How Do I Know What's In CBD?
Updated: Nov 22, 2022
In the world of hemp and CBD-related products, a certificate of analysis (or “COA” for short) is proof that testing has been carried out and is a way for consumers to verify proper handling and safety is being put forth by the manufacturer, farmer, or product developer. A full panel of tests for products containing CBD should include levels for pesticides, heavy metals, bacterial/microbial growth, mycotoxins, and of course... potency.
Currently, there are guidelines from the FDA/USDA regarding only THC potency in the original plant or product. This is because “industrial hemp” or CBD products specifically tests at 0.3% or below THC (or potential THC) by dry weight upon or around harvest or manufacture. A test showing THC levels above 0.3% is deemed a controlled substance by the DEA. It is important to note that testing levels and parameters for hemp biomass and other concentrates occurring from the extraction of cannabinoids are set at the state level. This has been done for a few reasons.
One, hemp-derived CBD products and the many forms they take in the market are not recognized by the FDA to be “able to treat any disease or condition”. Two, Cannabis s. has a troubled and restricted past with the Federal Government and its governing bodies, meaning approval of cannabinoid products is minimal (only a few have been approved for very specific conditions and in very specific forms), and cannabinoid-containing products (hemp and marijuana-derived) are plentiful.
Aside from that, testing for product registrations in the state they are manufactured within generally contains very safe levels for the different aspects mentioned above (heavy metals, pesticides, etc.). Hemp is a hyper-accumulator, meaning it gathers anything in the soil around its roots and collects it. If proper soil testing or pesticide usage isn’t maintained before and during growth, heavy metals and harmful compounds can be compounded in the plant. The same goes for proper curing (drying after harvest to prevent microbial growth) and storage of the plant after harvest. These are all aspects that either the hemp plant itself or the extraction process will compound before being passed on to the consumer.
If proper conditions per the state aren’t met for all applicable concerns, the plant won’t be allowed to be put on the market. Now, with that being said, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty: how to read a COA.
Regarding potency, 8 to 16 cannabinoids should be listed. Some of these concentrations will be zero, but they should still be listed. These cannabinoids are generally Δ⁹-THC, Δ⁸-THC, THCA, CBD, CBDA, CBG, CBGA, CBC, THCV, CBDV, CBN, and sometimes CBL & CBT. Next to these cannabinoids in a related column, you will see a unit of measurement relevant to the potency. These come in a variety of measurements but will generally be “mg/g”, “% (w/w)”, or “concentration (ug/ml)”. You may also see “LOQ” (“limit of quantification” - how sensitive the test is) and possibly some type of graphical representation of the concentration as well.
Let’s break down why each of these is important and how to not only read them but apply them to how you utilize dosages of hemp products. Let’s start with “mg/g”: there are 1,000 milligrams (mg) per gram (g). Let’s take a tincture (which we at Blackhouse Botanicals are big fans of) as an example: a 30 milliliter (“ml”) tincture contains approximately 28 grams of liquid oil by weight. This means that one dropper-full of a tincture (approximately 1 ml) is going to contain about 0.93 grams of oil.
(“28 grams / 30 milliliters” gives us “0.93 g/ml”)
Now, if you take 2 droppers full of a tincture and the COA states “CBG … 18mg/g”, that means you are introducing about 33.5mg of Cannabigerol into your body
(18mg/g CBG x 0.93g/ml x 2ml = 33.48mg CBG)
This is why “mg/g” is extremely important to understand and might be the easier way to measure your dosage for a hemp product compared to percentage by weight [%(w/w)] or micrograms per milliliter [µg/ml]. Knowing how to break this down and apply it to the products you enjoy, you’ll be able to take that information as you learn more about how your own ECS and how your body processes cannabinoids in different forms and what you may want to look for when trying new, different types of products, or where to start with different concentrations. This same approach can be applied to the main product label too. If you are taking 2 droppers-full of a “1000mg CBD” tincture per day, you can assume that you are getting approximately 66mg of CBD per day.
(1000mg CBD / 30 droppers-full per bottle = 33.3mg per dose x 2 doses per day = 66.6mg per day)
Another part of COA that is important to understand is how it overall relates to the type of product you are receiving. As we discussed in a previous blog post, there is a difference in products that are made from isolated cannabinoids or mixtures of cannabinoids (AKA isolate / broad spectrum / full spectrum). If a product is touting a “full spectrum” product but the COA only shows that only CBD was found in the testing, that is more-than-likely not a full spectrum product. If a consumer had been taking a true full spectrum “2000mg CBD” product, that means that there is 2000mg of CBD plus other cannabinoids included. The product that contains only CBD will most likely not have the same effect because of the previously discussed entourage effect.
Another aspect to consider is becoming familiar with what your state allows as acceptable levels of other constituents that may make it into hemp products. Some states allow certain levels of specific pesticides and others may ban the same pesticide altogether. Luckily, there are a few common things tested for by all states which include microbes (E.coli, Salmonella), mycotoxins (toxic compounds produced by fungi and mold), heavy metals (cadmium, lead, etc.), pesticides, and solvents. At Blackhouse Botanicals, not only do we hold ourselves to high standards regarding the testing of our products, but are also held to some of the tightest parameters for production in the country due to being located in Utah.