Reading time – 13 minutes
CBD is a health and wellbeing trend showing no sign of slowing down. Promising research, plus personal testimonials on CBD’s potential to relieve symptoms like anxiety, depression and pain have resulted in its exponential growth. But while it may seem that CBD has taken over, the industry is still relatively new, and relatively unregulated. Sadly, this has allowed space for ‘cowboy' brands to swoop in and exploit the businesses they stand alongside. Snake oils, combined with a confusing and mostly unregulated marketplace, has led to an understandable scepticism amongst consumers.
But there’s hope Third-party lab testing is quickly becoming an industry standard for brands who have nothing to hide. At Amphora, we believe that when buying a product to improve one’s wellbeing, there should be enough reliable information available to feel confident and well-informed about your choices. So what exactly is third-party lab testing and how can it help consumers separate the wheat from the chaff.
An unregulated industry and confidence in CBD
Customer trust is vital when it comes to CBD, but CBD regulation in the UK is still defined. As it currently stands, there are rules around the THC content (which must be below 0.2%) and regarding correct labelling. However, a third-party testing exercise performed in the UK found of the twenty-nine products tested, only eleven were within 10% of the advertised CBD content, and another eleven had less than 50% of the purported CBD content. One product contained enough alcohol to qualify as an alcoholic beverage, and some had higher than the legal limits of THC. Regulations have not yet been clarified, making it easy for companies to get away with inaccurate information on their labels, and even though Food Standards Agency (FSA) is changing them in a profound way to provide consumers with confidence in the new products emerging, regulations will not be in place until 2021. Responsible brands realise that quality and transparency are crucial when it comes to consumer trust. Third-party lab testing offers a way for businesses to show that they have nothing to hide when it comes to the potency and quality of their products. If consumers lose confidence, 'snake oils' could potentially set the industry back many years when there is a clear need for more natural solutions. Although you are more likely to waste money than experiencing severe side effects as a result of a poorly regulated industry in the UK, black market cannabis-based vape products have sadly been linked to fatalities in the US. Choosing third-party lab-tested products can help keep trustworthy manufacturers who have wellbeing, health and safety at the forefront in production, and keep black market products out of circulation. Until the tighter controls are implemented, third-party lab reports are a powerful tool for consumers and businesses alike. A certificate of analysis (COA) produced by an accredited third-party lab can help consumers to make smart purchases from responsible brands based on reliable information, leaving the 'snake oils' on the shelves.
What does third-party lab testing mean?
If a product has been third-party lab tested, it means it has undergone analysis by a third party agent that has no vested interest in the outcome of the results and has no affiliation with the manufacturer or distributing company. The lab report aims to provide a credible, detailed and objective breakdown of what's in the bottle, as well as providing information on the quality and potency of the batch sample. A lab test will provide information on the cannabinoid profile to identify a range of contaminants like heavy metals, pesticides, and organic and chemical solvents. The independent nature of third-party labs means that they should have no interest in modifying the results, indicating that the figures are credible. These unbiased results mean that honesty and integrity can be applied when it comes to product labelling. Consumers should err on the side of caution; however, when it comes to lab reports carried out by in-house labs where there is a higher chance of the results being manipulated in the company's favour.
What to look for in a product lab report
Lab results can appear like an alien language, with acronyms, percentages and decimal places, but when you know what to look for, a lab report can almost read like an ingredients list displaying a breakdown of what to expect from your product. There is a range of things we can learn from a lab test, but a COA should always include a cannabinoid profile and contaminant analysis. We explore these in more detail below:
- Cannabinoid profile
The first thing to look for is what key cannabinoids have been detected in the product. Notably, we want to check that the concentration of cannabidiol (CBD) on the COA matches up to, or is slightly higher than what is advertised on the label. Also important, is to check that THC is within the legal limits and does not exceed 0.2%. If you are looking at a CBD isolate or broad spectrum product, the THC should be shown as undetectable (ND) or trace amounts. As we are dealing with such small percentages, it is recommended to use accredited labs who have precise testing.
There’s believed to be 100 known cannabinoids in the hemp plant, with each cannabinoid thought to play a unique role within the body. A breakdown of some of the common cannabinoids should also be displayed under the cannabinoid profile. The composition of the cannabinoid profile depends on the strain of the plant and the extraction process. The presence of other cannabinoids on the report will determine whether a product can be labelled as an isolate, broad-spectrum or full spectrum.
