CBD: How Pet Parents are Leading the Pack -The current landscape for pets and medical cannabis products In America, around 70% of households own a pet. This means that roughly 90.5 million families have welcomed a four legged (or maybe feathered) friend into their homes. (Rainwalk Pet Insurance, 2022) Not only do most people own a pet or two, the way we treat our pets is changing. According to a 2011 Harris poll, 90% of pet owners think of their dogs and cats as members of the family. Therefore it should be no surprise that pet food and care is a rapidly growing market. (Taylor, 2019) As people focus more on the comfort of their animals, products that claim to increase the quality of life for man’s best friend are flying off the shelves.
CBD oil and other cannabis derived products for human ailments like chronic pain, seizures and other common disorders, have become very popular across the US. The public is turning to these remedies to help their pets as well. Most people live in an area with access to some form of legal, medicinal cannabis oils and extracts. This accessibility is contributing to the growth of these alternative treatments. The demand is pushing the development of an entire veterinary industry in which Fido or Fifi have a full line of cannabis derived products available to them. Some products have been developed by veterinarians and designed to help with the treatment of specific ailments. It is common to find sublingual CBD oils or pills, infused treats, and topical creams. The most common ailments addressed by veterinary CBD products are:
• Arthritis and other types of inflammation-related pain
• Behavior problems (including separation anxiety and noise phobias)
• Digestive tract disorders and inflammatory bowel disease
• Bacterial and fungal infections
• lntervertebral disc disease (IVDD)
• Kidney and liver diseases
• Epilepsy, seizures and other disorders of the nervous system
• Skin disorders
• Chronic pain management
Most of the products being made for pets are using CBD oil derived from hemp or marijuana plants through different extraction methods. Hemp is currently defined by the FDA as any cannabis plant with less than 0.3% THC, plants with higher amounts of THC are considered “marijuana.” Both marijuana and hemp are members of the cannabis sativa family and both are commonly used for CBD extraction. THC is often thought of as the “psychoactive” compound, while most varieties of CBD are considered “non-psychoactive.” Hemp is a federally legal cannabis plant, but the products made from hemp-derived CBD are largely not approved for use as medicine. The FDA is clear about its stance on CBD in consumer goods. In a recent consumer update, issued on November 25, 2019, “It is currently illegal to market CBD by adding it to a food or labeling it as a dietary supplement.” (FDA. 2019) From the perspective of the FDA, any CBD containing product claiming to have medicinal benefits or CBD added to food is the same as adding any other prescription drug to the product- and that requires a doctor’s prescription. Adding to the confusion is the myriad of state laws that allow for CBD to be infused in food and drinks, making it difficult for consumers to understand the legality of the products where they live.
While some are skeptical about the efficacy of CBD for the treatment of disease, others are defending the medicinal benefits they see animals experiencing. CBD has an interesting relationship with the endocannabinoid system, a complex cell-signaling system found in mammals, birds, fish and even reptiles. Scientists only discovered this system in the 1990’s and early indicators suggest the system helps maintain the body’s homeostasis. (Pacher. 2006) Dr. Tim Shu founded VETCBD in 2015, a cannabis company focused on providing cannabis-derived medicinal oils to dogs and cats. According to Shu, “Relief is provided as the cannabinoids in marijuana interact with the endocannabinoid system. It’s a series of receptors that run throughout the body,” he says. “Many people are unaware that pets can safely and effectively benefit from cannabis using proper formulation and dosing. And it’s not just dogs and cats that can benefit, we’ve had ferrets, rabbits, pigs, rodents, and horses find therapeutic relief through cannabinoid therapy.” Shu believes that unlike some traditional pain medicine for dogs, medical cannabis has no life-threatening side effects with proper dosage. “It does~’t damage the kidney, liver, or GI tract. The dogs aren’t high or sedated.” (Semigran, 2019)
