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With so many cannabis products on the market, how do you know if what you’re purchasing is the real deal? How do you know if it’s safe? While the cannabis industry is still working toward standardized regulation, third-party testing is essential when it comes to cannabis quality control. It ensures that retailers aren’t selling mislabeled or contaminated cannabis products, which guarantees that consumers are getting the medicine they need.

When a company orders a cannabis product to be third-party tested, it proves that they believe in their product and strive to offer consumers full transparency. So, what is third-party testing? What is a COA and why is it so important? 

Here, Elevate Holistcs will talk about independent third-party testing and COA testing, what these tests entail and present, and what consumers should look for to get the best quality cannabis products.

What is Third-Party Testing?

Independent third-party testing takes place when an unrelated party analyzes a product through rigorous testing. Since the testing facilities have no obligation to the manufacturer selling the product, the process is unbiased. 

These tests show the product’s potency, quality, and purity. Third-party testing not only benefits consumers but also lets cannabis companies know if something is off in the manufacturing process.

What happens when a third-party tests a cannabis product? For cannabis products, third-party testers often opt for High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) testing. HPLC doesn’t require high temperatures, which produces the most accurate summary of cannabis compounds. 

During HPLC testing, researchers dissolve a small sample of the product in a solvent and they increase the pressure. The cannabis compounds separate, with heavier molecules sinking and lighter compounds floating to the top. The lab measures and identifies the compounds based on their density; then, they record the amount present. 

Other tests, such as Ultra Performance Chromatography (UPC) and Supercritical Fluid Chromatography (SFC), are also an option for cannabis testing. Any form of third-party testing, also known as COA testing, sends a detailed report (known as a Certificate of Analysis) back to the company that provided the product. 

What is a COA?

Third-party tests provide the cannabis company with a document known as the COA. What does COA stand for? Regarding third-party testing, COA stands for Certificate of Analysis

So what is a COA? A COA is a summary of the results from COA testing conducted by an independent third-party testing laboratory that confirms a regulated product meets its product specification. 

When looking at a cannabis COA, you will find a profile of the following:

  • Cannabinoid potency and amount. This means levels of compounds like THC, CBD, CBG, and CBN (the list of cannabinoids goes on and on).
  • Terpene profile. It’s always nice to know what terpenes are present in your cannabis product so that you can choose your desired effects (energy, relaxation) and medicinal benefits (nausea, inflammation relief). Some examples of terpenes are myrcene, limonene, linalool, and caryophyllene. Some tests will even test for flavonoids.
  • Residual solvents. Solvents like butane can be used to extract cannabinoids and terpenoids from the cannabis plant to make products like concentrates.
  • Any contaminants. Growers may use contaminants like pesticides to help grow the cannabis plant. Heavy metals, biological contaminants like mold and bacteria, or other substances might also be present.

Not every third-party test will include all of these elements. We believe that more is better in this case but for some products, you might learn everything you need to know from just a couple of profiles. 

What is a Certificate of Analysis’ Requirements?

A COA cannabis document contains required information such as:

  • Company Name
  • Product Name
  • The Tests Performed on the Product
  • Test Conditions
  • Results of Testing
  • Approval Signature and Date

Third-Party Testing Versus In-House Testing

What is third-party testing versus in-house testing? In-house testing means that the same company that is selling the cannabis product is also testing it. This could create false or misleading reports, which might lead to consumers not getting what they paid for. 

But it isn’t uncommon for a product to be both in-house tested and third-party tested, so there’s no need to automatically feel uneasy if you notice a product has been in-house tested.

What About a CBD Certificate of Analysis?

CBD, a non-psychoactive compound in cannabis, is federally legal and very popular in health and wellness products. Companies sell CBD products are all over the United States, from reputable shops to your neighborhood gas station. 

In today’s market, this makes it especially crucial that companies obtain a COA for CBD products. Quality CBD brands will make sure their products are third-party tested, which happens in the same manner as other cannabis products. 

CBD consumers need to ask: does the product I’m buying contain the amount of CBD it says it does? Does it contain above the legal limit of THC? Here’s how to find out.

How To Get The Best, Third-Party Tested Cannabis Products

As a consumer, it’s important to check more than the product label when it comes to cannabis products (or any product for that matter.)  Many cannabis companies will proudly publish their COA weed results right on their website. 

Look at the company’s product page for a COA and if it’s not there, search for it on Google. (Company name + COA.) Feel free to contact a company if you cannot find their COA. We strongly suggest that you do not purchase cannabis products that cannot provide proof of a COA.

So what is third-party testing? What is a COA? Here, we explained the ins and outs of independent third-party testing and why it’s so important. Since there are currently no standardized methods for cannabis COA testing, it’s always critical to do your own research before purchasing a product.

Your best bet for purchasing safe, third-party tested, quality cannabis products is to get them straight from a local dispensary. Research the cannabis brands available and you will be able to find out exactly where and how a cannabis product is grown, as well as (hopefully) a Certificate of Analysis (COA.)

Start testing the waters yourself with your very own medical marijuana card. Elevate Holistics takes pride in helping patients achieve improved health and wellness, and we’re here for you. Through our simple and secure process, we connect you with a certified cannabis physician for med card approval and help you every step of the way. (Check out our additional services for extra goodness in your life.)

Book an appointment with Elevate Holistics to get your medical marijuana card today.


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About the author

Michael Lawal is a seasoned content writer with specialized expertise in the medical cannabis industry. With a background that blends journalism and health sciences, Michael has a knack for translating complex medical cannabis research into accessible and engaging content. His writing portfolio showcases a range of work from informative articles and research summaries to patient education materials. Committed to raising awareness about the benefits and responsible use of medical cannabis, Michael's work is a valuable resource for both consumers and professionals in the field.
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