How How to read a CBD label and Certificate of Analysis (COA)
CBD products are confusing in general. The way they are labeled make it more so. Here I will attempt to explain how to figure out exactly what cannabinoids are in a CBD product. We will look at two sources for information, the label, and the COA.
Let’s start with the easy one, the label. Labels should tell you three things unique to CBD content – First is the CBD dosage. It should be something like the total CBD dosage per container, and dosage per piece. A container of 30 gummies, each having 25mg CBD should read something like “Contains 750mg CBD, 30 25mg gummies”. Secondly, the label should tell you the source of CBD. This would be either full spectrum CBD, broad spectrum CBD, or CBD isolate. Full spectrum can either mean true full spectrum oil, including terpenes, or full spectrum distillate with all cannabinoids, but minus terpenes. We think those two should be called out, but that isn’t how it has unfolded. Broad Spectrum means that it includes all minor cannabinoids except THC. This is important, in that the presence of compliant amounts of THC does increase efficacy, but it can be a problem for some consumers.
If a product does not call out full or broad spectrum CBD, it is likely an isolate. Isolate means that the CBD added was purified and contains no other cannabinoids. While this sounds like a good thing, we strongly believe that products made with CBD isolate are much less effective than those with other minor cannabinoids. See more on this in a previous blog post.
Next, we need to review a product’s COA.
So what is a COA? COA stands for Certificate of Analysis. A COA is a test a manufacturer has a lab perform to ensure that CBD potency is correct. COAs are still important to determine the actual dosage. They are also a good way to be sure your provider is taking all precautions in this under-regulated industry.
Surprisingly, there is no agency providing oversight for the production and sale of CBD products. Consumers should check the testing performed on their CBD products. COAs can be confusing, so let’s look at some basic components. COAs often just include cannabinoid potency. They will list all cannabinoids and the detected amount. COAs will test for CBD, CBDa, D9 THC, D9 THCa and perhaps a dozen other minor cannabinoids, such as CBN, CBC, CBG, etc.
Each cannabinoid in the product will come with measurements that read LOQ, result % and result mg/g. LOQ is limit of quantitation. This is the smallest amount that the lab’s equipment can measure. Some labs will also include LOD which is limit of detection. Limit of detection simply means that the equipment can detect a cannabinoid’s presence, but it may be too low to measure. Result % is the % of total weight made up by a certain cannabinoid. Mg/g is simply another way to check results. For example, if the product is a gummy weighing 3 grams and each gummy contains 25mg, you should expect to see measurements of more than 8mg/g. Some labs will include a measurement of ‘mg per serving’ to make this easier.
For tinctures, 2,000 mg of CBD per ounce should show up as a little below 7% CBD. This varies somewhat depending on the weight of the oil or alcohol. 1 ml of oil is often .9 grams.
The other important bit of information you can get from a COA is whether you are getting a dose of other cannabinoids. It is our opinion that a full menu of cannabinoids makes the product more effective. Products made with full spectrum CBD oil are the best. Full spectrum should show up in a COA with CBG, CBC, CBDV and other minors recorded above LOQ. They will likely be less than 1%, but present. If delta 9 THC is present but compliant (below .3%) then it is true full spectrum oil. If the THC is 0% or below LOQ, it was made with ‘broad spectrum’ or THC-free oil. If there are no minor cannabinoids present, it was made with isolate. In our opinion, products made with isolate are the least effective.
Now you know that you are getting the dose you expect, let’s look at the other important component of a COA. That is the safety panel. A safety panel for CBD products will tell you whether the CBD extract used was free of contaminants. A safety panel COA will normally test for five things. First is mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are toxins produced from molds. People don’t like to ingest mold, but mold is ubiquitous. It’s also normally harmless – think blue cheese. The best you can do is avoid the toxins that some molds produce. Mycotoxin tests check for those. Next are harmful microbials. The same is true here – microbials are everywhere and normally harmless or even beneficial. You want to avoid those which are toxic – e. coli, salmonella, and some aspergillus strains. Heavy metals are tested. Lead, Mercury, Cadmium. You may see the presence of some but it should be well below any actionable level. Pesticides are tested next. The presence of any of the 50-odd primary compounds will trigger an alert and flag the extract. Finally, any product made with CBD extracts should be tested for residual solvents used in the extraction process. You may find safety panel tests performed not on the final product, but on the extract used. That is common and sufficient.