How to Interpret Your Results from a Cannabis Testing Lab

A COA is a Certificate of Analysis, an official document required to show your compliance with the federal government’s regulatory laws regarding THC levels in hemp and cannabis products. Your COA should demonstrate your adherence to Farm Bill regulations, which states that hemp should contain no more than 0.3% THC.

The information gleaned from cannabis lab testing results can set your dispensary or cultivation enterprise on the path to success and legitimacy. While we’re all aware that a Certificate of Analysis (COA) is mandatory to operate in the industry, understanding your lab test results can be a hazy proposition.

What is a Certificate of Analysis (COA)?

The safety and efficacy of cannabis are essential for growth in the industry. A COA demonstrates the potency and purity of your cannabis product, certified by a licensed analytical testing lab. The lab analyses cannabinoid levels and the bud’s terpene profile and ensures the product is safe for consumption by testing for contaminants such as heavy metals, pesticides, bacteria, mold, or microbes.

The COA is essentially your “test results,” and the document proves your cannabis product has been tested and is safe for consumption. While COA requirements vary from state to state, two types of tests generally determine cannabis potency and purity: Gas chromatography and high-performance liquid chromatography. No matter which tests they run, all labs should be able to test for strength and impurities. 

It’s important to remember that the seasoned cannabis consumer will not buy your product if it doesn’t have a COA available. An inability to produce the document essentially says the product is untested and potentially unsafe. Cannabis consumers are discerning shoppers—they will not buy your product if it’s in the least bit shady. 

That’s why acquiring a COA test is crucial for cannabis dispensaries and cultivation facilities. So, how do you get a COA?

How Do You Get A Certificate of Analysis?

An accredited laboratory administers an official COA. Finding one in your area is as simple as a Google search. First, locate a laboratory in your state and confirm they are fully licensed and accredited, or select from the list featured in our recent blog

How To Read A Certificate of Analysis

Your first glance at a COA can be overwhelming, with scientific abbreviations, decimals, and percentages. But when you break it into bite-sized chunks of information, the COA becomes more digestible and begins to make a lot more sense.

What To Look For:

The header of your COA contains most of the details that help you trust the legitimacy of the data. Start at the top of the document and keep an eye out for this basic information:

  • Who carried out the analysis: This should be an accredited laboratory, not a manufacturer or other company
  • When the test was held: Report Date or Batch Date
  • Who requested the test: Be sure these are, in fact, your results
  • Locate your certificate ID: Included with every COA, this ID is necessary to identify the test in case of any disputed results. 

Here’s a line-by-line example of some of the basic information you’re most likely to see in the header of your COA:

  • Sample Name: Name of the sample provided by the client
  • Batch ID: Used for internal tracking
  • Reported: The date the COA was reported to the client
  • Type: Refers to the matrix of the provided sample, either plant, concentrate, solution, or unit
  • Test: Lists the types of tests performed; potency, terpenes, etc.
  • Test ID: The unique identifier for your sample

Actual Test Information: How To Read The Results

Following the header, most third-party labs will present a section containing the types of tests performed. This can be the most essential part of the entire document (besides the approval itself). This section describes the types of tests performed, including:

Cannabinoid Potency

Represented in a donut chart, bar chart, or simply in columns, the cannabinoid data lists the percentages of the major and minor cannabinoids, such as THC, CBD, CBN, and other cannabinoids. For example, for hemp-based products, the amount of THC should be 0.3% or below. 

Terpene Profile Analysis

Terpenes are the chemicals that give plants, like hemp, their flavors, and aromas. Along with potency, the COA will display the terpene profile in a summary that lists the specific terpenes and their levels in percentages and mg/ml. 

Containment Testing

Cannabis contaminants range from pesticides to heavy metals to mold. It’s important to remember that notching a passing grade in this department doesn’t necessarily mean a product is completely devoid of contaminants—instead, it means the product contains a safe limit as determined by state or county guidelines.

Essential Terms & Abbreviations On Cannabis Test Results

  • LOQ: The Limit of Quantitation is the lowest level a lab can accurately quantitate (or count) for each reported analyte. The LOQ varies from sample to sample based on the weight and the dilution factor used for testing.
  • LOD: The Limit of Detection refers to the specific detection level the laboratory equipment can recognize.
  • LOB: The Limit of Blank refers to the amount of a substance present in a blank sample being tested.
  • Result (%): Displays the analyte reported in a percentage format.
  • Result (mg/g): Displays the analyte reported in a milligram per gram amount.
  • Result (mg/mL): When provided the density of the sample, labs can display results in milligrams per milliliter.
  • Conc.: The exact concentration that is in the total oil or product.
  • ND: Stands for Non-Detectable.
  • PPM: Stands for Parts Per Million and describes the concentration of something. 
  • Full Spectrum: An extract containing THC up to the legal limit of 0.3%. 
  • Broad Spectrum: An extract that is THC-free or contains Non-Detectable levels of THC.
  • Isolate: A synthetic powder that is cut down to be 99%+ purity.

Find out how GemmaCert products can help you conduct in-house potency tests!

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