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How to Understand a Hemp Extract’s Certificate of Analysis (COA)

Written July 15, 2019 by Kat Merryfield

Purchasing hemp extracts can be a bit overwhelming for even seasoned hemp extract consumers. More often than not, when consumers see a Certificate of Analysis (COA) mentioned on a hemp extract company’s website, consumers assume the brand is legitimate and looking out for the safety and health of customers. 

 

However, due to the lack of regulation in the industry, many hemp-derived companies are cutting corners and posting false test results for the sake of profit. For this reason, it’s crucial for consumers to thoroughly analyze the COA for any product they are considering as it allows individuals to confirm what’s actually in a hemp extract product. By reviewing the document, consumers can get a thorough look into the ingredients that are in a hemp extract and how the ingredients are processed. 

 

But, the COA isn’t the only certification that consumers should request and review. There are two other documents that a reputable hemp extract company will have. 

 

  • The Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) certification is another credential that ensures a company’s products are consistent with quality standards. The GMP relates to therapeutic, medicinal, and cosmetic products as well as active pharmaceutical ingredients. The Health Sciences Authority, which issues the GMP, only provides the certification to manufacturing facilities that meet satisfactory compliance through a thorough audit. As of right now, CBD companies are not allowed this certification. We are audited for our Food Manufacturing practices and certified under the state’s food safety program. If you see a GMP certification on a CBD company currently, it is the building that is certified not the product.

 

  • Food Manufacturing and Safety Certification: The Department of Food and Safety issues this certification in the state where the establishment is set up. The department conducts audits for the safety and cleanliness of the process of manufacturing and food production. CBD sublinguals and edibles, for example, fall under this category.  If a hemp extract company has this certification, consumers should know the brand is held under strict regulations for safety and cleanliness and so are its farms and extractors, as all suppliers of the certified products are required to possess the certification as well.

 

In fact, cosmetic and food companies are required to have some or all of these certificates, including safety data sheets, and other compliance regulatory paperwork. So technically, any consumer can call a cosmetic company and request a COA or GMP/food manufacturing certification. If for any reason the company is unable to produce the documents, it can be shut down. 

 

The step-by-step process that research companies use to test hemp extracts

 

While it’s essential for consumers to purchase products from hemp extract companies that have specific certifications in place,  it’s not easy to understand what those documents mean. 

 

This fact is especially true when consumers are looking at a hemp extract’s third-party test results, which are indicated on the COA. If a consumer has never viewed a COA before, it’s not immediately clear which research labs conducted the third-party tests or what process they used, especially when some hemp extract companies falsify their documents to hide information. 

 

However, There are several different analytical labs that test the quality and potency of cannabinoids, terpenes, and other phytonutrients in the hemp plant. For the most part, research labs use high-performance liquid chromatography, also known as high-pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC). HPLC equipment ensures researchers that regardless of the stability or volatility of a solid or liquid analyte, the compounds will still separate so the test can produce information about potency levels, solvents, molds, and bacteria. 

 

However, here at Kat’s Naturals, we’ve actually developed our own step-by-step process to produce top of the line, high-quality hemp extracts: 

 

  1. We have all our farmers produce a detailed profile of cannabinoids, terpenes, pesticides, and heavy metals tests. All four tests must be tested in third-party labs to ensure accuracy and purity. 

 

  1. Once approved, the extraction process begins, and we request another round of tests, which are purchased by the extractor. This round of tests check the potency of cannabinoids and terpenes. The results of these tests will determine if and how much the extractor needs to dilute the flower to make a safe and quality product. 

 

  1. Next, the extractor conducts a solvents test, which ensures there are no solvents in the product. However, if an extractor does use butane or ethanol, it must be cleaned out by their Rotavap to ensure there are no remaining substances that could potentially harm consumers. 

 

  1. After the material gets to us, we can begin formulations. However, we still do another set of tests. We test for heavy metals and check the potency of cannabinoids and terpenes one last time to remain as accurate as possible.  

 

  1. Finally, we conduct a microbes test to ensure there wasn’t any contamination in the product when it was delivered, and there wasn’t any contamination in our machines. Afterward, we do another residual solvents test to make sure the research labs provided accurate information. 

 

How to successfully analyze a hemp extract’s third-party test results

 

Once hemp extract companies have worked with farmers, research labs, and extractors to test their products, the results are illustrated on each product’s COA.

 

The research lab will indicate the test results on a COA in one of two ways: “milligrams per gram” or “percentage per gram.” The two measurements are at the very top of the test results. However, before examining the results, it’s important for consumers to consider two key factors. 