While Dr. Gary Richter of Montclair Veterinary in Oakland, CA, also promotes the use of broad spectrum cannabis derived medicines containing both CBD and THC for veterinary applications, he cautions owners to understand what is in the cannabis medications. “The most significant [risk] is THC toxicity, meaning, essentially, they are high,” Richter says. “Depending on how significantly a pet has been overdosed, the effects of that can be quite long-lasting, even days. Even if the THC toxicity is not excessive, they can sometimes have problems due to these other ingredients.” If an overdose or counteraction is suspected, take the pet to the veterinarian immediately. (Semigran. 2019) Even with that concern in mind, Dr. Richter remains very enthusiastic about the potential for properly administered cannabis medicine. “I had somebody come in with their cat that had chronic inflammatory bowel issues. This kitty was on all kinds of medications. The woman pretty much told me that unless I could do something to help this cat, she was going to have to put him to sleep because he was so miserable and there was nothing more to do. We put him on some supplements and made some dietary alterations but without a doubt the thing that turned a corner for this cat was the cannabis. Literally within two days of putting this cat on cannabis he had his first normal bowel movement that he’d had in almost a year. We were able to drastically improve this kitty’s life to the point where he was stable. The owner was ecstatic.” (HelloMD. 2019)
All of this is encouraging for those looking for an alternative method to treat the medical needs of their pets. Early indicators from clinical studies (Gamble. 2018) and owner testimonials suggest that CBD oils may have effect on a number of conditions. In addition, there are few, if any, known significant drug interactions between cannabis and traditional medications. There are some cautions, though, that need to be properly addressed.
We need more research to truly understand the proper dosing for pets and their associated ailments.
Correct dosage is imperative. “As is the case with any medication, success has everything to do with dosing,” Dr. Richter says. “If you dose pets properly, then they are going to get the positive effect that you’re looking for while not having any psychoactive side effects.” As for now, the best option is to work with a veterinarian experienced in treating animals with CBD products.
Many CBD products do not contain the amount of active ingredients listed on the label.
Independent testing has found there can be wide variances when products are taken to lab for analysis. In a recent study by NBC news, 35 products were taken to labs for a cross check. 20 had less than half of the amount of CBD advertised on the label. Some had no CBD at all. (Krauth. 2019) This is extremely concerning and is evidence that consumers should research the products and brands they choose to buy from. This includes reading and understanding the lab certificates of analysis that should be provided upon purchase.
Most products are not tested to the same standards as traditional medicine.
Most have come to expect a certain standard of safety when it comes to the quality of products, especially those advertised as medicine. However, CBD is still largely unregulated by agencies such as the FDA. The FDA states, “To date, the agency has not approved a marketing application for cannabis for the treatment of any disease or condition. FDA has, however, approved one cannabis-derived and three cannabis-related drug products. These approved products are only available with a prescription from a licensed healthcare provider.” (FDA, 2019) That means that the CBD oil for sale to the public for therapeutic use may or may not have been properly screened for contamination.
Not all people have access to the most appropriate CBD product.
Hemp derived CBD is legal in all states thanks to the Farm Bill of 2018. However, “marijuana” derived CBD is not. If a pet has a condition that responds better to product made from marijuana plants with more than 0.3% THC, the owner’s location may prevent them from being able to legally provide that to their pet.
There are studies underway at veterinary schools such as Cornell University that are studying the effects of CBD for pets with certain degenerative diseases. (Gamble. 2018) The hope is that one day soon vets can safely determine proper application and dosage of medical cannabis and CBD for pets. Many veterinary experts feel confident that CBD oil and other medical cannabis products for pets have the potential to be highly effective medicines, when dosed and used appropriately. “The entire veterinary medical community needs to take a hard look at this and realize that medical cannabis is here to stay in this country,” Richter said. “We need to get involved in this discussion with pet owners to prevent animals from being harmed [by] pet owners using it without appropriate medical guidance.” (HelloMD. 2019)
Jessa Youngblood is the cannabis industry specialist at Hardy Diagnostics. She is a member of the AOAC CASP committee for Microbial Contaminants Working Group as well as the NC/A Scientific Advisory Committee. Jessa has a passion for safe access to cannabis medicine and regularly leads webinars and trainings to support the development of cannabis microbiology testing programs across the US and Canada.