As of November 2018, 33 U.S. states and D.C. have legalized some form of cannabis, with nearly a third allowing recreational use. With our growing understanding of the medical benefits of cannabis, the conversation around CBD use for pets is expanding. If you’ve been thinking about incorporating CBD into your pup’s care, here’s what you need to know.
Just as it does for humans, CBD — a cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant — presents a powerful treatment option for all kinds of conditions in dogs. Results aren’t guaranteed, but research has shown that CBD can relieve pain; ease the symptoms of arthritis; calm anxiety; lessen the frequency and severity of seizures; and even improve cognitive dysfunction.
In a study conducted by Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, 16 dogs with osteoarthritis who were treated with CBD twice a day showed an increase comfort and activity — especially older, sicker dogs. Another study at Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences revealed a decrease in the frequency of seizures in epileptic dogs treated with CBD. A larger follow-up study is under way.
“This is life-changing for a lot of these patients,” says Dr. Tim Shu, a veterinarian and the founder of VETCBD, which produces CBD for pets sold in California dispensaries. Dr. Shu says many of his clients have seen dramatic improvements in their dogs’ health after using CBD — which is a relief for pet owners worried about the side effects of prescription medications. Anti-anxiety drugs, for example, often cause sedation, whereas in the few studies that have been conducted, CBD has been shown to have virtually no negative side effects.
“The safety profile of cannabis is far, far safer than a lot of other medications out there,” says Dr. Shu.
Every mammal, reptile, fish, and bird has an endocannabinoid system. It’s a network of neurotransmitters and receptors found throughout the brain, nervous system, and body that’s involved in maintaining homeostasis. THC interacts with the system’s CB1 receptors and produces a high, while CBD connects with the system’s CB2 receptors to produce other good feelings — pain relief, relaxation — without the high.
An important thing to know about dogs and CBD is that dogs have more CB1 receptors than other animals. This makes them more sensitive to THC. If you’re looking for a CBD product without any THC, you’ll likely want something derived from hemp. Legally, hemp can contain no more than 0.3 percent THC, so there’s no risk of THC toxicity. As industrial hemp production (which is now legal in the U.S.) increases, it’s safe to bet even more hemp-derived products will be readily available. If you’re looking to achieve the “entourage effect” — the idea that cannabinoids work better synergistically — another option is cannabis-derived CBD, which contains more THC (e.g. 100 CBD:1 THC ratio, 20 CBD:1 THC ratio).
Before taking any action, make sure to talk to your vet, especially if your dog is already on medication. Vets aren’t allowed to prescribe medical marijuana, and they could risk their licenses simply by talking about it. But times are changing, says Dr. Shu. More vets are pushing for the government to allow research into pets and cannabis, and California just became the first state to protect vets who do discuss cannabis with their clients. Regardless of where you live, ask your vet about CBD. If they’re reluctant, look for a holistic vet who might be more open to alternative treatments. VETCBD also offers a helpline staffed by nurses for any pet owners who have questions.
The FDA hasn’t yet approved CBD, so testing and safety are up to individual companies. Ask or research where the ingredients come from, how the CBD is extracted, where it’s been tested, and if the product was developed in partnership with a veterinarian. If you live in a state where you have access to dispensaries, you can purchase cannabis-derived CBD oils and even pet treats that have been through that state’s testing processes, which are more regulated.
Never give anything to your dog that includes toxic additives, like chocolate. And if you’re a cannabis user, make sure to keep any plants or edibles out of your dog’s reach. At the University of California, Davis’s School of Veterinary Medicine, dean and professor Dr. Karl Jandrey is currently running a clinical trial on spontaneously intoxicated dogs and cats. Dogs are more at risk for this than cats, he says, because “cats are much more refined in their taste,” while dogs are “indiscriminate eaters.”
When figuring out how much CBD to give your dog, follow the product’s recommended guidelines, but err on the conservative side. Take note of any changes in behavior, and if your dog seems lethargic, dizzy, unusually thirsty, drowsy, or shaky, stop the CBD and talk to your vet to make sure your regimen works for your dog.