Certificate of Analysis: What It Is and Why It’s Important

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Certificate of Analysis: What It Is and Why It’s Important

You’ve heard that cannabidiol or CBD, a natural medicinal ingredient derived from hemp, helps pets feel better by reducing anxiety, easing joint pain, calming digestive issues and even reducing seizures, so you started researching the best products to try. Even if you read the labels carefully, the information can be misleading. 

Although CBD is legal under federal law and pet products containing CBD are as common as kibble, product quality varies widely. Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 70 percent of the products tested either over or under the labeled amount of CBD and some were contaminated with lead, arsenic, and other heavy metals or contained pesticide contaminants and toxic mold (1). These are not products you want to offer to your pet.

So, how can you tell if a CBD product is safe? Read the certificate of analysis.

What is a Certificate of Analysis?

Example certificate of analysis

A certificate of analysis—or COA—is a document issued by an accredited laboratory that details what exactly is in a CBD product and includes information on potency of each compound and potential contaminants. 

COAs are issued by third-party laboratories that have tested products to certify their safety and accuracy. Companies are not required to submit their products for testing, but every reputable product will have an up-to-date COA. 

Some manufacturers post COAs on their website and others list QR codes on their products that, when scanned, link to the COA. If you are interested in a product and cannot easily locate the COA, call the company to request it. Reputable manufacturers will be happy to provide the results from independent testing labs.

Never purchase a CBD product from a company that refuses to provide a COA, as it could be detrimental to your pet.

How to Read a Certificate of Analysis

testing CBD oil in lab

At first glance, a COA may seem overwhelming. To read a certificate of analysis, look for these six pieces of information:

Name of the testing lab: Testing should be done by accredited laboratories that perform independent testing and provide precise results, not the manufacturers making and selling the product. 

The COA will include the name of the laboratory and the testing date. The date for the COA should be recent (within 9 months)—outdated COAs are a sign that companies are not doing regular testing and should be a red flag. The footer contains information about the final approval, including the names of the technicians who analyzed the sample.

Batch number: The batch number on the COA should match the batch number on the product.

Profile table: This section of the COA is broken down into potency results of all compounds found within the product (including cannabinoids and terpenes).  Pay attention to the amount of CBD and compare it to the amount listed on the label; the calculation will tell you whether the product has the amount listed or has been over-or under-labeled. 

Also, look at the amount of Delta 9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (which might also be listed as ∆9 THC) to see how much THC (the active ingredient in cannabis that produces a high) is in the product. Legally, CBD products must contain less than 0.3 percent THC. The COA will confirm that the product is compliant.

Residual solvents: The CBD manufacturing process often uses solvents such as propane, butane, ethanol, or others to extract CBD oil from the hemp plant. The COA will list the residual solvents and confirm that the amounts do not exceed the standards. CO2 extraction is another extraction method that is more efficient and environmentally safe.

Heavy metals: The hemp plant pulls contaminants, including heavy metals, from the soil as it grows and may also be exposed to other heavy metals during the manufacturing process. Laboratories test for the amounts of heavy metals such as lead, mercury, arsenic and cadmium. The COA includes information about any heavy metals detected in the product. If a COA lists “ND” beside the metal, it means non detected. Look for products that contain no heavy metals, which can cause potential health issues for your pet.

Pesticides: Hemp, like other agricultural products, is often grown using pesticides. Laboratories test for pesticide residues in products. A certificate of analysis will either list pesticide levels or use “ND” to indicate that no pesticide residues were detected. Agricultural chemicals can make your pet ill, so it is important to pay attention to pesticide levels in the CBD products you purchase.

Why are COAs Important?

Woman and her dog in the woods

Since the CBD market is unregulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the industry operates without transparency, testing guidelines, or label standards. CBD companies can create misleading advertisements, make false claims, and potentially sell unsafe products. A COA helps prevent that.

COAs ensure that patients and customers stay safe and informed and emphasize the importance of choosing a CBD product made by a manufacturer that is committed to quality. COAs are essential because they provide a true composition for each product.

It takes a little extra time to look up a COA and compare it to the product label, but that due diligence could mean the difference between purchasing CBD products that are safe and accurate for your pet versus ones that could cause harm.

References Cited in This Article

  1. Bonn-Miller MO, Loflin MJE, Thomas BF, Marcu JP, Hyke T, Vandrey R. Labeling Accuracy of Cannabidiol Extracts Sold Online. JAMA. 2017;318(17):1708–1709. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.11909
Dr. Trina Hazzah, DVM, DACVIM (Oncology), CVCH