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CBD Lab Reports: Why They Are Important & How to Read Them

How to Read CBD Lab Reports Header

Even if you're unfamiliar lab reports, you may have still seen them loudly touted by CBD brands like ours. This is because these lab reports - often referred to as certificates of analysis (COA) - are an essential tool to use when shopping for CBD products

Understanding why lab reports are necessary and how to read them will empower you to find effective, pure, safe CBD products.

Keep reading and we will guide you through this topic step by step. By the end of this article, you'll have complete knowledge of CBD testing to use yourself and share with those you care for.

Why are lab reports necessary?

In 2018, the Farm Bill federally legalized hemp. Despite this legal recognition, the industry operates in an unregulated space. This is because the FDA has failed to provide fair and balanced oversight and regulation that the industry desperately needs.

The lack of oversight means there is no quality or content control on CBD products sold in the general consumer market. This situation allows for scammers and unscrupulous brands to sell low-quality, misleading, and even dangerous products to unsuspecting consumers.

Until much-needed regulation is passed, transparency practices that borrow from state-level medical marijuana testing requirements have been deployed by leading brands. The result is testing designed to verify product content, purity, and potency. Lab reports empower you, the consumer, to verify exactly what is in each and every CBD product you purchase.

As a consumer it is essential to use vetting tools when shopping for CBD oil - and lab reports are arguably the most valuable tool available. Verifying product contents via these reports can mean the difference between finding a potent, pure product and being sold something without CBD at all - or worse.

To put it bluntly - if you can't verify a product via lab reports, don't buy it.

What part of a CBD product is being tested?

Every product CBD product on the market contains a hemp-sourced extract as the base ingredient. This extract can be a full or broad-spectrum oil or the isolated CBD molecule in crystalline form. This is where the CBD and other cannabis-derived compounds come from and this is where lab reports focus.

These hemp extracts may be offered for purchase as standalone products, but they are most often combined with additional ingredients to create a specific type of product. For example, our CBD oil tincture here at Big Sky contains hemp extract, MCT oil, and orange oil.

When this extract is created, there is a possibility that it can contain contaminants. This is due to poor growing practices and/or sub-par extraction. Additionally, the quality and portion of the hemp plant used in the extract creation determine the resulting cannabinoid and terpene content of the extract - the therapeutic compounds that make CBD products so sought after.

Lab reports are performed to verify that an end product contains the desired cannabinoid and terpene content. They also verify the product is free of harmful contaminants like heavy metals, mold, pesticides and more.

When is the analysis performed?

It's important to note that lab reports may be performed on the hemp extract, on the final product, or in both cases. This has an impact on the reporting, and it can be especially visible on the cannabinoid and terpene reports.

Screenings performed on the extract offer a better look at these compounds, displaying the presence of minor compounds. Screenings performed on the final product may be diluted, often removing the visibility of minor cannabinoids and terpenes on the report.

While providing screenings for the extract and final product may be ideal, it's also not common. We touch on this in greater detail down below and give you some information to help you make sense of what is going on, and make educated conclusions.

How to read CBD lab reports

There are a number of possible screenings that can be run on a given sample. Each screening is designed to test for the presence of specific compounds. Below we cover a complete panel, displaying and explaining the various tests you'll likely encounter when shopping.

Note that across these screenings you will see 'ND' repeated frequently. This is the abbreviation for 'none detected'.

Cannabinoid Profile

Cannabinoids are hemp-derived molecules that provide the primary therapeutic benefits of a CBD product. These compounds include well-known examples like CBD or THC and lesser-known molecules like CBG, CBC, or even raw acid forms like CBDA.

Every lab report should contain a cannabinoid profile - it is the report needed to verify that a given product contains CBD or not. This report displays the cannabinoid content levels found in a given product. From this screening, you can determine the spectrum of a product by observing the presence of measured cannabinoids. For example:

A full spectrum product contains a wide range of cannabinoids including THC:

Cannabinoid Screening Full Spectrum Lab Report Example

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A broad-spectrum product contains a wide range of cannabinoids present, without Delta-9 THC:

Cannabinoid Screening Broad Spectrum Lab Report Example

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An isolate-based product contains only CBD:

Cannabinoid Screening Isolate Lab Report Example

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What About Full/Broad Spectrum Products Displaying an 'Isolate-Looking' Report?

