Topics of marijuana and CBD use for medicinal benefits have become commonplace in recent years, but the laws, regulations and facts surrounding them can often seem vague and confusing. Most of us don’t want to use anything before we have solid information about it, and we especially don’t want to give it to our loved ones—including our furry friends.
Pet owners around the country have heard the buzz about CBD oil and CBD treats. CBD, or cannabidiol, is a chemical compound that comes from the marijuana plant. Unlike the other well-known compound found in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD has no psychoactive effects—so it does not get users high. Sorry, Fido.
There are plenty of stores in the U.S. that offer these products, and it’s likely that they will become more readily available for both animals and humans—In 2017, the market for CBD grew by 40 percent, and it’s forecasted to keep growing.
But what exactly is CBD, what can it do for our pets and is it even safe? Unfortunately, research is slim, but new regulations have allowed for scientists to begin studying CBD for pets more freely. And we can already see a lot of anecdotal evidence that CBD oil has benefits for both humans and our four-legged friends.
What does it do?
This is where the research comes in. Trials have shown that CBD benefits humans in several ways, but most trials aren’t large enough to be taken as hard evidence. In humans, it’s most widely understood use is reducing anxiety, but has also been effective in treating seizures.
Because of confusing and restrictive regulations around marijuana, Breonna Thomas, Master of Science at Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital, says only in recent years has anyone thought about conducting clinical CBD trials in pets.
At the Department of Clinical Sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State, scientists are testing the efficacy of CBD in treating epilepsy in dogs. Researchers will conduct an MRI of the brain and a spinal tap to rule out any other causes of seizures in the dogs, will keep a daily seizure log and weekly behavioral notes filled out by the owner, and will assess the dogs’ bloo work every four weeks.
Another leading researcher in CBD for pets is Cornell University. A recent Cornell study, headed by Associate Professor Joe Wakshlang, PhD, aimed to determine the safety and efficacy of managing pain in dogs with osteoarthritis. The results of the study show anecdotal evidence that CBD oil, provided for this study by ElleVet, reduced pain and increased activity for dogs with osteoarthritis. The study is currently pending peer review.
Is it safe?
So far, the trials conducted at CSU have proven CBD safe in dogs, Thomas says. In other studies, they’ve used doses much higher than would be used in a commercial product, and there were no adverse effects related to CBD for the dogs.
“Naturally, all dogs can and will respond differently, and of course we can only attest to the product we’ve tested,” Thomas says.
“There are no known negative side effects for CBD in humans or pets, and there has never been a documented ‘overdose’ of CBD in humans or pets,” says Chris Husong, chief sales and marketing director at Elixinol, a producer of CBD products.
Husong also brings up the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which was only just discovered in 1992 as scientists began to take greater interest in cannabis.
“The ECS works as a master regulator to all the body’s other systems. When the ECS gets its required cannabinoids, then the ECS can better regulate the rest of the body functions,” says Husong.
What kind should I give my pet?
There seem to be endless vendors offering CBD products for pets, and there are no regulations to tell us which are truly made with our pets’ well-being as priority.
“Currently, there’s no regulations for commercial CBD,” Thomas says. “Some companies will do third party testing and are able to provide a certificate of analysis so that owners know that the products they’re buying have less than 0.3 percent THC as well as an adequate CBD content.”
A certificate of analysis might look like one from HonestPaws.com—this company creates their CBD products using whole plant extracts that include both cannabinoids and terpenes, but contain 0 percent THC (the psychoactive component).
Terpenes, by the way, are basically the “essential oils” of plants. Terpenes can affect the way our receptors receive cannabinoids, so if you see that a company uses the “whole plant extracts” to create their products, that likely means the product includes CBD as well as the terpenes of the plant. These things work together to create what has become known as the “entourage effect,” which is the interactive synergy between different compounds of cannabinoids.
That’s a lot to digest, and there’s a lot of stuff that goes into making CBD products for pets, so if you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, go with a company you know has been used by professionals. The Cornell study, for example, used products provided by ElleVet, and Thomas says all the products they’ve used for their studies at CSU are from the company Applied Basic Science Corporation. This is what Thomas recommends to people because she knows that the company tests all of their products, and the products have been tested in CSU labs as well.
When should I use CBD for my pets?
Although not much hard evidence exists about the benefits of CBD, research shows CBD won’t hurt our beloved best friends. And although there isn’t much scientific evidence quite yet, there are countless personal testimonies as to how CBD has helped pets.
Sierra Ledgerwood of Los Angeles, for example, says she started giving her two cats CBD while packing for her move to Los Angeles from St. Louis. One of her cats became visibly distressed as she began taping up boxes and cleaning out the apartment. When she started giving him CBD, he grew more comfortable in the changing landscape and explored the boxes and moved-around furniture. When the time came to drive across the country with her two cats, she gave it to both of them.
“My boys would howl nonstop any time they were in their cage or outside of the apartment,” she says. “Their noses would get so dry, and they wouldn’t calm down.” On the drive to LA, though, Ledgerwood and her boyfriend stopped every few hours to give them CBD and water, and she says they were perfect.
“From St. Louis to LA was so manageable, and I really felt like it was easier on them and they appreciated it,” she says. “They slept through most of the ride, and when they woke up, they cuddled and comforted each other.”
So in situations like Ledgerwood’s where life events are especially stressful on pets, CBD might be a good option for helping to calm them down. She says she can’t imagine trying to move long-distance with pets and not giving them CBD.
Is it legal?
The law around CBD production has been confusing for some time, but currently the overall understanding is that any CBD product below 0.3 percent THC is legal. The Farm Bill, or the Agricultural Act of 2014, passed by President Obama, first allowed for the study and growing of hemp for limited purposes.
In 2015, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act passed, which allowed farmers in the U.S. to produce hemp more widely and also removed hemp with lower than 0.3 percent THC from the controlled substances list.
For more information, see the USDA website, but in short—yes, any CBD you receive from a commercial distributor is perfectly legal as long as it contains below 0.3 percent THC.