Safety First! Why Lab Results Matter & How to Read Them

Remember how Subway advertised a foot-long sandwich but someone revealed they’re consistently less than 12 inches? It was a PR disaster for the ages that ended up costing Subway tons of legal fees. The same can go for CBD potency and safety across products and brands.

As the CBD market races forward, you’re going to face an increasing range of options for CBD manufacturers and brands. The good news is that this healthy competition pushes top brands to offer higher-quality products and services. However – the flip side is that the market has also been flooded with low-quality and unreliable brands.

These sketchy low-tier options advertise unfounded benefits, exaggerate product purity, and neglect quality control procedures – leading to potentially harmful contaminants in the products. The “Subways” of the world, in this instance.

So – you’re left with one option. Find a way to confirm that your CBD product or label partner is legit in potency, safety, and quality. This is where third-party lab testing comes into play.

Lab-testing allows the best CBD brands to prove themselves as reliable and to demonstrate their products’ safety and quality.

Third-Party Lab Testing Brings: Brand Reliability and Quality Assurance

Lab testing benefits everyone – the manufacturer, retailer, and the end consumer. With positive lab results, everyone can rest assured that their products contain only the intended ingredients as well as a CBD and THC content that matches the label.

In 2018, the CBD market saw impressive growth. According to the Brightfield Group, the industry will reach an estimated value of $2.2 billion by 2022. With a rapidly expanding clientele comes businesses wanting in on the action. Unfortunately, it’s become painfully obvious in recent years that not all CBD products are created equal – or even safely.

With barely any industry requirements for testing or quality assurance established yet, third-party lab tests fill the essential role of fact-checking labels and certifying CBD products’ safety.

Thankfully, third-party lab testing is becoming an expected industry standard by everyone along the supply chain.


Third-Party Lab Testing Is the Only Way to Prove Safety & Potency of CBD Products

The more transparent your CBD manufacturer or label partner is – the better. You should be able to access lab results for each product sold. If you plan to purchase a tincture or a salve, or full-spectrum vs. broad-spectrum, you should review the lab reports for each product. Lack of transparency on their reports and results should be a big red flag to you.

Lab reports should be thorough and conveniently accessible. These reports should also be conducted by a reliable third-party lab. Having these results is the ultimate way for a manufacturer to prove the purity and safety of their products.

Although the CBD industry is making progress in improving regulations and standards – they are still relatively loose and fast rules. The responsibility for products being safe and free of such potentially harmful (and illegal!) contaminants falls on the manufacturers.

One of the biggest consistent problems with CBD products is reliable labeling for CBD content in the product. In fact, studies show that70% of CBD products sold online are mislabeled.

If you plan to work with a private labeler – third-party lab testing should be conducted on each batch of product produced. Otherwise, you may face bad reviews or unhappy customers who spot the inaccurate label.

The FDA issues several Warning Letters every year naming CBD manufacturers who have been found to claim inaccurate CBD levels in their products. Don’t fall for inaccurate CBD product claims – always require a third-party lab test on your purchases.

What’s Included in the Lab-Test Report Results?

These reports break down exactly what’s in the product, including cannabinoids, THC, and contaminants.


Without third-party lab tests, your manufacturer is essentially taking their best guess at the purity of the CBD product and THC content.

Is the product everything it promises to be? The purity of the product will be conveyed by the number of milligrams of CBD and other cannabinoids detected.

There is a standard that allows for CBD concentration to vary by up to 20% from the labeled amount and still be considered accurate, but any greater fluctuations will be deemed as misleading. If a product is a CBD isolate, the lab report should confirm that no other cannabinoids were detected, while a full spectrum product will show the concentrations of each form present.


If the product is derived from a hemp plant, the THC content should be 0.3% or less, according to federal legal standards (state laws vary). Any of these figures presented inaccurately on the product label will be damaging to the reliability of the brand and may even jeopardize consumers’ health and safety.

An overstated CBD level may deprive consumers of anticipated health benefits while an elevated THC level can be especially problematic to people with THC sensitivity or who may be subject to drug tests.


These reports may test for pesticides, heavy metals, and microbes such as mold or bacteria to ensure the products’ safety. Reports tend to list specific contaminants tested such as arsenic, mercury, yeast and mold, total aerobic bacteria count, etc. These elements are easily absorbed into the delicate hemp plants if there are even trace amounts in the soil where they grow.

These contaminants are usually measured as “pass” or “fail.” Even though they are contaminants, it’s typically safe to ingest tiny amounts of this stuff. Each contaminant has a specific limit that is considered safe to consume. If the test finds the contaminant under the limit, it will pass. Over, and it fails.

You might also see “ND” – which stands for “Not Detected.” This means that if the compound is present, it was in such minute amounts that the test couldn’t scan for it – so you can treat this as a pass as well.

