September 8, 2022 – The marketplace for cannabidiol products, and the number of people using those products, has exploded in the last decade. CBD is everywhere – from grocery stores and shoe stores to convenience shops and the internet – it’s hard to move around without bumping into CBD products.
Given the success of CBD products marketed to people, a separate market for CBD pet products wasn’t far behind. But what do we know about the safety of CBD, and dosing and effectiveness for our pets? Not as much as we would like.
Cannabis 101 – The Basics
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the primary psychoactive component found in marijuana, and cannabidiol (CBD) is the primary nonpsychoactive (mostly, more on this later) component of marijuana.
Despite past legal restrictions, interest in the medical properties of marijuana has been ongoing since the turn of the last century. Studies teased apart the chemical composition of marijuana (these compounds are called cannabinoids) and identified specific receptors within the human body for these chemicals.
In addition, scientists discovered that humans (and many animals) produce cannabinoids within the body (endogenous cannabinoids), forming the endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system is involved in many bodily processes (via cell receptors) including:
- Pain perception
Although CBD doesn’t have the same intoxicating effects as THC, it can affect brain function. Evidence suggests that CBD alters perception, mood and consciousness, hence its use to decrease anxiety. CBD can bind to receptors on different types of cells throughout the body and has a wide range of therapeutic effects (in people) including pain relief, as an anti-inflammatory agent and immunomodulator, and anti-emetic.
A quick word about toxicity in pets. CBD rarely is associated with any clinical signs in cases of accidental exposure or overdose. Lethargy and depression, staggering and agitation were the most common problems noted by owners in reported cases and no deaths have been reported (yet).
CBD, Dogs and Cats – What We Know and What We Don’t Know
Unfortunately, the “what we don’t know” wins this contest. There are gaps in our knowledge of how CBD is metabolized in our pets and few controlled studies focused on treatment efficacy.
One of the first tasks of researchers studying a new drug in animals is to determine what dose of medication is effective without leading to toxicity. A major hurdle encountered by researchers studying CBD is that the preparations available to pet owners differ in how much CBD is present in a particular product.
In addition, each product can have different amounts of other cannabinoids (such as THC), all of which can affect dosing recommendations. Many scientists studying CBD in dogs and cats use highly purified CBD, but their findings might not translate well to the products pet parents encounter.
Despite these limitations, a few guidelines are emerging for veterinarians and their clients. These include:
- A dosing regimen that works with one product may NOT be useful with a different product.
- Feeding (timing of food and type of food) can have a big effect on CBD absorption, so feeding schedules in relation to drug administration need to be consistent.
- CBD does NOT seem to accumulate in the body even when given chronically. This is usually a good thing when it comes to using a medication over a long period of time.
- To date, studies do not suggest that giving CBD in conjunction with other medications (such as drugs for arthritis or seizures) is a cause for concern.
Another positive aspect of CBD use is that in many studies looking at the effects of different doses of the drug, toxicity is rare in both dogs and cats.
CBD as Therapy for Osteoarthritis, Epilepsy and Stress Relief
One of the most common reasons pet owners use and veterinarians prescribe CBD is to treat osteoarthritis. There is compelling evidence in dogs that CBD, when used in conjunction with other standards of osteoarthritis care, provided additional pain relief in these patients with no signs of toxicity. However, there are a few studies that show little to no benefit. Pain alleviation using CBD in some form is receiving attention in veterinary research and we expect to learn more as these studies are concluded.
Another application where CBD may have benefit is in the treatment of canine idiopathic epilepsy. There is promising evidence that the addition of CBD to standard treatment reduces the frequency of seizures in dogs without any signs of toxicity. CBD has not been tested as a monotherapy for seizure reduction. As with osteoarthritis, research is ongoing to finetune dosing recommendations.
The final area of active research and interest in CBD use is the treatment of behavior problems and stress reduction. Unfortunately, there are only scant reports (often anecdotal) that CBD can be used to decrease stress. Conversely, one group reported that a certain mix of CBD and THC did result in stress reduction in a colony of study cats. CBD researchers are quick to caution pet owners about the use of CBD since the presence of THC actually may lead to unwanted behavior and increase agitation in both dogs and cats. Clearly, more research is needed to determine proper dosage and cannabinoid mixture for this use.
CBD holds great promise in the treatment of many diseases in dogs and cats, but there remains much we don’t know about its action, metabolism and proper dosing. As always, if you’re considering using a CBD-containing product, it’s important to consult with your veterinary care team and follow their guidelines.