You might come across the term “third-party testing” when buying or researching hemp-derived products such as Cannabidiol (CBD), Cannabinol (CBN), and Cannabigerol (CBG). Third-party lab tests for CBD are executed by independent labs that are not affiliated with the company selling the product.
These chemical analyses are essential for manufacturers and vendors in the hemp industry to comply with basic regulations: they confirm that the products offered by hemp or CBD companies do not exceed the legal limit of 0.3% Total THC.
Some Third-party labs also go beyond analyzing THC content to test for contaminants such as pesticides, heavy metals, residual solvents, and microbials. Keep reading to discover more about third-party CBD testing and why it is crucial.
A Closer Look at Third-Party CBD Testing
3rd party testing refers to a scenario where manufacturers and consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies send samples of their CBD products to independent laboratories for testing. The laboratories help to confirm the product’s chemical characteristics and answer the following questions:
- What exact components or impurities does the CBD products contain?
- Does the CBD product’s packaging accurately reflect the contents of the product?
- Does the CBD product contain harmful components?
- Is the CBD product stable in the retail finished package?
Third-party testing has become very important, especially in the health and supplements industry, where product quality and safety cannot be compromised.
The Importance of CBD Third-Party Testing
Third-party testing is fundamental to the continued growth of the fast unfolding CBD and hemp industry. Here are the primary reasons why you should only sell and/or distribute CBD products that are third-party tested and have a “Best Use By” date given:
- In order for CBD products to meet consumer expectations, they should contain the right quantities of all ingredients. This also includes CBD as well as other cannabinoids or key ingredients such as preservatives.
- Because CBD is extracted from hemp plants, the risk of trace THC content remains. Since the recent federal permission to cultivate industrial hemp in the US, farms may not yet have the experience to determine which plants have produced enough THC to exceed the legal limit. Thus, third-party CBD testing can help to ascertain whether you are stocking CBD products with the appropriate THC levels.
- Today, most CBD products are sourced from mass-produced hemp plants. But their production is sometimes accelerated using agrochemicals such as pesticides and organic chemicals, which could survive the cannabinoid extraction process and therefore be unintentionally present in CBD products. Third-party CBD testing helps to identify these organic components and establish whether they fall within the maximum acceptable safety range.
- Regulatory standards for CBD product manufacturing have not been established to date. High-quality third-party testing can help to eliminate consumer uncertainty regarding safety standards practiced by reputable CBD product manufacturers and retailers in the absence of government-instituted oversight.
- Since 2018, many states within the US and multiple countries have seen an increase in the number of companies participating in the CBD industry. Although this growth provides consumers with the freedom of choice, the lack of regulatory oversight invites the potential for substandard practices that could result in false claims about product contents, safety, and unsubstantiated efficacy.
- The process of manufacturing CBD products is procedurally complex. Third-party testing can help confirm that manufacturing methods are being executed appropriately and used to allow manufacturing to safely release commercial lots to their customers.
Without regulatory standards to prevent companies from selling products with poor safety and quality, third-party lab testing can help CBD companies demonstrate responsible practices independently of federal mandates.
Third-party testing performed before commercial availability can also protect CBD companies from later reputational damage: in the UK, a study was conducted on various CBD oils to compare the products’ actual contents with their packaging and label claims.
According to the laboratory responsible for the testing, the results showed that over two-thirds of the 30 products tested did not contain the advertised amount of CBD. The actual concentrations ranged from 90% of the label claim to, dismayingly, none at all.
Overall, working with a top-rated third-party hemp testing facility remains the best way of ensuring that CBD products are of high quality and ready for market.
What Main Analyses Do Third-Party Labs Perform on CBD Products?
There are five analyses that should be at the tips of everyone’s tongues when choosing tests to be performed by a third-party lab for CBD products: cannabinoid profile or potency assay, heavy metals, pesticides, bio-contaminants, and residual solvents.
This test, also referred to as potency testing, assesses the quantities of cannabinoids in a CBD product sample.
It is the most important test because it helps to prove that a CBD product contains the levels of CBD indicated on the labels. For example, if a seller claims a product is THC-free, the cannabinoid profile will accurately confirm or refute this claim.
