CBD 101
How Do I Understand CBD Test Results?

By Graham Abbott

Any CBD products you are purchasing or consuming should come with test results that verify the products’ efficacy and, more importantly, safety. But, while testing labs serve an important and irreplaceable role in any responsible consumer product-based industry, it can be a big ask to get consumers to understand what the resulting test results actually mean.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the CBD industry, that’s exactly how things are for now because the FDA has yet to establish federal regulations for hemp-based CBD products. This means that CBD companies have themselves taken on the responsibility of making sure their products are accurately labeled and safe for consumption by contracting third-party testing laboratories to check over the products before they are made available to the public. These test results are almost always made available to customers, but what good are they for the average consumer if they are too complicated or technical to understand at first glance?

In that case, here is a quick guide explaining how to understand those CBD product test results!

Different tests for different products

The first thing to understand is that there are different sets of product tests that are necessary depending on which type of product (either full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, or isolated CBD) you are purchasing.

CBD isolate should consist entirely of just pure, crystallized CBD and that is the only cannabinoid or terpene left over from the hemp plant material that should be appearing in these product tests. Broad-spectrum products, however, contain CBD isolate with other terpenes and flavonoids added to product, and these product tests should cover those bases. Lastly, full-spectrum hemp products should include tests for all potential cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids.

All of the above products, however — if they are coming from a reputable CBD source — should include tests for potential contaminants including heavy metals, pesticides, microbials such as mold or yeast, or fertilizers.

How product testing works

Hemp CBD products are tested through the process of analytical chromatography, just like any other organic consumer product. This involves dissolving a hemp product sample into a mixture known as the “mobile phase,” a solvent or gas that, when subjected to intense pressure, allows for said mixture’s unique chemical components to be separated from one another. This separation is usually accomplished via either High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC), if the mixture is a liquid, or Gas Chromatography (GC) in the mixture is gaseous in form. 

In either case, lab scientists are able to separate and analyze each individual component of the sample by slowly heating up the sample, which allows for the separation of each component as they one by one reach their various boiling points. They then can measure and record the sample’s individual components by exposing them to electromagnetic radiation (aka light) and analyzing the results.

In fact, many times products are tested via both methods, as the HPLC process has proven particularly useful for detecting cannabinoid potencies while GC is more suited to detecting  more volatile compounds, such as terpenes, pesticides and any residual solvents.

Potency testing results

High CBD potencies usually make for the best selling point in the nascent CBD industry. One unfortunate side effect of this trend, however, is that some companies are exaggerating or flat-out inflating their products’ CBD content. That’s why Lazarus Naturals always lists total CBD content for each product and we make sure that our products’ CBD content matches or even exceeds what’s written on the label. One of our primary goals is to never short our customers on product potency.

Potency test results should at the very least describe the product’s cannabinoid profile: this number is usually dictated as a percentage that represents how much of each cannabinoid is in the product. Oftentimes, however, companies will also include cannabinoid totals in milligrams, and list how many milligrams are present in an average serving. 

Usually, potency numbers focus on just CBD or THC, the most common cannabinoids, but some laboratories have recently started including potency results for other cannabinoids that are growing in popularity, such as THCV, CBG, CBN, and others. Highly detailed potency test results should also include readings on a product’s terpene and flavonoid content.

If you’re using full-spectrum hemp products, be sure to check that all cannabinoid potencies (especially THC) are listed, not just CBD. It is technically possible (albeit unlikely) to fail a drug test for THC even if you haven’t consumed any cannabis-based products. 

Heavy metals, microbials, and pesticides

Hemp is an amazing bioremediator crop, meaning that it’s excellent at cleaning contaminated soil through absorption. Unfortunately, this also makes the hemp-based products particularly susceptible to contaminants including heavy metals and pesticides. Any reputable CBD provider knows this and will provide lab tests upfront that verify their products’ safety. 

Additionally, as an organic compound, hemp crops are also susceptible to mold and other microbes. Moldy hemp plants can cause serious illnesses because those microbials will often lead to highly contaminated hemp extractions, which can be particularly dangerous for sickly patients who are seeking CBD-based comfort of living. Even for more casual consumers, nobody wants to run the risk of consuming E.coli, Aspergillus, or other dangerous pathogens.

Reviewing a sample product test

Consider the following excerpts from test results for our High Potency Full Spectrum CBD Tincture, one of Lazarus Naturals’ most popular offerings — you can view the following test results in full on our website, where we list all of the testing lab reports for any of our products, or directly by following this link.