What Is a COA? The Complete Guide to Understanding Cannabis Certificate of Analysis

lab technician analyzing cannabis sample

The cannabis industry is filled with acronyms, measurements and other terms that can be overwhelming for anyone who doesn’t work in the field. Even experienced professionals can have difficulty understanding all of these terms on a regular basis, which is why so many people are asking “What is a COA?” Keep reading to learn more about COAs, how they work, and why you need one in the cannabis industry.

What is a COA in the cannabis industry?

A Certificate of Analysis (COA) is a document that gives an analysis of chemical properties of something and certifies that it was properly tested prior to being sold for public consumption. Also known as an Analytical Report or Chemical Certificate, it is an official document that confirms the properties and value of something, such as cannabis. These reports provide valuable information about the quality of cannabis products to consumers and businesses by providing third-party verification. In the cannabis industry, COAs confirm the purity of products along with their compliance with relevant laws. A COA tells you whether or not the product meets pre-determined safety standards in regards to potency, residual solvents, microbial limits and more. COAs offer additional information about the product, such as the name of the lab, the name of the analyst, and an expiration date.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more important document for your cannabis business than its Certificate of Analysis. A strong COA can help you make a great first impression on new distributors or retailers interested in carrying your product. COAs also build confidence with consumers. After all, what kind of confidence will they have in buying from you if you can’t show them that your company only sells products that are safe for human consumption? 

Why are COAs important for the cannabis industry?

COAs provide reliable and consistent data on the potency and purity of cannabis products. They also give consumers confidence that they are getting the value they expect. When cannabis products are tested and verified using a third-party lab, they are assigned a unique identifier, which is included in the COA. This gives consumers that purchase products that have been verified by a third-party lab access to key information about the product, including the batch number, the name of the lab that tested it, the date the product was tested and the amount of THC and CBD in the product.

How to read a COA?

A COA is divided into three sections: The sample, the report and the certificate. The sample section of a COA lists the details of the sample, such as the weight, the strain,  and the date that the sample was received. The report section of the COA lists the details of the lab’s analysis of the sample, including the cannabinoid profile, the level of microbial and solvent residue, the terpene profile, the moisture content, and any other analysis that the lab pre-determined. The certificate section of the report is the unique identifier that is assigned to the sample and the report. This number can be used to verify the legitimacy of the sample.

Types of COAs

What’s important to note is that COAs will usually have three different listed CBD (Cannabidiol) variants: CBD, CBDA, and CBDV. Regular CBD will be the most common cannabinoid searched for. CBD is one of the most popular varieties of cannabinoid because of its use in various consumer-grade products, from edibles to sunscreens. In fact, the CBD percentage is important to note in order to know the cost of industrial hemp when up for sale.

CBDA, or Cannabidiolic Acid, is a form of CBD that comes directly from hemp. This means CBDA is CBD in a more natural state. Once properly heated and treated through decarboxylation, it is converted into full-fledged CBD. It is important to keep track of its presence not only in raw hemp products but in industrial and consumer products as well. As decarboxylation can occur even if the plant is kept out in the sun for too long, it is important to include its analysis on COAs.

CBDV, or Cannabidivarin, is a regional variant of CBD that is more important for its medical properties. CBDV is analyzed based on the various effects it has on seizure and nervous system disorder treatment. In some cases, it has less importance listed within a COA than the other two primary cannabidiol sources. The others are sometimes considered more useful because of their industrial and medical product usage.  CBDV is mostly notable for its production and research outside of the United States. 

Consumer Benefits of Reading a COA

 Reading the COA is beneficial to the consumer simply because of the amount of information present Consumers can make better informed decisions regarding the products they choose to buy. Some of the areas a consumer may want to focus on include:

  • LOD (Limit of Detection) and LOQ (Limit of Quantitation) are used to determine whether or not a specific compound is at all present in the product. 
  • Action Level refers to the amount of said product that has met a standard considered safe for consumption.
  • Status indicates whether or not that product has passed or failed in terms of meeting said standard. 

Not only does reading a COA give the consumer access to these important details, it grants them the ability to determine consistent providers as well as knowing specific names to avoid. COAs also provide consumers with information regarding the presence of heavy metals or pesticides. Of specific note, any hemp that falls below a 0.3 THC level is considered safe under the law for cultivation and transport. The direct percentage is also good to know for those watching their intake of specific cannabis products.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, COAs are an effective way of building and maintaining public trust within the cannabis industry. COAs are used as a measuring stick for the various companies and farms within the industry. More importantly, COAs offer transparency and a meaningful way for a consumer to interact with the various ins-and-outs of the cannabis industry. In many cases COAs are also used to push for higher standards and regulation across the industry. At the end of the day, COAs are used to ensure transparency between manufacturer and consumer within the cannabis industry.  Having a POS system that can retain data such as COAs is one of the first steps a retailer can take to bring compliance to their retail shop. C-Trax is a dispensary software and POS that offers support of COA record maintenance. Get started today with building trust with your consumers as a cannabis retailer.

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