In the rapidly growing world of cannabis products, consumers are becoming increasingly conscientious about the safety and quality of what they consume. Per DCC regulations, each cannabis product is required to be tested by a state-licensed lab, and that lab produces a Certificate of Analysis (COA) detailing the tests performed and the results of each test. A standard COA can be very confusing, so we’ll break down the key components of how to read a COA, empowering you to make informed choices when selecting cannabis products. 

Understanding The Basics

Header Information

To start, look for the name and logo of the testing laboratory as well as their physical address. COAs must have this information to let you know which certified laboratory has conducted the testing. Next, confirm the date of analysis to ensure the information is current and up to date. California regulations state that testing results on COAs are valid up to 1 year from the release date.

Product Information

Identify the specific cannabis product being tested, including its name and batch or lot number. The state of California uses METRC for seed to sale tracking. The absence of a METRC Batch or Sample alerts consumers that this test was not a compliance test. All compliance COAs must include a picture of the sample that was tested in it’s final form packaging to ensure that you are receiving the product as it was tested. Also ensure that the matrix and type sections match the picture shown. Failure to match the correct picture to the type or matrix is an indication of an altered COA. Make sure that all client information is present on the COA, if not this means that the client either is not licensed or has not conducted a compliance test, only an R&D test. 

Cannabinoid Profile

THC & CBD Content: Focus on the THC (psychoactive) and CBD (non-psychoactive) concentrations, these will be broken down into THC, THCA, CBD, and CBDA. Ensure these levels align with your desired experience and comply with legal regulations. Some COAs list additional cannabinoids like CBG, CBN, or THCV. Familiarize yourself with these compounds to better understand the product’s potential effects and your desired outcome when using them. 

Terpene Identification

Terpenes contribute to the aroma and flavor of cannabis and allow for unique experiences with your cannabis. The COA will list terpenes like myrcene, limonene, or pinene along with their concentrations. Terpenes are important to promote interactions between compounds via the entourage effect. The entourage effect is the interaction between all compounds within the cannabis plant such as phytocannabinoids and terpenes, come together to enhance their effects. There are no legal limits or prohibited terpenes at the time of writing, it is additional information to inform the consumer about the flavor profile of the cannabis product. 

Microbial & Mycotoxin Contaminants

Check for microbial testing results for bacteria, mold, and yeast. Any microbials or mycotoxins detected is an automatic failure because these analytes will continue to grow and are toxic when ingested, combusted, or otherwise consumed. Microbials are relating to or a characteristic of a microorganism, especially a bacterium causing disease or fermentation. A mycotoxin is a toxic secondary metabolite produced by fungi and is capable of causing disease and death in humans when ingested or consumed.  

Pesticide Residues

Confirm the absence of 66 harmful pesticide residues. Limits are measured in micrograms which is one millionth of a gram or one thousandth of a milligram. Understanding the potential health risks associated with certain pesticides is crucial, and while many pesticides are allowed in higher amounts on foods, that is because combusting certain pesticides while smoking can be far more harmful than digesting. 

There are three categories of pesticides: 

  • Category 1: means there is no allowable limit of the listed analyte 
  • Category 2: there is a very small allowable limit of the listed analyte 
  • Category 3: there is a more generous amount allowed for the listed analyte

Residual Solvents

If applicable (especially for concentrates), look for information on residual solvents from extraction processes. Ensure these solvents are within safety thresholds. 

Heavy Metals

Be aware of heavy metal testing, particularly for lead, arsenic, mercury, and cadmium. Confirm that these metals are present below established safety limits. 

Additional Considerations

LOD & LOQ

  • Limit of Detection (LOD): The limit that instruments can detect of an analyte, think of it as being able to see a flock of birds from a mile away, you can definitely tell that they are birds, but you can’t quantify how many there are. 
  • Limit of Quantitation (LOQ): The limit that instruments are able to quantify of an analyte. For example, you are in a room with 5 sleeping cats. You can easily determine what they are (cats) and how many there are (5) and if you need more or less (always more). 

Pass, ND, & Fail

  • ND means ‘Non-Detect’ and indicates that no analyte was detected 
  • Pass means that the analyte passed the DCC requirements 
  • Fail means that the analyte exceeded the limit provided by the DCC 

Verifying the Source

Lab Accreditation: Ensure the testing laboratory is accredited. Accreditation indicates that the lab adheres to recognized standards for testing. For cannabis testing labs in California, they must be ISO 17025 accredited and have their California state license. 

Contact Information: Look for contact information for the testing laboratory. Reputable labs are usually transparent and willing to answer any questions about the products they have tested. 

Conclusion

In the evolving landscape of cannabis products, a Certificate of Analysis is your key to making informed choices. By understanding the nuances of a COA, you can confidently assess the safety, quality, and potency of the cannabis products you choose to consume. Armed with this knowledge, you are better equipped to navigate the diverse world of cannabis and make choices that align with your preferences and values. A well-informed consumer is an empowered consumer, and here at Encore Labs we want to ensure that all parties involved are informed and capable of accessing clean, safe cannabis. If you want to learn more, watch our presentation on how to read a COA given by our Sales Manager, and if you want to inquire about getting anything tested, reach out to us here