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How to Read a Cannabis Certificate of Analysis

By Danyal Swan November 3, 2021

The cannabis industry has grown immensely in recent years. You can find THC and CBD-infused creams, oils, food items, and even beverages. With the multitude of options now available, it is important you know the source you purchased from is trustworthy.

For many cannabis-based products, there has been a raised awareness of inconsistencies in the chemical compounds. Since these less superior products are so commonly found, when it comes to purchasing cannabis, it is important to know it is from a source you can trust. The easiest way to know for sure is to look at a product's Certificate of Analysis (COA). This will break down your potential product to ensure you know exactly what you are getting.

What Is a Cannabis Certificate of Analysis (COA)?

A COA is a document that confirms that a regulated product, like cannabis, meets certain specifications. It should come from an accredited laboratory and contains results that are performed as part of the quality control process. This analysis is important because it helps to ensure that the product you’re receiving contains the advertised level of THC and CBD. Recent studies have shown that more than 70% of CBD products sold online are mislabeled. Some don’t have CBD at all, while others have levels of THC that can cause unwanted side effects for someone looking for a low dose.

So, what is a COA for cannabis?

The simple answer is that a COA is a quality check to ensure the product has been inspected. Many purchase cannabis products for their therapeutic benefits. These compounds could be lacking or completely missing, and without the knowledge and research, you may have no idea. A COA should be conducted by an accredited third party, with results readily available.

For many professional dispensers, they either provide their COA reports on their website, or provide a scannable QR code, while others provide COAs upon request due to the use of multiple accredited testing facilities. If a company refuses to provide a COA, or it seems outdated, it is best to not use their products. Your health and safety matter most, and while many companies may not intentionally leave out information, it can still happen.

A COA test is much like a blood test ordered by a doctor. This means that it can be tested for a wide variety of different components, but it will depend on what is specifically requested. When it comes to purchasing high quality cannabis products, the more you know, the more secure you can be in your purchase.

How to Read a Cannabis Certificate of Analysis (COA)

Cannabis COAs will confirm that the product has passed for a range of state-dictated testing, including microbials and mytotoxins.

When it comes to reading a COA, there are some general aspects that can be found across all reports. On the top of the report, you will find the product name, the company who ordered the test, the batch number, and the date. This information should be the same, regardless of how detailed a report was ordered. There are a few things that you should look for when it comes to the top of the report.

These include:

  • Date. You’ll want to make sure that the date is recent. Like any product, there is a likelihood of some type of shelf-life.
  • Batch number. The batch number on the report should match the batch number on the product that you are trying to purchase.
The batch number is listed underneath the product name on each label. Have this handy when you need to request your COA!

The body of the report can vary due to the specifications given to the lab when it comes to what the company wants the cannabis tested for. The body will have a variety of test results grouped into different categories. These different categories include:

  • Cannabinoid concentrates. This is a listing of all cannabinoids the producer deems worthy of testing, such as its percentage of THC, CBD, CBC, and CBG. These results are important, especially for those who enjoy the benefits of cannabis, but could face problems with their employment if they happened to be tested for THC. Too much THC can also have psychedelic side effects that, while enjoyed by some, may be unwanted by others. This test helps to ensure you are truly getting what the label claims.
  • Terpene profile. Have you ever wondered what gives plants their various scents? This is due to the terpenes. They are an evolutionary tool that helps to attract pollinators and deter predators. Terpenes can be responsible for some of the various therapeutic properties of cannabis.
  • Microbiological testing. This test is quite important when it comes to making sure that your cannabis is truly considered safe. This test helps to ensure that the product was not contaminated by any harmful microorganisms. These microorganisms include salmonella, mold, yeast, or other biological contaminants that you simply wouldn’t want to put into your body, regardless of how small of a percentage it may seem. Mycotoxins are part of this testing, which are a specific species of mold that can contaminate cannabis products.
  • Pesticides. Much like microorganisms, this is another important testing area when it comes to ensuring that your product is safe. Pesticide use is very common, and it can be a serious concern. The presence of pesticides has documented health risks. This includes impacting a variety of systems in your body such as neurological, developmental, hormonal, and reproductive with just a small dose.
  • Synthetic cannabinoids. While most cannabis products you purchase are created naturally, there are human-made chemicals that have been designed to produce a psychoactive effect like THC. These synthetic cannabinoids are commonly known as “K2” or “Spice.” It is commonly either sprayed onto raw cannabis or mixed with vape oil. It is important to be fully aware if this product has been used because it can have dangerous side effects. To ensure your safety, make sure that the ingredients contain only naturally occurring components.
  • Residual solvents. These solvents are used to extract different compounds from plants. You’ll typically hear about either ethanol or butane. Regardless of what was used, there should be no sign of solvents in the final product.
  • Heavy metals. Cannabis is an amazing plant. It grows quickly and can be utilized across all industries from clothing to food and beverages. As cannabis grows, it is a bio-accumulator that cleans the soil it is grown in. Since it does regulate the soil, there is a risk of heavy metals becoming present within the plant itself. It is crucial to be sure that there are absolutely no traces of heavy metals, since these are toxic for human consumption.