- CBD isolate is CBD in its purest form. During the extraction process, all other cannabinoids are removed leaving cannabidiol (CBD), making it an excellent choice for those who experience sensitivity to other cannabinoids like THC, as well as anyone who is required to undergo drug testing. Other plant compounds like terpenes and flavonoids are often also removed which erases the natural hemp taste and odour.
- A lab report for broad-spectrum CBD should show a variety of naturally occurring cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids but with THC wholly removed. Because of the blend of cannabinoids and terpenes, broad-spectrum CBD can produce the entourage effect. The 'entourage effect' is the theory that compounds found in the cannabis plant work synergistically to produce a more beneficial or therapeutic effect than when taken alone.
- This is also true for full-spectrum CBD which contains all of the cannabinoids, including trace amounts of THC, terpenes, and flavonoids that naturally occur in the plant. The legal parameters around THC currently state that a product of any size should contain no more than 1mg of THC. As mentioned, not all labs can accurately detect THC in such small quantities, so an accredited lab must be chosen for reliable readings. THC can produce a false positive on a drug test so for those who wish to experience the entourage effect but don't want any THC; it would be prudent to check the product has an accredited lab report showing this.
A list of common cannabinoids, plus some lesser-known but important cannabinoids are:
- CBDstands for cannabidiol, and is one of the most famous cannabinoids alongside THC. As you’ve probably already heard, it is an essential compound known for its relaxation and calming properties. Growing research and testimonials point to CBD as being effective for some mental health conditions, for pain reduction and sleep. CBD is considered non-psychoactive, or more accurately non-intoxicating and is recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as being generally well tolerated in the body with a good safety profile.
- CBC(cannabichromene) is a lesser-known cannabinoid, believed to have analgesic and anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial properties and has been shown to play a role in pain relief. CBC is the second most concentrated compound found in hemp, is non-psychoactive, and is thought to be fundamental to the entourage effect.
- CBG(cannabigerol) is known as the stem cell of cannabinoids, which naturally transforms into other cannabinoids like CBD and THC during the growing process. It's non-psychoactive, and its potential therapeutic benefits are gaining interest and are a subject of further study.
- CBN(cannabinol) is a cannabinoid with the most potent sedative qualities, making it a potential aid for sleep and insomnia. Another non-intoxicating compound but be mindful that it could cause drowsiness.
- THC(tetrahydrocannabinol) is one of the most famous cannabinoids. It also has therapeutic benefits but is maybe better known for its psychoactive and intoxicating qualities. THC should be undetectable in a broad spectrum and isolate product and should show as less than 1mg in full-spectrum oils to be compliant with current UK law.
- THCA(tetrahydrocannabinolic acid), unlike THC, THCA is non-intoxicating. It has a myriad of potential benefits with potential anti-inflammatory, antiemetic and neuroprotective properties.
Terpenes are the aromatic oils found in plants, responsible for their unique fragrance, flavour and colour. With over two hundred different terpenes identified in the cannabis plant, it is believed that particular terpene profiles promote different therapeutic effects in the body. Terpenes interact with cannabinoids synergistically and play an essential role in the entourage effect so it can be useful to have this information displayed on a lab report too.
Some key terpenes that naturally occur in hemp are:
- Beta-caryophyllene is a terpene commonly found in edible herbs like oregano and cinnamon. Alone, it has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, but when combined with CBD, it is believed to enhance its potential as an anti-inflammatory and anti-depressant.
- Limoneneis a common terpene that is abundant in citrus fruits like lemons, oranges and limes, giving them their distinctive citrus smell. It is thought to work with CBD in enhancing the anti-depressant antibacterial properties.
- Pinene is a terpene abundant in pine needles and is valued for its anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Myrcene is one of the most dominant terpenes found in cannabis, giving it its earthy, grassy taste and aroma. Myrcene can be effective at relieving muscle cramps, and its calming effects may help with insomnia. It is also found in plants like thyme, lemongrass and hops.
- Linaloolis a terpene also found in lavender and clary sage. Just like lavender, linalool may have sedative and stress-relieving properties.
