Reading a Certificate of Authenticity (COA)
What is a Certificate of Authenticity (COA), and why should you read it—or even care? You’ve likely encountered this acronym since starting your shopping search for CBD products to help enhance your life. Most brands make this document available for viewing or download to prove pedigree, as it were.
“A Certificate of Authenticity or COA is a document from an accredited lab showing the cannabis profile (of the hemp oil), such as how much CBD and THC,” says Tyler Williams, founder, and chief technical officer for Cannabis Safety & Quality (CSQ). His company provides a set of industry standards and best practices from seed-to-sale for organizations across the cannabis industry. He also sits on the Policy Council and the Cannabis Manufacturing Committee for the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA). For good measure, he serves on the National Industrial Hemp Council (NIHC) and the Safe Quality Food Institute’s (SQFI) Cannabis Working Group, as well. Let’s just say he knows cannabis safety as well as anyone.
“A COA can go even further and tell the reader that there has been no contamination from chemicals, such as pesticides or heavy metals, and that it’s free from microbes such as salmonella,” Williams explains. Some COAs even break down a hemp oil’s terpene profile.
In Other Words
COAs delineate a product’s exact active ingredients. This information tells you a) if a product is legitimate and safe to consume and b) if a product contains the cannabinoid profile you want. Educated, health-conscious consumers should always read the COA—or ask for one, if it’s not provided. Hemp oil quality varies wildly in this young industry, and you want to know what you’re putting into your body. Knowing a product’s cannabinoid profile, for instance, helps you evaluate how and why that given product works for you (or doesn’t work).
Keep in mind that even COAs aren’t 100% accurate. Williams says, “A COA represents a large batch of product [size requirements change from state to state]. The sample taken is very small, and batches typically have cannabis from more than one plant.” This means bad products can still slip through the cracks. Frankly, that’s the risk we all take when consuming concentrated plant extracts that are regulated in the same category as “food” and not a medical drug.
One of our favorite companies, Charlotte’s Web, has an impressively sophisticated and transparent COA disclosure program that tracks hemp oil batches.
The THC Conundrum
How do you know there’s zero THC in your CBD product? According to Williams, a lot of the time you don’t.
“There have been several studies that showed either over the limit of .3% THC and/or significantly different CBD percentages as well, either higher or lower,” he says. These products end up on your kitchen table, because the scientific capabilities of brands varies widely. It’s also a matter of ethics. Some brands will fudge information due to laziness or expedience.
Then there’s the added wrinkle that extracted full-spectrum hemp oil typically has way more THC than the 0.3% federal limit. In order to transport and sell the extracted oil to manufacturers of consumer products, it must be blended with another edible oil (like refined coconut oil, aka MCT, or hemp seed oil) to bring the ratios down to 0.3%. To make THC-free “broad-spectrum” hemp oil, extractors must remove (or fractionate) the THC completely or contract with another laboratory to do so. There are various methods used to accomplish removal, each more technical than the next. Then the retail brands must formulate and package their products. There are inherent pitfalls at every step of this process, and testing for accuracy is expensive. Most companies get it right. Some don’t.
Read the Label
First off, read the COA. Then compare what you learn to the product label. If it doesn’t add up or you want to learn more, contact the company. Most CBD brands are small and eager to differentiate themselves. Customer care departments are typically very helpful. If not, move on to another brand.
“First, take a look at how many milligrams are included in the product,” says Michael Scherr, CEO & Founder of Arbor, a Denver-based CBD company. “Then, see what other ingredients are in the product and where it was made. If there’s a QR code, scan it to see the full panel tests, which reveal if there are heavy metals or pesticides you should be worried about.”
Reading the COA provides peace of mind that the potency of the product matches what’s on the label. Good products don’t have impurities. You might have to brush up on your high school chemistry to find the industry’s best products. Take charge of your health. It’s worth it!