How to Read a Certificate of Analysis (COA)

How to Read a Certificate of Analysis (COA) - A Comprehensive Guide


In today's market, where the quality and safety of products are of utmost importance, consumers are becoming increasingly conscious about the products they purchase. One way to ensure the quality and safety of a product is by examining the Certificate of Analysis (COA). Fortunately, many legitimate brands are now partnering with certified third-party laboratories to publish their lab results with a COA. This verified document provides valuable information about the testing lab, the brand and product in question, and the potency of the ingredients it contains. In this blog post, we will explore the importance of COAs and guide you on how to read and interpret them effectively.

The Significance of COAs:

A COA plays a vital role in helping consumers make informed decisions. It not only verifies the authenticity of a product but also provides crucial details about its potency and safety. For products such as hemp, CBD, and cannabis, the COA offers insights into the presence and concentration of cannabinoids like THC, CBD, CBG, and CBN. Additionally, COAs may also include information about terpenes, which contribute to the product's aroma, flavor, and therapeutic properties. It is essential to note that apart from potency, COAs help consumers determine whether a product is free from harmful contaminants such as heavy metals, pesticides, molds, and bacteria.

The Importance of COAs:

USDA and State Guidelines: To ensure consumer safety, both the USDA and State guidelines mandate that all products undergo testing. Therefore, if a product lacks a COA, it is crucial not to consume or purchase it. The absence of a COA raises doubts about the product's quality and safety, and it may be a red flag indicating that the brand has not followed the necessary testing protocols.

How to Read a COA:


Understanding the various components of a COA is essential to make sense of the information it provides. Here are the key elements to look for when reading a COA:

  1. Report Date: The Report Date indicates the timeliness and relevance of the results. Ensure that the COA displays recent and up-to-date information.

  2. Third-Party Laboratory Information: The name of the third-party laboratory should be prominently displayed, enabling you to verify the lab's existence and credentials. This validation adds credibility to the COA.

  3. Brand and Product Verification: Check that the COA mentions the brand name and cross-reference it with the information on the product packaging. The names should match unless the company has outsourced the manufacturing process. If there is a discrepancy, further investigation may be necessary to ensure the COA is associated with the specific product in question. Additionally, confirm that the batch number and description on the COA match the details on the product you intend to purchase.

  4. Summary Section: As a consumer, the summary section of the COA can provide valuable information at a glance. It presents key results, including potency and safety testing, in a concise format. A comprehensive COA includes both ingredient and safety information, indicating that it represents a full panel analysis.

  5. Potency Results: In the potency results section, you will find information about the concentration of cannabinoids such as CBD, CBG, CBN, and THC. Understanding the potency of these cannabinoids is crucial, especially when purchasing hemp products, as they must contain less than the legal limit of 0.3% THC. Ensure that the COA clearly displays the potency results for the desired cannabinoids.

  6. Concentration Details: For a more in-depth understanding of the product's composition, delve into the COA to examine the concentration of each cannabinoid and terpene. The "Result (mg/g)" column indicates the concentration of each cannabinoid per gram of the product. Note that if the product is a liquid or oil, the results may be measured in mg/ml. Blanks in the results column indicate that the laboratory did not detect significant levels of a particular compound. The "%" column provides a percentage conversion, offering an alternative perspective on the concentration of each cannabinoid. This information can help you evaluate the product's suitability for your needs.

Top 6 Red Flags to Watch Out For - To ensure the accuracy and reliability of a COA, watch out for the following red flags when comparing it to the product in question:

  1. Missing Safety Tests: A comprehensive COA should include safety tests for contaminants such as residual solvents, heavy metals, pathogenic microbiology, etc. If these tests are missing, it raises concerns about the product's safety.

  2. Missing Cannabinoids: Ensure that the COA lists the cannabinoids mentioned on the product packaging. Missing cannabinoids may indicate inaccuracies in the product's composition.

  3. No Lab Certifications: Look for lab certifications or accreditations that validate the credibility of the testing facility. The absence of such certifications may cast doubt on the reliability of the COA.

  4. Too Much THC: If the COA indicates that the product contains more THC than the legal limit of 0.3%, it may be non-compliant and could have unwanted psychoactive effects.

  5. Less CBD (or Other Cannabinoids) Than Advertised: If the COA shows lower concentrations of CBD or other desired cannabinoids than what is advertised, it raises questions about the accuracy of the product's claims.

  6. Less Terpenes Than Advertised: Terpenes play a significant role in the sensory experience and therapeutic benefits of a product. If the COA reveals lower terpene concentrations than advertised, it may indicate an inconsistency between the product and its marketing claims.

Acronym Reference Key

  • UI - Not Identified

  • ND - Not Detected
  • N/A - Not Applicable
  • NT - Not Reported
  • LOD - Limit of Detection
  • LOQ - Limit of Quantification
  • <LOQ - Detected
  • >ULOL - Above upper limit of linearity
  • CFU/g - Colony Forming Units per 1 gram
  • TNTC - Too Numerous to Count


When cannabis companies prioritize third-party testing and provide COAs, they demonstrate a commitment to quality and customer safety. Publishing COAs alongside their products shows transparency and helps consumers make informed decisions. In a time of regulatory uncertainty, it is crucial for brands to prioritize total transparency and ensure that consumers have access to accurate information. By understanding how to read and interpret a COA effectively, you can confidently navigate the market and choose products that meet your quality and safety standards.

Remember, when it comes to purchasing cannabis-related products, the COA is your ally in making informed choices and safeguarding your well-being.