 

First, when someone adds an agent to any analysis, the molecules will break apart, and a machine will analyze that. Second, there’s always an allowance for variation by  3% on either side. 

 

For example, if a consumer is reviewing a COA that indicates a hemp extract has 50 milligrams per milliliter, it should suggest an acceptable range between 46 to 54. However, if the test results indicate a percentage per gram, then the results are based on volume. In this case, the consumer will see a decimal like .5, for example, which means there’s a .5 percentage of a particular ingredient in the product. 

 

Now, the COA for a full-spectrum hemp extract should be analyzed a little differently. When consumers review those test results, they will see a variation between the total percentage of cannabinoids and milligrams per milliliters versus the CBD percentage in the table. For example, consumers will see CBD  along with all the other cannabinoids that make up the final profile. At the end of the column you will see a “total cannabinoids” that is the number you want to compare to what the mg/ml of the product is supposed to be. 

 

Being able to thoroughly analyze a COA, whether it’s for a full-spectrum or CBD hemp extract, can help consumers differentiate between inferior products and honest, safe, high-quality remedies. As mentioned before, the COA is the only way to know what’s actually in a hemp extract. 

 

Reputable companies will take the time and use the money and resources to test their products and seek credible third-party testing. But without the effort, certifications, and lab tests, the safety and quality of the hemp extract is compromised and should not be purchased. 

 

Know someone who doesn’t understand a COA? Share this article and let us explain! We’ll give them all the details they need to know. 

 

OUTLINE AND TRANSCRIPT 

 

Headline: A Hemp Extract’s Third-Party Test Results: How it Works and What It Means 

 

Deliverable: April 4th – May 4th

 

Topic Summary: When consumers search online for hemp extracts, they typically find third-party test results on the same page as specific products. However, most consumers don’t know research labs are conducting the tests, what the results mean, and whether the results are legitimate. After explaining why third-party testing is essential in the hemp extract industry, Kat will walk through the process of third-party testing, how to understand the results, and how to search for false statements. 

 

Keywords: hemp extract

 

Audience: Moms, Millennials, and  Women 45 + 

 

  1. When consumers search online for hemp extracts, they typically find a COA with third-party test results on the same page as specific products. Can you please explain why third-party testing and COA’s are so essential in the hemp extract industry? 

 

It is important, not just for our CBD, but actually for all of the ingredients that are in our products. Since we’ve learned more about certificates of analysis (COAs), whenever we buy ingredients, they have to come with a certificate of analysis or we won’t buy it. I want to see what they’re using. I want to make sure that they’re processing it properly. I want to make sure they have their certifications in place. 

 

Every company has to have them if their GMP or ISO certified, which in the cosmetic world, for example, they have to be. So in their products they have to have all of these certificates of analysis, their safety data sheet, and any other compliance regulatory paperwork. You have to keep those documents in a log book. So, technically you can call any company and say, “I want to see the certificate of analysis”, and if they cannot produce them they can be shut down. 

 

ADDITIONAL RESEARCH ON GMP CERTIFIED (MUST BE REWORDED): The Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) certificate issued by HSA is a certificate relating to the manufacture of a therapeutic product, medicinal product, an active pharmaceutical ingredient or a cosmetic product attesting to its conformity with the relevant GMP Standard as appropriate. A GMP certificate is granted when the manufacturing facility has been audited and found to demonstrate satisfactory compliance with the required GMP standard.  – Source

 

This was something I found kind of humorous in an ironic way. But,  I think the importance of COAs can go beyond just the hemp extract industry. Customers began being influenced to ask for COAs from other consumers who said, “This needs to be present.” Where this originally came from I’m not sure. But when you look at the amount of heavy metals, microbes, or pesticides and herbicides that are allowed to be present in the products you’re ingesting, the amount is enormous in our foods. Enormous. 

 

Why doesn’t our cereal boxes have a QR code that gives us all of our safety data sheets and all of their COAs? We need to awaken people to the fact that we can question every industry. We have to right to request the certificates of analysis, and the safety data sheets behind all of our foods. Maybe we should demand that there are QR codes showing the chain of custody from seed to box. 

 

  1. What’s the step-by-step process that research companies use to test hemp extracts?

 

Okay, so there’s lots of different analytical labs. Most of them use something called an HPLC testing equipment. What that does is they add an agent to whatever product they’re trying to test that allows for the molecules to break apart, and then they analyze those through this machine. The machine spits out information that tells you potency levels, terpene levels, heavy metal levels, solvents, molds and bacteria, so all of these tests are done a little bit differently with different agents that are introduced in order to pull out whatever you’re looking for. 