There are other potential tests that can be utilized, but in general, these listed above tend to be the most important when it comes to human consumption. The lack of federal and state regulations due to the infant stage of this industry means that, as consumers, we need to educate ourselves and double check the research before purchasing any cannabis products. It is important to note that these inconsistencies are not always intentional or malicious, in fact, the supplier themselves may not realize the true inconsistencies without testing.

The end of the report also provides key information. It will include the name, the date, and the signature of the technicians that conducted the testing and compiled the COA. This establishes the authenticity of the test conducted. You’ll also see the lab’s name, their contact information, and the certification number. This area will make it clear that the testing was conducted by a third party.

How do you read cannabinoid test results?

You start with checking the date, and the batch numbers. You’ll then want to look through the different results, paying close attention to what they choose to have the technicians look at. This information can make the ingredients of your product clear, as well as establish that there are no safety concerns or risks. The bottom will show where the testing took place and who conducted it. With this information, you’ll then want to compare it to the actual final product level. Is it mislabeled? Is there more THC or less than shown in the test? Are there other ingredients that were added after testing? Could this impact your overall health and/or experience?

A COA is a great way to start pushing for stricter regulations to ensure that this industry expands.

Receiving A COA From MÜV

Dispensaries test a lot of product. Each strain must be tested at harvest, and pre-rolls and flower - even if from the same batch - too, receive separate testing. Currently, there are 8 testing labs, each which provide their own portal to house COAs. Sifting through is an arduous process, that’s why MÜV MedTenders and Patient Care Team are the keepers of COAs.

You can request the COA applicable to your medical cannabis products at your time of purchase by requesting from your MedTender. If you forget to request it at your dispensary visit, the Patient Care Team is standing by. You can reach them by phone, email and live chat to request a COA. Be sure to include the batch number, which is listed on each product sticker (see above!).

And, in case you didn't know, third-party testing is technically the second test run on MÜV Products. Our on-site lab conducts the same testing in-house to ensure the highest quality cannabis products are provided by MÜV.

COA for a Peace of Mind

COAs don't have to be confusing, but if they are, MÜV MedTenders and Patient Care Team are here to help.

The cannabis industry is only going to continue to grow. From an industry that once had to survive essentially underground, it is now booming and providing endless benefits for countless people. As this industry grows, regulations will eventually become just as common as any other over-the-counter product you may grab off the shelf.

Until that day, it is important to shop with a trusted high-end cannabis dispensary who cares about the quality of their products. If a business is unable to provide a COA to their consumers, it may be best to find a company that can. You should be able to buy with confidence. A COA provides that confidence using a third party who is unbiased to the company producing the product.

A COA is a great way to better understand your cannabis, and to help you shop with confidence. While there has been a rise in discovering inconsistencies, that has also paved the way for the important understanding of establishing a standard that all shops should respect and utilize. This industry will continue to grow and improve standards needed for complete peace of mind purchasing.

Do you have a question for the MÜV staff? We’ve built an expert custom care staff to answer any questions you have about cannabis, our products and how they’re grown.

Feel free to reach out at any time to speak to a cannabis specialist.

Content Manager for MÜV Florida and Contributor for Zen Leaf Dispensaries. A cannabis connoisseur with a passion for explaining the miraculous possibility of the plant, Swan began her journey with cannabis as a recreational user and quickly realized its positive impact on her depression and severe anxiety. She joined the cannabis industry as Receptionist and MedTender and witnessed first-hand the immense potential of the plant for a wide variety of ailments, deepening her passion for alternative medicine. Swan is dedicated to self-education on the plant and sharing its potential with all. She holds a Journalism degree from the University of Iowa.

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