The cannabis industry is undergoing a revolution. As advocates have pushed for states to legally recognize the medicinal benefits of medical marijuana, the plant has become increasingly associated with a healthy lifestyle and a focus on wellness. CBD, in particular, is now heralded as a kind of miracle treatment for pain and discomfort caused by a host of conditions — and not just in humans. More and more progressive veterinarians are leaning towards CBD to support our pets’ wellness, too.
CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of 100-plus cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. It can be sourced from hemp — leaving it with almost no THC — and cannabis, which includes some THC. There’s debate around whether cannabis-derived THC is more effective than hemp-derived THC due to a synergistic phenomenon called the “entourage effect,” but anecdotal and research-based evidence shows both have pain-reducing properties.
Cannabinoids interact with the endocannabinoid system, which is found in all vertebrates. The system plays a role in a number of physiological processes, including sleep, immune function, memory, and more. Its receptors are found throughout the brain, body, and nervous system, and research shows that when THC engages with CB1 receptors and CBD interacts with CB2 receptors, they improve how the receptors work — so the bodily processes associated with the system improve, too.
Though research is scarce due to the federal restrictions on cannabis, a few studies have shown CBD to have huge benefits for pets and pain. In one notable study, researchers at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine demonstrated a connection between doses of CBD rich hemp oil and increased activity and pain reduction in dogs with arthritis. Another study out of Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences on CBD treatment for dogs suffering from epilepsy showed a decrease in frequency of seizures, and a larger scale study is under way.
“In the majority of cases, it does help,” says Dr. Cornelia Wagner, who owns the Hawthorne Veterinary Clinic in Portland, Oregon. “It makes the pet more comfortable, they move more easily.” Dr. Wagner says she sees several clients every day who bring up CBD. Unfortunately, most veterinarians are reluctant to talk about anything related to cannabis. Vets aren’t allowed to prescribe medical marijuana, and there are no federal protections in place for those who answer their clients’ questions about CBD. However, California just became the first state to legally protect vets who do discuss cannabis with their clients — an important step toward the future of CBD for pet pain management.
You can buy hemp-derived CBD oils, tinctures, chews, and treats — both for humans and pets — online and at health and pet stores. The FDA doesn’t regulate these products, so make sure you find out as much as you can about the product itself and the process by which it’s made. Look for CBD that has been safely extracted and tested by an independent, licensed facility. Find out where the ingredients came from. If it’s a product specifically for pets, ask whether a veterinarian helped to develop it. If you live in a state where cannabis is legal to some degree, you can buy cannabis-derived CBD at a dispensary. Some CBD products for humans contain ingredients that are toxic to pets, like chocolate, so use common sense when shopping for them.
To test the CBD, follow any dosing guidelines that accompany the product. If they’re unclear or not there, start with as little as possible and gradually increase if you don’t notice any changes (good or bad). And before you incorporate CBD into your pet’s wellness regimen, Dr. Wagner says, “talk to a veterinarian about how to do it safely.”