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How to Read a CBD Certificate of Analysis
By Brandless

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As a conscious consumer, you care about what goes into the products you use. You research whether they’ve been ethically and sustainably made. You confirm they’re safe and free from harmful ingredients. It doesn’t matter what the product is, you want to know that the things you use and consume daily contribute to your wellbeing. Choosing a CBD oil, balm, or capsule is no different — but in order to make truly informed decisions about which hemp-based products to bring into your home, you need to understand a few things, including how to read a CBD certificate of analysis (COA).

What is a COA?

Certificates of analysis are documents that confirm a CBD product has been tested for potency and purity, and is free from contaminants. In other words: it proves that an ingestible or topical CBD product is safe to use. At the bare minimum, a COA will contain a detailed cannabinoid profile and potency report, but more exhaustive certificates will outline the specific heavy metals, toxins, and pesticides that were tested for. If you’re concerned about what’s in your CBD oil, a COA can help put your mind at ease.


Note: Some manufacturers will provide COAs for their own products. To ensure the best quality, it’s better to look for certificates that have been issued by third-party labs.

What to Look for on a CBD Certificate of Analysis

Every CBD certificate of analysis should include:

  • Testing laboratory name, address, and certification of compliance to ISO 17025 standards
  • Product name
  • Batch or lot number (make sure this matches what’s on your product packaging if you’ve already made a purchase)
  • Signature of technician
  • Date of product testing
  • Tests that were performed and specifications for pass/fail

But that’s not all! While each of these details are a sign of the test’s integrity, they say little about the quality of a product. To truly know what’s inside your CBD balm, tincture, or capsules, you need to look a little deeper.

Cannabinoid Profile

The cannabinoid profile section of a COA details exactly how much CBD is in a product, as well as the presence of other compounds. Both full-spectrum and broad-spectrum CBD products will contain other cannabinoids. In the example above, you can see the weight and concentration of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), cannabichromene (CBC), cannabinol (CBN), cannabidivarin (CBDv), and others in a batch of Plant People’s Drops+ Relief tincture.


Pro Tip: The amount of CBD listed in the cannabinoid profile and potency section of a COA should be within 20% of what’s stated on product packaging.

On the COA for an isolate product, however, weights and concentrations should only be listed for CBD. You should see zeros next to all other compounds listed in the cannabinoid profile. Compared to broad-spectrum and full-spectrum CBD, isolates go through additional processing to remove other compounds, therefore resulting in purer products.

Heavy Metal Analysis

Because hemp is a bioaccumulator (a type of crop that will readily absorb compounds from the soil it’s planted in), heavy metal analysis is a crucial part of CBD product testing. Alongside the names of each heavy metal (e.g. arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury) that was tested, look for the letters “ND” to find out whether the CBD product in question has passed. “ND” means the product has “none detected or lowest limits of detection (LLD)”.

Microbial Analysis

In addition to cannabinoid content and heavy metals, CBD products also need to be tested for microbial and mycotoxins. As a plant-based compound, CBD can run the risk of microbial contamination, either during cultivation or after harvesting.

There are three common bacteria worth noting: STEC (a type of E. coli), salmonella, and yeast or molds. Once again, look for “ND”, none detected, or <x cfu/mg across the board. Properly cultivated, harvested, and packaged CBD products are free from microbial or mycotoxin contaminants.

Pesticide Analysis

Again, because hemp is a bioaccumulator, there’s also a risk that the plant will absorb pesticides during cultivation. On a typical COA, you’ll find test results for at least 15 pesticides (though they often cover several more) — depending on the region of cultivation and agricultural regulations, pesticides will vary from COA to COA. Once again, scan the test results for “ND” or “pass” beside each pesticide.

Not All CBD Products are Made (or Tested) the Same

With so many individuals interested in using CBD for everyday wellness, the market has become flooded with products. So much so that it’s challenging for conscious consumers to find brands they can trust.

That’s why, at Brandless, we go above and beyond industry standards for CBD sourcing and testing. We do this in four ways:

  1. Making sure the hemp used in our products is grown according to Good Agricultural Practices (GAP)
  2. Confirming products have been made following Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP); we even do site visits to check on facility conditions
  3. Requiring third-party labs that meet ISO 17025 standards and other Good Laboratory Practices (GLP) be used for testing each product batch/lot for potency, purity, and contaminates.
  4. Providing customers with access to COAs before and after purchase

COAs verify that every step CBD goes through on its journey from plant to package has been done properly. GAP will prevent pesticides and heavy metals from being in a finished product, GMP will prevent things like microbials from being in a finished product, and a COA provides proof that the GAP and GMP programs were effective.

Feel Good About Your Decision with a CBD Certificate of Analysis

When shopping for CBD, examining a certificate of analysis is one of the easiest ways to separate the good from the bad. These third-party certifications ensure that the products available for purchase are free from pesticides, microbial and toxic content, and heavy metals. It’s a verification that the product is worth trying, and is safe. At Brandless, we do our due diligence to make sure all the CBD brands available to our customers meet or surpass these safety standards. In addition, all of the products in our CBD collection come with a detailed analysis of what’s inside — and perhaps more importantly, what’s not inside — every bottle, tub, and packet. Browse our selection to find the product that’s right for you and your lifestyle.


Not intended as medical advice. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or health condition. If you have specific healthcare concerns or questions about the products displayed, please contact your licensed healthcare professional for advice.


Photos: fizkes / Shutterstock

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