How to read CBD lab reports or "certificates of analysis"

by for the Ageless Team November 03, 2019

How to Read CBD Lab Reports

When looking for CBD products you will notice regular mentions of ‘certificates of analysis’ or ‘third party lab reports’. At first glance, you may think that these are just industry red tape and don’t relate to you.

Certificates of analysis are actually one of the most important sources of information available for CBD consumers. The industry is still new and because it is largely unregulated, there are those that take advantage of this by selling low-quality or mislabelled products.

As you can see, it is important to know what you are buying. Before making a purchase ask yourself “is it what it claims to be?”. At for the Ageless, we believe it is important to be transparent in everything we do. This means providing our customers with easy access to all the information you need at the point of purchase.

Lab tests are a key part of this transparency. They give an independent (third party) analysis of what is contained in each batch of a product. This allows us to demonstrate that the products we stock are genuine, free of contaminants and contain legal levels of controlled substances such as THC and CBN.

Why are certificates of analysis important?

Hemp PlantThe value of certificates of analysis is that they are completed by an independent lab and can give an accurate picture of what is contained in each product. We should be able to take labels at face value, but recent product tests have found that even the labels of popular brands may contain inaccuracies (Gibbs, 2019).

Third-party certificates give a reliable, independent confirmation that the advertised cannabinoids are present in the amounts claimed.  Phrases like full-spectrum, broad-spectrum and isolate can also be confirmed from a quick inspection of the certificates.

They also allow you, as a consumer, to be fully aware that the product does not contain any dangerous substances. Hemp is a bio-accumulator, which means that it takes in compounds from the environment faster than it gives them out, resulting in the potential build-up of unsafe levels of heavy metals and pesticides. Effective extraction methods should lower these levels and lab tests can confirm that the product is safe for human consumption.

What’s on lab reports and how to read them

While certificates of analysis are incredibly useful, they can vary in content, quality and presentation. Some will only include information about the cannabinoids present in the sample. Others include additional information such as the results of a visual inspection, a profile of the substances in the product and their amounts. Other certificates include screening for contaminants like pesticides and heavy metals.

1. Visual inspection

This is the first test conducted by the lab and it is the simplest. They look at the oil and record what they see. They will state if it’s clear, what colour it is, how thick it is and if they see anything floating in it. Sometimes this is done by eye and other times it can be inspected under a microscope.

2. Cannabinoid Profile

Cannabinoid ProfileTo find the key information, start by looking at the cannabinoid profile. You will see a list of cannabinoids such as CBD (cannabidiol), CBG (cannabigerol), CBC (cannabichromene), CBN (cannabinol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). Next to them will be the amount of each one found by the analysis.

Look for:

1. The amount of CBD should match the amount on the product label.

2. Any trace of THC should not be greater than 1mg per container (Home Office). If there are different types of THC listed such as Δ9-THC or THCA, combined they should total less than 1mg.

3. The amount of CBN should also be less than 1mg per container.

4. This list may also display other substances like terpenes. Small amounts of these will improve the overall effect of the product. You may see terpenes such as linalool, myrcene, pinene and β-caryophyllene.

    4. Check for contaminants

    This is a record of the amount of any chemicals found haven’t been listed as ingredients. If anything is found, the amount will be listed. Some labs will indicate if it exceeds a safe level. If you find a contaminant listed and you are unsure if it is safe, it is always worth researching to find out. 

    Do they back up claims of full-spectrum, broad-spectrum and isolate?

    full-spectrum, broad-spectrum and isolateThese are phrases that are often included on the packaging to describe the number of beneficial substances contained in the extract. 

    Full-spectrum: Products labelled as full-spectrum should contain all the cannabinoids that were present in the hemp plant including THC. When you look at the COA the largest amount should be CBD and you should see 5 or 6 other cannabinoids recorded and having small or trace amounts.

    Broad-spectrum: These products should also contain a range of cannabinoids, except for THC. When you see a phrase like ‘broad-spectrum’ it is always worth checking the COA to see that the lab tests back it up. 

    CBD Isolate: Lab tests on isolated products should show that CBD is the only cannabinoid present.

    If products that claim to be broad or full spectrum don’t have a range of cannabinoids on the certificates of analysis, it could be for several reasons:

    1. The extract used to make the product was full-spectrum but during the process some of the other elements were removed. If the full range of cannabinoids isn’t specified on the bottle it isn’t a true full-spectrum product.
    2. The trace amounts of other substances are so small they haven’t registered in the analysis. This can happen and even tiny amounts make the product full-spectrum so if you suspect this is the case talk to the supplier and see what they have to say.
    3. The claims are made in error, intentionally or not, this is a sign to leave this product on the shelf and go look elsewhere.

    Where to find them on for the Ageless

    We only stock items from brands that we have personally tried and are transparent about their products and practices. Certificates of Analysis or Lab Reports are available on the product page of all our CBD products. When viewing a product select the ‘label’ tab and you will see a red link labelled ‘Certificate of Analysis’.

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    for the Ageless Team
    for the Ageless Team


    We are a small but mighty team of experienced natural health researchers. We follow strict selection criteria and test everything we retail: from ground-breaking food supplements to natural skincare products. Our main area of expertise is CBD.

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