 

ADDITIONAL RESEARCH ON HPLC TESTING EQUIPMENT (MUST BE REWORDED): HPLC (known as high performance liquid chromatography, high pressure liquid chromatography) is used to separate the phases of a solid or liquid analyte, regardless of its stability and volatility. HPLC equipment is popular for its regarded ease of set up, use, and configuration potential. The principle of HPLC testing focuses on what occurs when the analyte (compound being analyzed) and a test solvent are pushed under pressure through a column within the HPLC equipment. The solvent strength and the particular flow rate within HPLC equipment affect retention times. – Source

 

These tests are very expensive. So the more tests you ask for the higher the products going to cost. Because let’s just put this in an average range, it’s about $65 to $75 for a potency test, another $65 to $75 for a terpene test. Then it’s $85 for your solvents test. It’s $125 for your heavy metals tests and your herbicides and your pesticides test, so this is two more. Then it’s $225 for you bacteria and molds test.

 

Now, before we buy anything, the farmer has to produce a cannabinoids profile test, a terpene test, a pesticides test, and a heavy metals tests. So that’s four tests for that crop. They have to test it in three locations, because if I only see one test I don’t trust it. They could have taken one flower and tested that, or if they tested the highest to the sun, the tests are going to be very different if they tested a lower branch. So we require them to test it from several places. 

 

Once that’s been done and we’ve approved it and are using it, then it goes to the extractor, and the extractor does the initial extraction, and then tests again. The extractor has to pay for the next round of tests, which is a heavy metals test, because sometimes, even if a flower tests okay, once it’s been extracted and all of that comes together in a concentrate it could show up. So it has to pass the second round of testing. The extractor has to get the heavy metal test taken, their potency test taken, and their terpenes test taken. All of that shows them how much they need to dilute it in order to make your product.

 

Once you have those done, they also have to get a solvents test done so that we know they didn’t use any solvents that are still in the material. We work with our extractor, so we know she’s not using solvents at all. However, if an extractor does use butane or ethanol, you’ve got to make sure that that’s been cleaned out by their Rotovac and there’s nothing remaining that could be harmful to people. So all of that usually takes them about a month to get all those tests back. 

 

Once it comes to us and we do formulations and make sure everything’s been diluted to our specifications, we test everything again, but we add the microbes test to make sure we didn’t have any contamination in our machines and we didn’t get any contamination in the product when it was delivered. Then, we actually do another residual solvents test just to make sure that they weren’t lying. We do a heavy metals test, and we do the cannabinoid and terpene tests as well. So all of those tests get done by us again.

 

And you have to wait between three and four weeks to get all of your tests back. So that product can’t go into production until all your tests are back, and you make sure everything’s okay. So if for some reason you didn’t order correctly, that’s why you oftentimes see people go out of stock, because either their tests weren’t back yet or their supplier ran out, or something happened.

 

  1. Explain why a hemp extract’s test results might be difficult for consumers to understand at first glance. What are 3-5 specific steps that consumers can take to successfully analyze a hemp extract’s third-party test results? 

 

So you’ll see at the very top of the COA that it says milligrams per gram, and it says, percentage per gram. So it’s written in two ways, you’ve got your percentage and you’ve also got your milligrams per gram. The milligrams per gram is basically what you want to see when we say, a milliliter equals. 

 

Now with any analysis that’s going on, you have to remember that when you’re adding an agent to it, you’re breaking apart molecules, and then a machine is analyzing it. So there’s always an allowance for variation by about three points on either side or 3%. So when you get something that says it should have 50 milligrams per milliliter, you should see something between 46 to 54, and that’s an acceptable range.  So a milliliter is approximately the same amount as that milligram part. But the percentage is based on volume, so you’re going to see a decimal before it. It’ll say .5 something. That’s just telling you that that’s the percentage in the product. 

 

Now if you’ve got a full spectrum there’s a couple of ways to read the COA, because it’s a little bit different from when you’re analyzing CBD content alone. When you’re looking at your total cannabinoids at the bottom you’re going to see this is your total percentage of cannabinoids and you’re going to see this is your milligrams per milliliter, or grams. So you’re going to see a little bit of variation with that versus your CBD percentage in the table. So if you look at all those cannabinoids you’re going to see CBD equals, and then you’ll see that on the side. You’ll see all those different cannabinoids and what it does to make up that whole.