What are the benefits of CBD oil for dogs? What are the concerns about CBD and dogs? CBD oil has become an increasingly hot topic in human medicine and veterinary medicine. Here are the latest facts, concerns, and benefits that dog owners need to know.
CBD oil for dogs: a rapidly changing landscape
In 2018, the FDA approved the first naturally derived CBD product, Epidiolex®, for controlling severe seizures in children. The research behind CBD oil for veterinary use is slowly growing, but the legal aspects remain complicated and messy.
Our veterinary team at ToeGrips for dogs has been researching CBD oil for dogs—discussing up-to-date information with veterinary colleagues, interviewing experts in the field, and attending lectures at veterinary conferences—for many, many months. At the state and federal level, information changes frequently. So much so, that it feels like it’s almost daily. This impacts veterinarians’ ability to recommend CBD for their canine patients and discuss it with clients. Though the landscape is rapidly changing, we’re proud to share what we currently know regarding CBD and dogs.
What is CBD?
Let’s start with the basics. There are over 113 different compounds that can be derived from the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa. The two most well-known compounds are delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Different strains of the same hemp plant can have different levels of THC and CBD. Interestingly, the body (human and animal) has different receptors for both THC and CBD.
THC is the compound we associate with marijuana. It is responsible for the “high” feeling after an individual smokes or cooks the marijuana plant. THC binds to CBD1 receptors in the brain that are associated with emotions, coordination, movement, memories, appetite, and pain. CBD1 receptors are also present throughout the body. THC products can be toxic to dogs in high enough doses.
CBD, on the other hand, does not have the same effects on the brain as THC. The majority of the receptors for CBD (CBD2 receptors) are associated with the immune system. When CBD binds to these receptors, it can help decrease pain and inflammation as well as trigger the body to produce its own cannabinoids, which can decrease pain.
The new Farm Bill, signed on December 20, 2018, legalized production of the hemp plant as long as it contains less than or equal to 0.3% THC on a dry weight basis. However, legality can vary at the state level.
What are the potential benefits and uses of CBD oil in canine patients?
First of all, in human medicine, CBD oil is being studied for potential uses in chronic pain management, epilepsy, cancer, and anxiety. Regarding chronic pain, a study done in mice and rats showed that CBD oil helped reduce inflammation. Also, in a study done in humans, CBD oil reduced the use of opioids (oxycodone, for example) by 64%. And it is worth repeating that the FDA recently approved Epidiolex® for severe childhood seizure management. Preliminary research done in cancer cells shows that CBD may be involved in blocking the signals for reproduction in cancer cells. Finally, CBD may have benefits for patients with anxiety disorders by increasing dopamine. (It is worth noting that THC has the potential to make anxiety worse by increasing paranoia.)
Research study on CBD and dogs shows it may help manage seizures
In dogs, two studies have recently been published regarding CBD use for seizures and pain management. Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine conducted a preliminary study. For dogs with seizure disorders, the results showed an 89% reduction in seizures. The study itself was very small—only nine dogs in the treatment group and seven dogs in the placebo group. However, it does demonstrate that CBD oil may help manage seizures in dogs. Colorado State University is currently conducting a larger three-year study to more thoroughly evaluate CBD use in seizure dogs.
Research study shows improvement for dogs with arthritis
Owners who have used CBD oil in their pets have reported improvements in gait, sleep, and appetite. Researchers at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine evaluated the use of CBD oil in dogs using the gold standard “double-blind study.” This means both the researchers and the dog owners did not know which treatment the dog was getting. Theoretically, the results are more accurate and prestigious in the scientific world.
Of the 22 dogs with arthritis enrolled in the study, 16 dogs ultimately finished the trial. Dogs received either CBD oil or a placebo oil (olive oil mixed with anise and peppermint oil to have the same scent as the CBD oil) for four weeks, followed by a two-week washout period, then the opposite treatment for four more weeks. In this manner, all dogs were given both CBD oil and “sham” oil for one month each. Dogs were evaluated based on owner questionnaires, veterinary physical exams, Canine Brief Pain Inventory score, Hudson activity score, and blood work (CBC and biochemical profile).
