If you’ve done any reading up at all on CBD oil, CBD vape liquids, or basically any CBD-based product for pain, anxiety, or depression relief, then you’ve likely heard something at some point about third-party lab reports. But what are they, and how do you read them?
Well, before we get straight into that let’s talk about why third party lab reports are needed in the first place. Since the present-day cannabis industry is largely unregulated (i.e. there are currently no cannabis-based medications approved by the FDA), “manufacturers” and processors of the herb can pretty much get away with whatever they want in terms of how they label their products.
Naturally, this presents quite the conundrum for the innocent patient or genuine customer who wants to find a good, safe, and effective productive that will help them find relief from their specific condition.
As such, CBD third party lab reports are basically a means to provide an unbiased verification of what’s actually in the product that you’re buying. There have actually been CBD companies in years past who have gotten warning letters from the federal government for advertising “CBD” products that were randomly tested to contain practically nothing but coconut oil. When news came of this, it prompted both consumers and the “real” manufacturers alike to demand heightened transparency in terms of what’s actually in the product being sold. This is where the third party labs come in.
“Third party” simply means that the laboratories are separate entities that have no affiliation whatsoever with the brand that they’re testing, or with any other organization that is mandating specific results. Essentially what the labs do is run the CBD oil through a hi-tech chromatography machine to determine how much of the compound is present, and to what percent accuracy it matches up with the manufacturer’s claim. In addition, they also test for other “full-spectrum” (we’ll talk more about what that means later) compounds like terpenes and flavonoids.
In this article, we show you step-by-step how to read CBD third party lab reports, and how to interpret them in the most effective way possible. Once you get the hang of it and learn the primary compounds, it’s actually pretty straightforward. [And as a side note, we’ll be using examples from reports issued for two of the biggest CBD oil manufacturers in the industry: Elixinol and CW Hemp by the Stanley Brothers.]
First Things First: What Compounds to Look for in a CBD Lab Report
Before we take a look at the actual reports, let’s go over some of the main compounds that a lab report might produce for a full-spectrum CBD oil. (We’ll note the “good” ingredients with a (*) and the “bad” ingredients – the ones you don’t want to see in your CBD oil – with a (^).
- *CBD. Duh, right? Obviously, the main chemical compound that you want to look for in the third part lab report is the rockstar itself, CBD (which is sometimes listed by its scientific name cannabidiol).
- Other cannabinoids. CBD itself is a cannabinoid, but it’s far from the only one present in the cannabis or hemp plant. Other cannabinoids to look for in third part lab reports are *CBC, ^THC, *THCA, *CBG, *CBDA, and *CBN. (Of course, though, if you’re looking for a CBD oil that doesn’t produce a high, you’ll want to make sure it has zero THC). *Also, be advised that many reports won’t list the full cannabinoid profile. So if you don’t see CBC, THCA, CBG, CBDA, or CBN listed on the report, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad CBD oil, it just means the other cannabinoids didn’t show up on the chromatograph.*
- ^Pesticides, herbicides, growth hormones, and fertilizers. In case you need any clarification, you do NOT want to see any pesticides, herbicides, growth hormones, or fertilizers show up in the third party lab report. The best CBD oils will be 100% free of any of these potentially harmful byproducts.
- ^Microbes. The term “microbe” in itself is very vague, as there are millions of different species of microbial organisms out there, both good and bad. In general, though, you don’t want any living organisms present in your CBD oil. So if microbes show up in the third party lab report, your best bet is to steer clear.
- ^Chemical solvents. This is a major one to keep an eye out for. If the lab report lists ANY form of glycols – especially polyethylene glycol (PEG) or propylene glycol (PG), stay far, far away. These are chemical solvents that can break down into carcinogenic (cancer-causing) aldehydes such as formaldehyde and acetaldehyde.
So without further ado, let’s take a look at some actual third party lab reports from some of the biggest names in the “CBD oil” game, in order to get better acquainted with what they actually look like.
CBD Third Party Lab Report: Elixinol
Elixinol has arguably the best transparency of any CBD oil manufacturer currently on the market. If you check out their certificate of analysis page, you’ll see that they offer up to date reports for each of their 17 oral-based CBD products. Here is the current certificate from one of their most popular tinctures, the 100 mg Cinnamint CBD oil drops (report generated by Gabriel Ettenson, COO):
- Verified ingredients: (these were the actual base ingredients tested to be present in the sample tincture) – MCT oil (natural fracturation from coconut oil); hemp seed oil; CO2 cinnamon extract (for flavoring); peppermint essential oil.
- Active cannabinoid profile: (this is the most important one for determining the actual presence/potency of CBD) – 100 mg CBD (*with an allowable variation of +/- 10%); 0% THC (so in other words, the sample product tested exactly as it was labeled). No other cannabinoids were listed on the report.
- Heavy metal content. No, we are not talking about bands like Metallica or Slipknot here. ‘Heavy metal’ content refers to the presence of certain metal elements that are known to be toxic or cause hazards to human health. The 100 mg Elixinol sample tested for:
- Arsenic (As) 0.01 ppm (*acceptable limit 1.5 ppm)
- Cadmium (Cd) < 0.01 ppm (*acceptable limit 25 ppm)
- Mercury (Hg) < 0.01 ppm (*acceptable limit 15 ppm)
- Lead (Pb) 0.06 ppm (*acceptable limit 5 ppm)
*To be clear, the “acceptable limit” indicates the amount that is acceptable per unit of volume – as you can see, the actual volumes in this sample were nearly 100x less than the official acceptable limit.*
- Microbiology results: 3M Petrifilm was used on the sample Elixinol CBD oil, and results showed that it tested negative for E. coli and Salmonella, and tested at less than 10 cfu/g for the total Coliform count – easily within the mandated “acceptable values.”
- Pesticides and Herbicides (tested using HPLC mass spectrometry): the Elixinol sample was deemed 100% clear of 24 common pesticides, including Abamectin, Spinosad, Imazalil, and Carbaryl. (*If a pesticide or herbicide is tested positive in a strain that you’re considering purchasing, we would recommend making sure that it’s under the federally-mandated limits, which you can find by checking regulatory information on the Environmental Protection Agency’s website database.
[You can view the complete Elixinol CBD third party lab report here].
CBD Third Party Lab Report: CW
When considering the CW lab report for CBD oil, it might be helpful to understand that CW Hemp (which is made by the famous Stanley Brothers) is probably the most popular and reputable CBD product on the market. Thus, it would be a great basis on which to judge what’s contained in other CBD oils. Here is the most recent CW lab report (conducted by Botanacor Services) for a batch of the 100 mL “Everyday Advanced 5000” oil:
|Total Aerobic Plate Count (microbe count)||Pass|
|Total Yeasts and Molds||Pass|
|Residual solvents (including PEG and PG)||Pass|
|Heavy Metal Content (Pb, Hg, Cd)||Pass|
[View the complete CW lab report and Certificate of Analysis here]
Final Thoughts on How to Read CBD Third Party Lab Reports
When it all comes down to it, CBD third party lab reports are pretty straightforward and simple to read as long as you know the compounds that you should be looking for, and the ones you should likely expect to find in the raw material.
In addition to the CBD, for example, you may expect to find other cannabinoids like CBN, CNC, CBG and THCA on your list. Of course, you’ll want to make sure that the sample doesn’t contain any THC – especially if you have an impending drug test that you’re worried about passing.
Also, you’ll want to use the CBD third party lab report to verify that the sample is free of any pesticides or herbicides, is within the acceptable limit of heavy metal and microbe content, and what carrier oil is used (typically olive, coconut, or MCT oil which is a natural derivative of coconut oil).