How To Read A Certificate Of Analysis (COA)

Cannabis testing verifies product quality for a positive consumer experience, brand reputation, and above all, consumer safety. But how is that information communicated?

A certificate of analysis (COA) records the many pieces of information verified by cannabis testing, including what precisely is contained within a product and what is not contained within that product. As a consumer, it’s essential to know how to read these certificates to know exactly what’s in your cannabis product.

Read on to learn where to find a marijuana certificate of analysis and how to interpret its contents.

What is a certificate of Analysis (COA) and why is it so important to have one?

A Certificate of Analysis is a document from an accredited third party or internal cGMP- certified laboratory verifying the cannabinoid quantity in each specific product batch.

CBD products need to have a COA to ensure labeling accuracy with regards to THC and CBD content. Full transparency is what you want here, especially when you consider the fact that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not officially verify or regulate the supplement industry.

How to read a Certificate of Analysis

The heading at the top of the report tells you a few important things, such as:

  • The client (who ordered the test)
  • The lab performing the test
  • The product being tested (drops, gummies, vape, etc)
  • The batch number

Term, measurements and acronyms
A few common measurements and acronyms include:

  • PPM – parts per million
  • mg – milligram in the total package
  • mg/g – milligrams per gram
  • mg/p – milligrams per piece (common on gummies)
  • ml – milliliters, often used on liquids like CBD oils
  • LOQ – limit of quantitation (the smallest amount detectable by lab equipment)
  • B/LOQ – below limit of quantitation
  • LOD – limit of detection
  • N/D – not detected
  • Action level – the level at which a substance is considered harmful or toxic
  • cfu – colony forming unit


Other information contained within the COA

Cannabinoid profile
There are small amounts of naturally-occurring THC in hemp, but your CBD product should not have more than .3% THC on a dry weight basis. In addition to CBD and THC, you should also be aware of:

  • CBC – known for its anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic effects.
  • CBG – purported to be a pain reliever, bone stimulant, and to have anti-parasitic properties.
  • CBN – this cannabinoid helps with insomnia, seizures, and convulsions.

Terpene profile
Terpenes are the cannabis plant’s natural aromatic oils. These molecules are thought to amplify the therapeutic benefits of hemp’s individual components. Terpenes are typically listed on a COA as parts per million (PPM).

Microbial profile:
You want your CBD products to be free of yeast, molds, and other microbial contaminants such as E. coli or Salmonella. Look for a “pass” or “fail” on the COA next to the microbial profile.

Pesticide profile
Many large-scale farmers use pesticides to keep crops healthy. No one wants to consume chemicals that are known carcinogens, so look for COAs that show a “pass” on all pesticides, meaning the plants were most likely cultivated using organic methods.

Residual solvents & heavy metals
The health of the soil can significantly impact the safety of hemp-derived CBD products. You should not be consuming high amounts of metals like arsenic, cadmium, mercury, or lead, yet these are often leached into the soil. The COA will also show residual solvents – agents like methanol and butane – that are used to make extracts. Make sure that the limits displayed in PPM are categorized at a “pass” level.

Listing lab reports openly is a sign of an honest company with quality products. Learning how to read COAs can help to make sure the company you are buying from is doing things the right way. Don’t just navigate on to a product page, see any lab report, and check a box mentally that they have COAs listed so they must be legitimate. Do your diligence.