The best cannabinoid potency tests include 15 cannabinoids so that you can have a clear picture of what a product contains. Some of them include CBD, THCA, CBC, THCV, CBN, Δ-9 THC, Δ-8 THC, and CBDV.
In addition to cannabinoids, 3rd party lab testing also checks for the presence of residual pesticide residues. Many farms growing hemp plants use pesticides to accelerate growth and reduce damage from insects. Some of the pesticide components could be harmful to human health if ingested. Some of the common pesticide components tested by third-party labs include:
✓ Daminozide: This is a common pesticide used by companies growing cannabis, especially in greenhouses.
✓ Bifenazate: This is another common component in fungicides.
✓ Cyfluthrin: Like bifenazate, cyfluthrin is a common ingredient in many insecticides.
3) Terpene Profiles
Terpenes are aromatic compounds that are common in most plants. They are largely responsible for imparting the unique smell of hemp plants and smokable flower.
Your third-party lab tested CBD will contain terpenes if it is made from full-spectrum and/or broad-spectrum extracts. In most manufacturing processes, terpenes are isolated to give CBD products specific characteristics.
4) Organic Solvents / Residual Solvents
Organic solvents are common compounds used in the extraction process. Some of the solvents used in CBD extraction include propane, ethanol, acetone, and isobutene. Recently, however, solvent extraction is being replaced by more advanced methods such as Supercritical Carbon Dioxide.
Supercritical CO2 is an alternative extraction process that doesn’t require solvents and can be performed with a co-solvent. Therefore, organic solvent tests help to identify solvents even when CBD may have been performed using a “solvent-free” method.
5) Heavy Metals
Notably, hemp is a good bio-accumulator. While this attribute allows the plant to obtain nutrients from the soil for faster growth, it also creates risk. If the soil contains high levels of elements that are termed “heavy metals,” the plant will also absorb them.
Check your raw material and finished CBD products for heavy metals. The most commonly tested heavy metals include:
✓ Several other metals such as nickel, selenium, and chromium are also routinely tested per USP 232 and USP 233.
6) Bio-Contaminants / Microbiological Impurities
3rd party CBD labs check for contaminants such as fungi, bacteria, and mycotoxins that might have entered the plant material. If products are manufactured from contaminated hemp extracts, the risk of bio-contaminants is very high.
Bio-contaminants can be associated with allergic reactions and harm users. It is paramount that every CBD product you stock is free from these contaminants.
How Does 3rd Party Lab Testing CBD Work?
When looking for a third-party lab testing company, it is important to understand the processes used to test different CBD components.
To ensure you get the right results, go for the best third-party CBD testing firms that use the latest technologies including these:
✓ High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC): This is the standard instrumentation that is used by most third-party CBD lab testing companies out there. During the process, the sample, after suitable sample extraction and clean up, may be dissolved in a solvent. Then, it is injected onto a reversed phase C18 column. Solvent then flows through the column and compounds are separated based on hydrophobicity.
As different compounds exit the column, their quantities are calculated. With this technology, it is possible to tell the presence and exact quantities of each component in a CBD product.
✓ Mass Spectrometry (MS): MS technology is used for identifying heavy metal contaminants, pesticides, cannabinoids, terpenes, residual solvents, and mycotoxins.
✓ Polymerase Chain Reactions (PCR Testing): PCR is another effective method used by 3rd party CBD lab testing companies for testing bio-contaminants. PCR quickly analyzes DNA strands present in CBD samples and compares them with DNA code references of bacteria and fungus. If DNA is present in samples, third-party labs can usually also calculate the amount of DNA present – thus determining the extent of contamination.
How To Select Reputable 3rd Party CBD Labs
As discussed earlier, 3rd party lab testing for CBD and other hemp-based products has not been harmonized by the federal government and is currently regulated by individual States. But you should test to ensure that your products meet expectations and match each label claim.
This could bolster not just business reputation and sales, but the satisfaction of knowing that customers are getting the best. So how do you know the right third-party testing firm to contact?
The primary focus should be identifying a third-party testing lab that has made a name for providing results that are scientifically valid. Work with a lab that is built on transparency, evidence-based practices, and technologies.
As more manufacturers enter the CBD market, it is prudent to be extra careful by working with 3rd party labs. It is the only way to guarantee your clients of the best quality CBD oil or other CBD products!