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18 Jul 2022

The Importance of an Accurate Certificate of Analysis

The role of testing labs is unique in the cannabis industry: Knowing exactly what’s in a cannabis product affects everyone, from cultivators and manufacturers to the end consumer.

At PSI Labs, we test a large volume of samples each month at our ISO 17025 accredited facilities in Michigan and California. Our technicians operate within a culture of honesty, integrity and transparency to provide accurate, comprehensive results for our clients.

For each sample tested, the results are released in the form of a Certificate of Analysis, also commonly known as a COA. This important document contains a significant amount of information about a product, but it is often overlooked in conversations about transparency and empowering end consumers. 

Here’s an overview of what COAs mean for both industry operators and consumers.

What is a Cannabis Certificate of Analysis?

Simply put, a Certificate of Analysis (COA) is a document issued by an accredited testing laboratory that displays the results of testing for a predetermined set of contaminants or quality indicators. COAs are commonly used in many industries, such as manufactured foods, pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals. Within cannabis, a passing COA confirms that a regulated product meets certain specifications as defined by the State.

Products are tested for state regulatory compliance, with additional analytical services provided for research, product R&D and other quality or safety purposes. For cannabis flower, an extract or an infused product, the COA report shows the results of all requested analytical tests and in the instance of compliance testing, the COA will also show a Pass / Fail measure.

The COA provides information about any included testing such as potency, microbial content, heavy metals, pesticides and more. As we like to say at PSI Labs: Knowledge is Power—and a COA is an excellent source of knowledge!

Why Cannabis Testing Labs Provide Certificates of Analysis

The best way to understand what is in a cannabis product is to review a comprehensive COA.

In the cannabis sector, one of the first items you will see on a COA are Potency Results—including ∆9-THC and several other cannabinoids. The levels of various cannabinoids can be used in considering what type of experience the product may induce for a consumer. For the cannabis potency testing services that PSI Labs provides in Michigan and California, we report results for the following:

  • delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (∆9-THC) level

  • delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol acid (THCA) level

  • delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol (∆8-THC) level

  • Cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabidiol acid (CBDA) levels

  • Cannabinol (CBN) level

  • Cannabidivarin (CBDV)

  • Cannabigerol (CBG) and Cannabigerol acid (CBGa)

  • Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) and Tetrahydrocannabivarin acid (THCVa)

  • Cannabidivarin acid (CBDVa)*

  • Hexahydrocannabinol (HHC)*

  • Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC-O)*

  • exo-Tetrahydrocannabinol (EXO-THC)*

  • Delta-10 THC-R, R*

  • Delta-10 THC-R, S*

*Exclusively available at PSI Labs in California

The Importance of Cannabis Testing Beyond Cannabinoids

In addition to potency, cannabis testing labs provide COAs to document the presence of potentially harmful contaminants such as residual solvents, pesticides, mold and heavy metals. While the data on a COA is critical, it’s only as good as the science behind those tests, and incorrect analysis or invalid testing methods can result in the release of products that could cause illness or other debilitating effects and damage trust in a state’s regulated system.

Terpene information, as an example, is also often listed on a COA and can have a significant impact on the overall product experience. In the human endocannabinoid system, terpenes are thought to play a role in what is known as the entourage effect when they act in concert with cannabinoids and cannabis flavonoids. The accuracy of terpene data becomes especially important in medical products.

Many medical cannabis patients carefully consider which terpenes—and how much of each—are in the cannabis products they purchase based on the specific effects they are seeking to best address their individual needs. Properties of certain terpenes and the manner in which they can enhance or alter quality and / or efficacy means that getting the terpene numbers right on a COA is a fundamental task for cannabis labs.

When a scientific document like a COA is accurate and made available to the public, consumers can be confident that retail products meet state safety standards and include the compounds the label claims it does.

Testing and labeling that are inconsistent can be a result of a number of factors, including cannabis companies working with unreliable laboratories, a lack of federal regulation or simply the newness of the industry as a whole. Regardless, the importance of an accurate COA remains key for buyers for retail operations as well as consumers.

And that’s why we operate with transparency at PSI Labs: So retail buyers and their customers have a base of knowledge that can guide them as they look for products that align with their particular needs.

Learn more about cannabis testing with PSI Labs.


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