For the past few years, there has been much discussion about the medical use of CBD for animals. However, the information available so far was mostly testimonial, inaccurate and without much scientific basis. Veterinarians were banned from prescribing or even performing research on this substance due to its classification by the Federal Drug Administration as a controlled substance with no medical value. Due to a legal reclassification of the cannabis-derived CBD molecule in 2018, several prestigious veterinary universities have been able to conduct empirical, placebo-controlled, randomized double-blinded studies which have yielded scientific evidence on the properties, side effects, safety and dosing of CBD for animals.
Let’s Start with the Basics
Cannabis is a genus that includes many plants. The two most popular plants within this genus are the marijuana and hemp plants. All the plants in the Cannabis genus contain cannabinoids, chemical substances known to act on the nervous and immune systems (among others) in all animals. Even though there are more than 100 cannabinoids, the best known are THC (9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). Cannabinoids, in general, work on the cannabinoid receptors of the endocannabinoid system of all animals. These molecules function as neurotransmitters, producing a few important medical effects: analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-epileptic, killing cancer cells, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-dermatitis and modulating neurological disorders, among other effects. However, like any substance that has an effect on body functions, they require careful use. The well-known cannabinoid THC is the only one that affects brain function, altering the mood, consciousness, behavior and perception (better known as a “psychoactive” substance).
Among all animals (including humans), dogs are the most sensitive to the toxic effects of THC. The marijuana plant is high in THC and low in CBD, so its use in pets should be avoided. Hemp, on the other hand, is a plant high in CBD and low in THC. Since December 2018, hemp is considered an agricultural product under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and not under the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). For this reason, veterinarians can now prescribe CBD derived from hemp resin and, more importantly, are allowed to give advice to help decrease any harm due to its improper use in animals. A number of prestigious veterinary schools have conducted studies during 2018 on the use of CBD on pets, utilizing specific strains of the hemp plant.
Factors to Consider
It is important to keep in mind that there is some potential of causing harm when using CBD on pets. Some strains of the hemp plants contain a higher percentage of THC than others and so are potentially more toxic for pets. In addition, CBD can turn into toxic THC in certain environments. For example, when mixed with honey (acid environment), CBD turns into THC. Beware of the fact that, at times, THC from marijuana is being sold under the erroneous label of CBD, posing a high potential of toxicity for pets. Lastly, CBD could slow down the pulse and decrease the blood pressure, making it dangerous for animals with serious organ disease.
The strain of the hemp plant, its CBD concentration and an accurate analysis of the composition of the oil are all extremely important factors to take into consideration when choosing a CBD product safe for your pet. Always look for a “certificate of analysis” of the product to make sure the CBD oil is free of contaminants such as bacteria, fungi and pesticides that might be detrimental to your pet’s health. Since this is now an agricultural product, as mentioned before, the quality control is not as rigorous as in the manufacturing of a drug. If you are considering the use of CBD for your pet’s medical condition, consult with a doctor in veterinary medicine with knowledge on the latest scientific information on its medical indications, adverse effects, dosing and reliable sources to obtain it. Remember, when we make medical decisions for our pets, we must, above all, prevent harm.