing screening profiles performed and can help you verify:

  • Formulation. Is your product formulated to be CBD Full Spectrum (containing .03% or less THC), CBD Broad Spectrum (no amount of THC whatsoever) or CBD Isolate (just Cannabidiol)? By reviewing the test results of the cannabinoids and any terpenes, you can verify whether your product is CBD Full Spectrum, CBD Broad Spectrum or CBD Isolate. You can learn more about the different types of hemp extracts in our blog post here.
  • Potency. How much CBD is in your product? Does your product contain any CBD? Sadly, there’s been reports of CBD brands who claimed their products contained a certain amount of CBD when, in reality, there was none or a significantly lower amount than listed on the label.
  • Legality. Is the THC amount in the product legally permitted by your state? States vary on the maximum amount of THC lawfully permitted in a hemp extract CBD product. In Florida, it’s 0.3% or less THC.  You can determine the THC amount by looking at the D9-THC level reported in the COA, short for Certificate of Analysis.

Terpenes

Terpenes are aromatic hydrocarbon oils naturally secreted by hemp plants that produce a wide range of aromas, flavors and effects.

Hemp plants secrete various terpenes from the same gland that creates cannabinoids. For example, Linalool is a naturally occurring terpene that includes lavender to provide a calming scent.1

In addition to providing aroma and flavor, terpenes also play a large role in the entourage effect. The entourage effect basically means that CBD along with the other existing cannabinoids work together in synergy to better promote healing of various syptoms, as opposed to one of the cannabinoids being present to do so. 

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Pesticides

Pesticides are any substance or product used to kill, repel, or control certain forms of plant or animal life considered to be pests.

Pesticides are intended to only harm the targeted pest. However, if not used correctly or if any are left in a product, they can be very harmful.

Pesticides are toxic, and exposure to them can cause a number of adverse health effects.2 The health effects of pesticides depend on the type of pesticide and the amount of exposure. Some pesticides may have little or no effect. Others may affect the nervous system, irritate the skin or eyes, be carcinogens, and/or affect the hormone or endocrine system in the body.

Residual Solvents

Solvents are liquids or gases that can extract or dissolve other substances. Solvents are commonly found in products you may have in your home, such as adhesives, cosmetics, household cleaners and nail polish remover, among others.

Solvent extraction is one of many methods used to extract beneficial compounds from the hemp plant. Common solvents for such extractions include ethanol, butane, propane and hexane.

Similar to pesticides, solvents are not safe for human consumption and may cause a number of adverse health effects.3 The health effects of solvents depend on the amount of exposure. Small amounts of exposure to solvents may cause headaches, dizziness, nausea and skin rashes. Larger amounts of exposure may cause reproductive damage, kidney and central nervous system damage and cancer.

Generally, solvent testing is only performed if the product went through extractionFor example, CBD concentrate cartridges for smoking will require solvent testing. However, hemp flower packaged in its raw form for smoking will not require solvent testing.

Microbial Impurities

A microbe, or “microscopic organism,” is a living thing that is too small to be seen with the naked eye. Some microbes are beneficial. Gut microbes can help you digest food and even fight invading microbes.4 Others can be dangerous and can cause illness, disease and even death (e.g., salmonella, E. Coli).

Similar to any other agricultural product, the hemp plant is vulnerable to microbes that could potentially harm you. Microbes may contaminate the hemp plant during the initial growth stage, particularly if they are grown outdoors or in an unsanitary indoor environment, or during subsequent handling and processing.

Mycotoxins

Fungi microbes (e.g., molds) produce various by-products. Some by-products are beneficial and used daily throughout the world. For example, the antibiotic Penicillin is produced by the mold Penicillium. Other by-products, called mycotoxins, can be dangerous and even deadly.

Exposure to the dangerous mycotoxin Aflatoxin, a potent carcinogen and immunosuppressant, can cause various forms of cancer, such as liver cancer.

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Heavy Metals

As hemp plants grow, they can draw in heavy metals from the soil and fertilizers.

Heavy metals are a group of metals considered to be toxic, and the most common heavy metals include lead, cadmium, arsenic and mercury.

Cadmium is considered one of the most dangerous heavy metals and is a known carcinogen.6 Chronic cadmium exposure has been shown to cause kidney failure, and bone softening. Once you absorb cadmium, it accumulates in your body for life.

Foreign Materials

Foreign matter is any kind of outside contaminant introduced into hemp flower or a hemp extract CBD product at any point in its production or distribution.

Examples of foreign materials include dirt, mold, hair, insect fragments and/or excrement.

While not all foreign material is necessarily harmful, the product you receive should be of high quality and free of outside contamination.

Final Thoughts

Don’t take a risk on your safety or be duped into buying a product that doesn’t contain the amount of hemp extract CBD claimed.  Ensure you have access to the product’s COA, short for Certificate of Analysis, to verify that your product is what it is and that it’s safe.

The COA is the lab report that shows what tests were performed on a hemp extract CBD product, including those mentioned above.

If you’re unfamiliar with a COA or how to read a COA for a hemp extract CBD product, see our interactive of a sample COA for a sample batch of our 3500mg FRESH tincture here.

CBD-topical-certificate-of-analysis-breakdown
Sources

The Smell of Lavender is Relaxing, Science Confirms. Frontiers. ScienceDailyPublished October 23, 2018.

Nicolopoulou-Stamati P, Maipas S, Kotampasi C, Stamatis P, Hens L. Chemical Pesticides and Human Health: The Urgent Need for a New Concept in Agriculture. Front Public Health. 2016;4:148. Published 2016 Jul 18. doi:10.3389/fpubh.2016.00148.

Tox Town.U.S. National Library of Medicine. Published May 31, 2017.

Your Microbes and YouNIH News in Health. Published November 2012.

World Health Organization, Food Safety Digest. Department of Food Safety and Zoonoses. Published February 2018. REF. No.: WHO/NHM/FOS/RAM/18.1.

Public Health Statement for CadmiumAgency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). CAS#: 7440-43-9. Published September 2012. Last updated January 21, 2015.

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