Have you done any reading up on CBD oil recently? Most CBD products, including CBD tinctures and CBD vape liquids, come with third-party lab reports. But what are these, and how do you read them?
Before we get into that, let’s talk about the importance of third-party lab reports in the first place. The present-day cannabis industry is largely unregulated. This means that (aside from Epidiolex), CBD products are not evaluated by the FDA. In other words, very little oversight goes into the labeling on various hemp and CBD products.
This presents quite the conundrum for the innocent patient or genuine customer. Folks simply want to find a good, safe, effective product that will help them find relief from their specific condition.
A third-party CBD lab report provides unbiased verification of what’s actually in the product you’re buying.
Not all products are made the same…
There have been CBD companies in the past who have gotten warning letters from the federal government. These companies were advertising “CBD” products that contained practically nothing but coconut oil. This prompted consumers and manufacturers alike to demand heightened transparency. This is where third-party labs for CBD oil comes in.
Third-party simply means that the laboratories are separate entities from the company selling the CBD. In other words, they have no affiliation with the brand they’re testing. They also shouldn’t have any affiliation with an organization that madates specific results.
Third-party labs run CBD oil through a chromatograph. This advanced machine determines what compounds are in the product, and at what amount. It also allows us to see the percent accuracy that matches up with a manufacturer’s claims. In addition, labs 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 charlottesweb.com by the Stanley Brothers.]
First Things First: What Compounds to Look for in a CBD Third Party Lab Report
Before we look at the actual reports, let’s go over some of the main compounds that a lab report might feature for a full-spectrum CBD oil.
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).
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 party lab reports are CBC, THC, THCA, CBG, CBDA, and CBN. (Of note, 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.
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.
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 highest level of 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 (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)
What does ‘acceptable limit’ mean?
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 from the sample Elixinol CBD oil show 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 100% clear of 24 common pesticides, including Abamectin, Spinosad, Imazalil, and Carbaryl. (If a lab report finds pesticides or herbicides in a strain you’re considering purchasing, we would recommend making sure that it’s under the federally mandated limits. 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
charlottesweb.com (which is made by the famous Stanley Brothers) is probably the most popular and reputable CBD product on the market. 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|
Final Thoughts on How to Read CBD Third Party Lab Reports
When it all comes down to it, CBD oil lab results 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, if you’re looking to avoid a high, 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 lab results to verify that the sample is free of any pesticides or herbicides, that it falls within the acceptable limit of heavy metal and microbe content, and to verify the carrier oil (typically olive, coconut, or MCT oil which is a natural derivative of coconut oil).