As we discussed above, there are some cases where a product will claim to be full or broad spectrum yet show a cannabinoid report that only registers CBD and does not display minor cannabinoids. This can occur for two reasons:

  1. Testing was performed on the final product and not the extract, resulting in a diluted report.
  2. The product was either knowingly or unknowingly mislabeled by the seller.

If you run into this situation, you must verify that both of these two additional pieces of information to confirm that the product is actually full/broad spectrum:

  1. The terpene profile will show a wide range of terpene content. Isolates will not have any terpene content as they are boiled off during distillation.
  2. The ingredients list will show a phytocannabinoid-rich or oil-based extract. Isolates will show a crystalline extract.

If you run into a case like this and the seller does not provide both of the two additional pieces of information - buyer beware. We suggest you look elsewhere as this means you can't verify the product contents.

Terpene Profile

Terpenes are the aromatic oils found in cannabis that are naturally present in full-spectrum and broad-spectrum products. These compounds offer additional and synergistic benefits via a phenomenon known as the entourage effect.

A terpene screening displays the presence and concentration of terpenes in a given product, often measured as parts per million (PPM). These reports are generally straightforward to read showing the levels of each:

Full Spectrum Terpene Report Example

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Terpenes are stripped during the process used to create a CBD isolate, but are sometimes added back in to create what the industry calls a 'terpsolate'.

Heavy Metal Screening

This screening verifies that an extract is free of heavy metal contamination. The report measures heavy metals like arsenic, cadmium, mercury and lead against allowable limits:

Heavy Metal Screening Report

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Microbiology Screening

This screening verifies that a product is free of microbes like yeast, molds, E-coli, and salmonella:

Microbial Screening

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Mycotoxin Screening

This screening verifies that a sample is free of mycotoxins which are toxic substances produced by fungus:

Mycotoxin Screening

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Pesticide Screening

This report verifies that a sample is free of pesticides:

Pesticide Screening

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Solvent Residue Screening

Many extraction methods used to create hemp extracts require the use of chemical solvents. This report displays if any solvent residue remains after extraction:

Solvent Residue Screening

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Additional Verification with Certificates of Quality Assurance

Taking things a step further, some sellers will offer additional assurances through Certificates of Quality Assurance (CoQA). These reports provide additional screenings and verifications to provide a second layer of assurance that the product contains what is being claimed.

For example here at Big Sky Botanicals, we provide CoQA's that display the results of a visual, odor, cannabinoid content, and contamination testing on the final product at the time of packaging:

Certificate of quality assurance example

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We hope it comes as no surprise to you that here at Big Sky Botanicals we practice what we preach. This is why we provide lab reports and certificates of quality assurance for each and every batch of every product we sell. You can find them all listed here, as well as on each individual product page over in our store.

3 comments on “CBD Lab Reports: Why They Are Important & How to Read Them

  • Big Sky Botanicals says:

    Hey Kelsey - PPM is parts per million. When testing with an established testing facility you'll often get a report comparing against the required regulations. For example, our lab reports here at Big Sky report that the arsenic levels are below the limits defined in The United States Pharmacopeial Convention elemental impurities guidelines (found here). You could use this as a guideline in your own testing.

  • Bjarki Juliusson says:

    If a product contains non-decarboxylated raw material by observing the presence and ratios of acid forms to non-acid cannabinoid forms.
    How do you read this?

    Many extraction methods used to create hemp extracts require the use of chemical solvents. This report displays if any solvent residue remains after extraction:
    In your example there are several chemicals present, how can we be sure only Co2 extraction was used?

    • Big Sky Botanicals says:

      If a product contains raw cannabinoids, the report would show significant levels of those cannabinoids. IE a 50/50 raw to decarboxylated blend would include similar levels of CBD and CBDA. For residual solvents, you can see in the report that trace amounts do exist, but they are extremely, extremely small amounts that are well under the 5,000 ppm limits. For extraction method, check with what the company advertises. Use the lab reports to verify it is free of residual solvents.

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