It is important to note that the dogs included in the study were allowed to stay on current medications such as NSAIDs (examples include Rimadyl, Meloxicam, Deramaxx, etc.), fish oil supplements and/or glucosamine/chondroitin supplements—as long as there were no changes made within the four weeks up to the study or during the ten weeks of the study. However, dogs were taken off Tramadol and/or Gabapentin two weeks prior to starting the research.
The study yielded two key pieces of information:
- First, dogs on CBD oil showed an improvement in their arthritis symptoms compared to dogs on the placebo oil.
- Second, CBD oil was safely used concurrently with traditional arthritis management medications such as NSAIDs.
What are the concerns regarding CBD oil?
All CBD oil is not alike
Because CBD oil is sold as a supplement, products are not subject to the same tight regulations and standards as pharmaceuticals approved by the FDA. There can be marked discrepancy in the CBD concentration reported on the label versus the CBD concentration in the actual product. Why is this so important? When the concentration differs from the actual product, a patient is at risk of being under or
CBD concentrations may vary significantly from the amount specified on the label
The FDA issued warnings in 2015-2017 to certain companies for the CBD concentration not matching the labeled amount. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) evaluated different CBD extracts online and allowed for the amount on the label to
Arsenic and other toxins may contaminate CBD oils
Depending on how it is harvested and processed, CBD oils are at risk for contamination. This includes:
- mycotoxins (a deadly toxic substance produced by a fungus)
- heavy metals including arsenic.
However, you can request a Certificate of Analysis from the company. (Theoretically, this may provide some peace of mind.) This document should include a cannabinoid profile that shows the concentration of cannabinoids in the product, antimicrobial analysis, pesticide analysis, and elemental analysis to screen for lead and arsenic.
CBD oil is a legal “grey zone” for veterinarians
CBD oil falls into a legal grey zone with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), federal, and state regulations. Although the 2018 Farm Bill allowed for the production of specific hemp products, some states still ban CBD oil. In the eyes of the DEA, marijuana and hemp are federally categorized as Schedule I drugs under the Controlled Substances Act, defined as having a high potential for abuse and no medical use. (Also on the list are Heroin and LSD, to give you a frame of reference.) However, state governments are given authority to determine if they will allow marijuana and hemp-based products to be manufactured and sold inside their state borders.
The Schedule I categorization by the DEA makes CBD the elephant in the exam room, so to speak. Virtually all of my veterinary clients with arthritic senior dogs are asking me about CBD oil. Yet my hands are theoretically tied in recommending or prescribing the product. Why? Because according to federal law, medical professionals may write no prescriptions for Schedule I substances, and violators are subject to criminal prosecution.
There is no FDA-approved veterinary CBD oil for dogs
This categorization also makes research more difficult because there are extra hoops for researchers to jump through for Schedule I drugs. Further, there is also no veterinary CBD oil approved by the FDA. So state veterinary licensing boards default to holding veterinarians responsible for the guidelines established by the DEA. As a result, the American Veterinary Medical Association discourages veterinarians from even discussing CBD oil with clients due to legal concerns.
Promising results from dog owners
Anecdotally, a couple dozen of my patients are on CBD oil, in every case because their proactive owners heard about the product and decided to try it for their arthritic dogs. The dog owners have acquired CBD oil from a host of interesting sources—online, a relative, and a local lady who recently opened a side business selling CBD.
My veterinary clients pepper me with questions about how much CBD oil to give their dogs, safety concerns of using it along with other drugs their dogs take, and risks of long-term continual dosing. I apologize to my clients and defer their questions. Not because I am under a legal gag order but because I genuinely don’t (yet) know the answers.
What can we hope for in the future regarding CBD oil?
Laws have significantly relaxed regarding hemp and cannabinoid products over the past couple years. Within the past year, there have been laws allowing for the use of CBD products at the state level, production of hemp in the United States, and a CBD oil product has been approved for human use by the FDA!
Also, we’ve seen studies published indicating that CBD oil may have benefits in seizure and pain management for dogs. These are huge strides. Hopefully, laws will continue to relax to allow veterinarians to discuss CBD oil with their clients and to allow for more veterinary research.
Finally, we hope there will be more oversight for product quality and control so that consumers know they are getting a pure, safe product.
What questions do you have about CBD oil and dogs?
Please comment below. We can all learn from each other.