How to read a Certificate of Analysis (COA). Red Flags to know

How to Read a Hemp Certificate of Analysis (COA): Top Red Flags to Know

From THCa flower to CBD edibles, delta 8 pre-rolls to delta 9 vapes… The hemp business is booming. Not surprisingly, considering these products and more are now easily purchasable in-store and online, too. 

In fact, the global hemp market is expected to increase from $1.8 billion in sales in 2023 to a staggering $16.2 billion by 2033. 

Whether you’re consuming hemp or selling hemp, a hemp COA is one of the most crucial reports to review. COA stands for certificate of analysis and is the end report from a third-party lab testing hemp material. 

That’s why here, we’re covering everything you need to know about hemp Certificate of Analysis (COA) by covering the topics of:

Table of Contents

Hemp COA: The Basics

As we just covered, COA stands for “Certificate of Analysis.”. It indicates the hemp material, or the hemp product has been tested by a third-party lab. Although the 2018 Farm Bill that legalizes hemp-derived product sales doesn’t require one, hemp manufacturers have these tests conducted for quality and safety assurance. 

Knowing that third-party testing isn’t required is what makes the hemp COA that much more important. Hemp COA reports allow consumers to weed out bad industry players and avoid purchasing sketchy hemp products. 

Not only that, but hemp COA reports also confirm the potency or content of the product. This allows manufacturers to correctly convey the cannabinoid levels of the product, so consumers can consume it safely and find their proper dosing. 

Last but not least, hemp COA reports verify that the products have less than .3% delta-9 THC, making the products legal for sale again, thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill. 

How to Read a Hemp COA

So, now that you know what a hemp COA is, who needs one and why, and exactly how do you read one? Looking at this example, let’s get more familiar with the most important sections of a hemp COA.

Reading a Hemp COA. Cannabinoid content, residual solvents, Mycotoxins, pesticide content

Cannabinoid content

Cannabinoids are the driving factor behind hemp’s unique effects. Making it that much more important to test for specific levels so consumers can be aware of what to expect. 

The cannabinoid content or various types found in the product (delta 8 THC, CBD, CBN, THCa, etc.) is often displayed in weight percentages and concentrations as mg/g and mg/unit (i.e., one serving vs. an entire bottle). 

Pesticide content

Like any plant, hemp plants can be subject to the negative effects of pests. Hence the use of pesticides by some cultivators. However, and of course, pesticides are not safe for human consumption at certain levels. 

On a hemp COA, the pesticide test shows what pesticide was tested, the level at which it was detected, the acceptable level limit, and then the result, which should be noted as “ND” as none detected. 

For this section and others, it’s important to know three abbreviations: 

  • LOD, or limit of detection, is the lowest level of detection by the tests. 
  • LOQ, or limit of quantitation, is the lowest concentration that can be quantitated. 
  • PPM, or parts per million, is how results are measured. 

Residual solvents

For the extraction of resinous oil from the plant material, harsh solvents like butane are used to agitate and isolate the compounds. If the process is not done correctly, some of the solvents can remain in the final product. 

Because many of these solvents are unsafe to consume at certain levels, a hemp COA will test for residual solvents and report back with the same units of measurement we explained above. 


Mycotoxins are harmful fungi that are also unsafe to consume and come from contaminants. On a hemp COA, you’ll see the mycotoxins by action level (ppb or parts per billion) and results, where “ND” or “none detected” will be present.

Reading a Hemp Certificate of Analysis (COA). Heavy metals, microbials and other important factors.

Heavy Metals

Heavy metals are reported similarly to mycotoxins and tested for harmful metals to consume, like arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury. These types of metals could be present in plant material that’s grown outside of the US or could enter products through the extraction or packaging process (especially in vapes with metal hardware). 


The hemp COA microbial test verifies there are no unsafe levels of mold, like salmonella, e. coli, varying types of aspergillus, and others that are harmful to consume. More often than not, microbial testing will have results indicating a “pass” or “fail” based upon the type of test used and the results. 

Other important hemp COA factors to verify include: 

  • Batch number – Ensure that it matches the batch you submitted. 
  • Accreditation – Most labs will include their lab accreditation seals on the report. 

Hemp COA: Red Flags to Know

Just glancing at a COA and seeing “pass” isn’t enough. There are a few more factors to verify or red flags to be aware of to avoid any fake or altered hemp COA reports. Here are the three most common hemp COA red flags to know:

Certificate of Analysis (COA) Red Flags.

When a “full-spectrum” or “single-source” product doesn’t contain terpenes or various cannabinoids,.

Full spectrum refers to the fact that the product contains the entire profile of cannabinoids and compounds from the hemp flower material. Single source refers to the fact that it’s from one strain, i.e. White Widow, etc. If a product is listed as either of these but does not show terpenes or other minor cannabinoids on the hemp COA, then red flags should rise. 

Because all cannabis and hemp plants produce a variety of cannabinoids and terpenes, naturally, unless the product is an “isolate,” there should be traces of both on testing. 

When a test is completed in-house vs. at third-party labs.

While we applaud cost-saving measures such as having an in-house lab for hemp products, we recommend ensuring you review the test with a fine-tooth comb before accepting. Third-party lab reports are more highly recommended, as the lab has no gain in wanting the product to pass for sale purposes. 

When a hemp COA reports too little or too much THC,.

Number one, if a hemp COA reports too much THC, that should present a red flag, as anything with more than .3% delta 9 THC is over the limit for sale per the 2018 Farm Bill. 

If a hemp COA reports an unusually small amount (like 0), this could also raise a red flag since all cannabis and hemp plants produce the cannabinoid. 

Hemp COA. Testing for Compliance and Safety.

Testing for Compliance and Safety

Before we go, it’s important to understand that testing isn’t just for compliance purposes but for the consumer’s overall health and safety. Because testing can be a costly endeavor, many distasteful retailers may try to avoid the cost by fudging reports or testing in-house, to avoid recurring costs and be able to fudge the numbers. 

However, when it comes to the health and safety of the consumers you want to continue to serve, trusted and reputable third party testing is a must. It should be of utmost importance to take the steps to verify the validity of the hemp COA to ensure the health and safety of the end-consumer. 

The Final Word: Hemp COA

As you can see, hemp COA reports are straightforward reports that are simple to read once you know what each section means. In this guide, you’ve learned about each testing parameter you can expect to see on COAs and the hemp COA red flags to look out for.

So, if you’re off to find quality hemp to sell with a reputable hemp COA, you won’t have far to go. Here at Elevated Trading, it’s our mission to serve wholesalers with premium, trustworthy products to increase sales and improve your bottom line. 

Consider Elevated Trading for your wholesale hemp needs. Browse our current collection of wholesale THCa flowers, and more, all equipped with hemp COAs to verify quality, potency, and safety. 

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