In the realm of product development, numerous companies have blazed a trail for the entire industry, particularly in areas saturated with offerings such as supplements and essential oils. Companies that come to mind are Private Label Select based in New Mexico for paving the way on organic product development before organic products were really even an industry. Or Legit Script with its doctor approved and supported supplements via a set of protocols and requirements they’ve laid out to bring the best of the best to the top of the market. However, in the burgeoning cannabis industry encompassing hemp and marijuana, the journey is still in its infancy.
Some of us take immense pride in upholding standards of quality, efficacy, and ethical ingredient sourcing. We strive to be transparent about our supply chains, providing a clear picture of the journey our products take from cultivation to consumption. This commitment extends to openly sharing certificates of analysis, ensuring customers have access to vital information.
Unfortunately, not all players in the industry share this dedication. Some choose to conceal subpar products behind elaborate packaging, trendy marketing strategies, and a lack of accessible certificates of analysis. The transparency of their chain of custody is often murky, leaving consumers in the dark about the origins and handling of the products they purchase.
In contrast, those of us committed to honesty and transparency understand the importance of building trust with our customers. We recognize that consumers have the right to know exactly what they're putting into their bodies and the journey those products have taken to reach them. It is this commitment that sets us apart in an industry that is still finding its footing.
If we would like to see our industry thrive we need more companies engaging in education and transparency. Our industries are riddles with issue from the 280e tax form and federal demonization of cannabis as medicine. To the strain name dilemma created by dispensaries and pollen chuckers alike. The largest issues of all being lab shopping to inflate cannabinoid percentages and lack of marketing regulations to know exactly what's in the product before purchase. Over the last few years, these two issue have taken center stage within discussion of the cannabis industry.
In fact a few well known brands are in or have been in lawsuits for false advertising claims. The FDA has shown multiple times that many hemp derived products do not have what they say they do. These market research initiatives and lawsuits have brought to light that many Certificates of Analysis (COA) do not represent product, let alone product consistency. So whats the point of this article you ask?
**Certificates of Analysis (COA)**
Two crucial factors lie at the core of these issue. Firstly, as a consumer, exercising caution when dealing with a company that makes you hunt for a Certificate of Analysis (COA) or navigate a sitemap is essential. By law, every product should have a COA on file, so if it's not readily available, it raises questions about the company's reputation and compliance. Secondly, shedding light on an issue that often gets overlooked but has enough information to sow mistrust in various industries. Let's address these concerns transparently.
In both my personal ventures and when considering partnerships or distributorships, I insist on certain practices that I believe every consumer should adopt for every purchase.
- **Easy Access to COA:** Ideally, the COA should be directly on the product page. Failing that, a dedicated lab results or COA page in the website's main header is acceptable. If neither is available, a link in the website footer is the last resort. Clicking on the site map is an option, but personally, I avoid brands that hide their lab reports behind such navigation. I believe these reports should be the most easily accessible aspect on a cannabis company's website.
- **Verification of COA:** Once you've found and personally assessed the COA to match the product description and marketing strategy, locate the sample ID number on the COA. Next, find the lab's phone number. If the COA seems doctored or edited, call the lab and verify the information. In my opinion, labs such as KCA, ACS, New Bloom, and Marin Analytics are reputable and used by some of the largest brands.
- **Research the Company:** Look into the company you're considering. Reddit has forums dedicated to company and product reviews. Check Google reviews as well. An established company won't have only positive reviews, as bad reviews are not deleted. This issue is prevalent in the hemp and cannabis spaces. If everything checks out, proceed with confidence.
These three steps are simple ways for consumers to protect themselves and potentially ensure a high-quality product. While they don't guarantee that you'll get exactly what you paid for, they offer a quick and easy layer of protection. Now, let me elaborate on the two claims mentioned earlier."A few well-known brands are currently or have been in lawsuits for false advertising claims. The FDA has demonstrated multiple times that many hemp-derived products do not contain what they claim."
Since 2018, the FDA has seized thousands of hemp cannabinoid products for independent testing. The results indicate that it's not uncommon for companies to misrepresent their products. FDA tests have revealed discrepancies ranging from 5-25mg compared to the labeled content to some products having no cannabinoids at all. To be fair to the industry, cannabinoids degrade over time, especially when exposed to light. Please note that 5-25mg discrepancies depending on the product are a more than fair range for shelf life degradation. However, having a product marketed with cannabinoids only to find none or a significant percentage missing on a test suggests intent, unless the product is years old and wasn't stored properly.
If you are in the industry you know not all labs are to be trusted. Some of us have stories of our labs being paid to deflate our numbers so a competitor looks better. Others have stories of labs inflating numbers for specific brands because certain members of the lab have a stake in said company. All the way to labs taking extra payment to inflate the numbers. It appears to me that most outside the industry are unaware that these things happen. Allow me to shed some light on this without throwing anyone “under the bus”
When examining cannabis, we encounter a plant that, in a simplified sense, produces 4-6 cannabinoids concurrently, along with 5-8 various terpene/flavonoid constituents, each dependent on the cultivar in question. Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that the average cannabis cultivator yields cannabis with a 1.5% terpene profile and a 25% cannabinoid profile. I'm being generous here; most industry tests show less than 1% terpenes and approximately 20-22% cannabinoids. But I digress—the total chemical percentage of the cannabis compounds that define its essence at this point is 26.5%.
Given that plants are predominantly composed of chlorophyll, anthocyanins, and other chemicals that govern color, growth, and flower formation (such as calyx, pistil, and bract), is it truly plausible for a single plant to have 30+% of its entire chemical composition dedicated solely to cannabinoids and terpenes? I'll let the fervent advocates of high cannabinoid percentages ponder on this for a moment. It's crucial to understand that percentage alone doesn't determine quality, and if you believe otherwise, I genuinely sympathize. Smoke some isolate, then try a plant-derived extract, and assess which leaves you more medicated.
The only way such a scenario is feasible is if the lab manipulated the results or if the lab lacks precision in its methodology and equipment. Obtaining Certificates of Analysis (COA) that showcase 30%+ cannabinoids and terpenes typically means the company sent samples to numerous labs and selected the COA with the highest numbers. This underscores the pressing need for standardized testing methodologies in the industry, including specific limits of quantification (LOQ) and limits of detection (LOD) parameters for each product category—whether it's flower, edibles, concentrates, or cartridges. If you’re questioning if the COA you’re looking at is legit, go back to the 3 steps or labs previously listed
**Solution & Conclusion**
In this still nascent industry, it falls upon us as business owners to demonstrate how we differ and why we deserve trust. This is true for every industry. However, achieving this requires an educated consumer base. As a consumer, approach all of this with a healthy dose of skepticism. The hidden truths that are being exposed about the organic industry should be enough “proof in the pudding” to be skeptic of cannabis testing. Be wary of any company not openly sharing COAs. It's incumbent upon all of us, from passionate consumers to dedicated entrepreneurs, to regulate how this industry represents itself.
So it is up to us, as a group of business owners, educators, medical practitioners, and passionate individuals who embarked on this journey for the education and promotion of natural medicines, to regulate and make a change. It is up to us as the industry insiders and consumers alike to keep our industry open, honest, and regulated.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments, please be polite and respectful. If you've struggled getting clear answers on how to properly read a COA please let us know. We're here to help as.