What's Really In The Bottle?
The Importance of CBD Lab Reports and How to Read Them
According to a 2019 survey by Consumer Reports, more than a quarter of the U.S. population has tried CBD and one out of seven of those people say they use it daily. The CBD industry is often described as the Wild Wild West because, despite CBD’s ubiquity, very little product regulation is in place.
A 2017 study published in JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association examined label accuracy of 84 CBD products sold online and found that nearly 70 percent had either higher or lower concentrations of ingredients than indicated on the label, and the THC content of some products could produce intoxication or impairment.
Until consistent manufacturing and testing standards are established, it is up to the consumer to do their due diligence. The best way to confirm label accuracy is to ask for a certificate of analysis (COA). This document reveals what’s really in the product and it should come from an accredited third-party laboratory.
Certificate of Analysis
“It’s a guarantee that you not only get what you pay for, but that nothing detrimental to your health is in a product,” says Jeff Sheldon, owner of The Health Hut in Mobile and Daphne, Alabam. “A COA proves to you that the amount of phytocannabinoid matches what is claimed by the manufacturer and can also let a consumer know if there are pesticide residues, chemical solvents, toxins, heavy metals or pathogens in a product.”
COAs can be found on a manufacturer’s website and often in the retail store where the product is being sold. First, look at the company performing the test and ensure that it is different from the manufacturer. “These lab tests are a vital part of transparency between both the source and retailer, as well as between the retailer and the customer. Third-party tests are high priority because they eliminate bias and tampering,” says Jennifer Boozer, owner of CannaBama in Mobile, Alabama.
Potency and Date
The most basic lab test examines potency of the product’s CBD and other major cannabinoids. Sheldon says, “Check that the amount of CBD and THC matches what the product claims and ensure that the THC content is below 0.3 percent, otherwise the product is illegal. If the manufacturer claims zero THC, you will see ‘ND’ for not detected.”
Ed Morgan, owner of Stella Naturals in Gulf Shores, Alabama, recommends looking at the date the test was done. “CBD only has a shelf life of just over a year and much less after opened. Many times you will see a test that is over a year old or 10 months old. You do not want to buy an old product that is expired or close to it.”
In addition to a standard cannabinoid profile, ideally, a product’s COA also includes the lengthy results of a full panel lab test, which reports on the presence of toxins. Boozer says, “Because cannabis is a bioremediator, a fully mature plant will have drawn into itself whatever toxins, heavy metals and chemical fertilizers or pesticides may be present in the soil. This can be dangerous because they are usually harmful to the body if ingested or inhaled. If the plant is not properly sealed and stored, mold, mildew and other bacteria can begin to grow, which can also make consumers sick, especially when inhaled.”
CBD products are sometimes tested for their terpene content as well. “Many manufacturers do not have this test done, but terpenes are shown to create different feelings and moods or benefits,” says Morgan, noting that some popular terpenes are Myrcene, Linalool, Limonene, Pinene and Terpineol.
Boozer refers to these aromatic oils as the “smell” chemicals and says, “They are very important when deciding what type of experience will result, and they can be used to customize the product effectiveness when they are added after the initial extraction. Each terpene has different medicinal properties in the body.”
In most states, COAs are only available for products whose manufacturer chooses to submit a sample and pay for a legitimate lab to perform the analysis. If a company does not publicly post this information, there is no way for consumers to know what they are buying.
Florida just joined the small group of states that do have CBD labeling requirements. As of January, Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is regulating CBD-based products consumed by people and pets. New rules address how packages are labeled (among other things) and require COAs by certified third-party laboratories. Morgan, whose products are manufactured in one of Florida’s state-licensed and inspected CBD facilities, says “This helps protect the consumer from fraud or bad CBD products, and we hope to see this in many states soon.”