(And don’t worry – this isn’t unique to CBD products. All USA manufactured food and beverages follow this pass/fail/ND system with contaminants).

It’s essential to be familiar with the information presented in these reports in order to interpret them accurately and efficiently as you contemplate the right product for your retail brand or as a final consumer. Be especially vigilant if you have never tried or heard of a brand and make sure that the report indicates a CBD content that matches the label.

How Do You Know the Lab Results Are Legit?

In order for a CBD business to be considered trustworthy, the results that come from their third-party testing must be two things: results come from an accredited lab, AND the results are recent.

Being an accredited laboratory certifies that the lab operates according to specific standards and guidelines and is monitored by a governing body. The gold-standard accreditation program for Cannabis analysis reporting is the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).


Look for an ISO-certification on the product or evidence of compliance by the manufacturer with a national standard-setting organization such as Association of Official Agricultural Chemists (AOAC), the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP), or the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP).


At this time, there are no regulations on how frequently a CBD product or brand must test their products. This means a CBD brand could pass one lab test and misleadingly claim their all their products are safe and tested.

Although a lab report conducted five years ago can technically qualify the product as “lab-tested,” you should avoid brands or products with lab reports approved more than eight months earlier.

When deciding to partner with a CBD brand, check that the products are not only tested regularly but also refer to the specific batch of product. A safe product one week could be contaminated the next.

Thankfully – some brands have a quick way to check the reports specific to a batch of product: a QR code on the product label.

QR Codes – Easy Way to Quickly Review Lab Results

The most convenient way to access the results of a lab test, or a product’s certificate of analysis (COA), is through a QR code on the product label.

Most smartphones can read QR codes through the camera app – or you can download an app that will teach your camera how to read these codes. Once your phone recognizes the QR code, it’ll give you a link that should lead to the COA report.

QR codes are growing in popularity. In fact, they’ve recently become mandatory in Indiana on the label of all hemp-derived CBD products sold in the state.

If your product doesn’t have a QR code on it – don’t worry. It’s still a relatively new system for CBD brands. As a consumer, you have the right to request the COA from the manufacturer if it’s not on their website. If you’re a private label partner, you should also be able to request regular COA updates for each product batch you receive.

(And if you’re having trouble getting a hold of a COA to review – run fast and far away!)

QR codes have a range of benefits, but the main one is that it allows for a direct download of the product’s COA. A certificate of analysis (COA) shows the exact chemical makeup (ingredients, contaminants, etc.) of any given product. COA’s help ensure that the advertised contents of the product match the true contents.

QR codes should link back to the specific manufacturing batch – making it a quick and easy way to check the quality of the product you have in hand.

Regardless of how you get a hold of the COA – this is the most important document you can review to ensure your CBD manufacturer is a credible and safe source of product.

What’s in the COA?

The five things to check for in a CBD product COA is:

  • That the company who tested the product isn’t the same as the brand (aka – Third-Party)
  • Cannabinoid Profile
  • Terpene Profile
  • Heavy Metal Analysis
  • Pesticide Analysis

Check the Cannabinoid profile to ensure your product has less than 0.3% THC – which is the limit for many states. The cannabinoid profile can also precisely tell how much CBD is in your product in milligrams per gram (or milliliters per liter for liquid products like tinctures). If you are checking a full-spectrum or broad-spectrum product, the COA should also show small amounts of CBDa, CBG, CBN, and/or other cannabinoids.

Terpenes are naturally present in all plants. When plants have a strong smell (like citrus, lavender, etc.) – you’re smelling their distinct terpene profile. Therefore, terpenes work to give hemp products their distinct smell and taste. With a little research, researching the terpene profile can help you understand what flavors and scent your product will have.

The heavy metal analysis and pesticide analysis are pass/fail based on safe limits set by the FDA. The heavy metal analysis should check for common contaminants such as arsenic, mercury, lead, and cadmium.

The pesticides analysis should check for a bunch of alphabet soup contaminants (does Methomyl or Acephate ring a bell?) – but just check the final pass/fail column to check you’re safe to go.

Depending on the lab, these may appear in a different order and have different names – however, you should be able to find equivalent sections of these things in each COA.

Ready, Set, Go: Find The Third-party Lab Tested CBD Brand That’s Right for You

Safe, lab-tested CBD products can offer a range of awesome health benefits. Unfortunately, this great product has its reputation at risk because of dishonest and negligent businesses.

Until regulatory standards and guidelines catch up to the rapidly expanding CBD industry, third-party lab tests are the ultimate way to ensure your CBD purchase is safe and will generate the maximum health benefits for you.

Push to make third-party lab testing a standard practice by only purchasing and working with manufacturers that follow the highest safety standards. You can do your part by paying careful attention to these lab reports and taking the time to understand the information they provide.