Next up are things that we absolutely don'twant to find. Hemp is a bioaccumulator which means it is effective at absorbing contaminants like heavy metals and pesticides from the soil and was even used to clear up soils in contaminated fields near Chernobyl in the 1990s. Hemp is a hardy, low-maintenance crop, but even when it has been cultivated organically without pesticides, a build-up of pollutants from industrial and agricultural activity in the soil can contribute to contamination. This is a fantastic advantage for the health of the environment, but also raises the question of what the health implications are when hemp grown in contaminated soil is ingested. At this stage, there isn't enough dataon how contaminants in hemp impact human health, however, the bioaccumulating nature and the therapeutic applications of the plant makes testing for chemical and biological contaminants relevant and essential. Such tests are not compulsory and can be expensive so are less common on COAs than cannabinoid and terpene profiles.
Some readings to look out for are:
- Heavy metals: Small quantities of heavy metals like arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, can build up in your body over time, leading to damage if exposure exceeds recommended doses. Many foods contain heavy metals, and not all heavy metals are harmful; however, responsible hemp farming techniques and CBD extraction methods should limit the concentration of heavy metals in the final product.
- Pesticides: If a product is labelled as organic, a lab analysis should show trace amounts of pesticides. Pesticides are undesirable because like heavy metals, they can bioaccumulate in the body to toxic levels over time. Picking organic products is a great place to start when it comes to avoiding contaminants.
- Chemical solvents: CBD that has been extracted via liquid solvents like alcohol, butane and propane can leave behind a solvent residue if the evaporation process is not performed correctly. These can be carcinogenic and cause unwanted side effects if left behind. CO2 extraction is considered a most safe and effective method of extraction which is why it’s the one we use at Amphora.
- Microbial contamination- Microbial screenings help to detect potential micro-flora, in particular, mycotoxins such as mould, mildew, and fungus that may be harmful to health. They are usually found during the cultivation of hemp but should be removed before being sold to the public.
Where to find a company's lab report or COA?
A lab report should be publicly available on the product page of a website. The product packaging may also include a QR code, which, when scanned using a smartphone, can take you to the website displaying the report. In some states in the US, QR codes linking to lab reports are now a legal requirement to increase transparency. Alarm bells should ring if the lab report isn't publicly or easily accessible and if it isn't provided on request. Make sure the lab report is up to date, and it matches the batch number listed on your product. Ideally, a sample for each batch made should be available for the most accurate results. We want to make it easy for our customers and be totally transparent, so our COA’s are readily available for our range of products right on our website.
The bottom line
Not all CBD products are created equal, and as it currently stands, third-party lab reports are the best way to know if a product is honestly labelled and of a high-quality. An unbiased breakdown to discern the CBD quality and potency is a reliable way for a company to put its money where its mouth is when it comes to its products. You should take it as a red flag if a company is not going out of its way to be transparent about what's in its products. This can indicate that they have something to hide. Since the CBD sector is still so new, the future of the industry rests on trust and transparency. CBD is here to stay, but until the government implements tighter controls, self-regulation of the sector through third-party lab testing appears to be the most compelling and reliable route for businesses with integrity.
CBD can be a valuable part of your wellness regimen, but we want everyone to feel comfortable and confident on their CBD journey. That's why at Amphora, we only offer the highest quality products from naturally derived ingredients which have been verified by thorough third-party lab tests. All of our COA’s are available to download from our website. To reap the wonderful benefits CBD has to offer, we encourage you to do the research, choose a trustworthy brand that uses natural and organic ingredients and has taken the extra step with third-party lab testing.
Written by | Infused Amphora Team
The Infused Amphora Team is dedicated to creating resources to educate and engage consumers on the growing evidence of CBD benefits and the extensive health and wellness properties of CBD oil.
Contributors | Angus Taylor + Dr Gaylord Wardell
IPI is a pharmaceutical ingredient company that cultivates cannabis strains curated to extract specific cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids for the formulation of effects-based health and wellness products. Angus is an experienced public speaker, engaging stakeholders, governments and media. Angus was the co-founder of NewLeaf Cannabis, Canada’s most successful retail brand to date, and has been established as a well-known and recognized expert in the field.
Dr Wardell is a practising physician with over 40 years of clinical and educational experience in pain management, medical practices and education. Dr Wardell is past President of the Pain Society of Alberta, and current President of the Alberta Medical Association, section of Pain. He is a popular public speaker, an active blogger on medical and pain-related issues, and proponent for scientific validation for patients experiencing pain.
Infused Amphora “Learn” is intended for informational purposes only and is NOT a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.