In recent years, the rate at which pet owners have been giving their animals cannabis-based products that have high levels of cannabidiol (CBD) and low levels of THC has been steadily increasing. Though these pet owners are looking to reduce instances of seizures and pain and treat other maladies and conditions, they often supply their animals with these products without understanding the science behind them.
When it comes to cannabis products and animals, not much is currently known about the possible effects and treatment strategies. However, scientists have recently begun studying these effects after years of blatantly ignoring the concept and potential these products may have when it comes to animals.
Scientists have been studying the connection between medical cannabis and the role it plays in human health, but the role it may play in the health of dogs and cats is much more complicated. Though the research is lacking substantially and current studies have yet to have been peer-reviewed, the scientific community has taken a greater interest in the last few years. In mid-2018, Frontiers in Veterinary Service released the results of a clinical study that sought to determine the role cannabidiol (CBD) products may play in treating dogs affected by arthritis. The study’s results opened the door to future treatment strategies for animals.
In the study entitled “Pharmacokinetics, Safety, and Clinical Efficacy of Cannabidiol Treatment in Osteoarthritic Dogs,” Cornell University’s Dr. Joseph Wakshlag and his team analyzed the effects that ElleVet Sciences’ hemp oil blend products had on dogs suffering from pain and arthritis.
The study concluded that, in over 80% of the subject dogs, there was a drastic decrease in pain and arthritis symptoms and an overall improved ability to move.
While the results of the Cornell University study are significant and display the potential that CBD products have in treating health conditions in animals, there are very few other studies that actively and purposefully seek these answers. Due to the limited availability of research, pet owners are unable to make an educated decision on behalf of their pets, which severely limits the treatment options they can take advantage of.
As it does with humans, the scientific community needs to understand the vital role that medical cannabis can play in treating health conditions in animals, but political and ethical issues often stand in the way.
Veterinarians and CBD
While new research is demonstrating the potential that CBD products have in the animal world, a majority of states do not permit veterinarians to prescribe or even recommend cannabis treatment methods for animals. Though every state has a veterinary board that manages veterinary practices in the state, each board must also consider medical cannabis laws on the federal level (rather than just the state level).
For example, cannabis has been legalized in California for use by adults. However, the California Veterinary Medical Board forbids California veterinarians from prescribing or recommending cannabis-based products for any of the animals in their care. Failing to abide by this standard is considered a violation of the law in California and can result in serious punishment.
As a result of the inconsistency in California law, some California-based veterinarians are seeking the passing of legislation guaranteeing animals the right to use cannabis-based products if they are suffering from severe illness or injury. In fact, the state legislature of California recently passed a bill similar to this idea.
This bill successfully made its way through the legislature and was ultimately signed by California Governor Jerry Brown, with the law taking effect on January 1 of this year. While the law may still need some revisions in the coming future, it sets the standard for the future of cannabis-based products in veterinary care.
Before the law was passed, many veterinarians in California recognized the fact that cannabis products could be successful in treating some conditions their animal clients may have been experiencing, but prescribing or recommending these treatment methods may have resulted in the revocation of their veterinary licenses. Despite the ongoing research, veterinarians were completely restricted when it came to these recommendations, regardless of what their personal or medical beliefs are.
The reason so many veterinarians are interested in prescribing cannabis products to animals is because of the significant role that cannabis products play in treatment of diseases and conditions found in humans. Cannabis has proven effective as a treatment strategy for seizures, cancer, pain, anxiety, and many other human conditions, but many of these conditions are also seen in dogs and cats. If these products are so successful in humans, there is a great potential they will be successful in animals as well.
Legality of cannabis
As if it weren’t difficult enough in states where cannabis is legal, states that have laws against cannabis products make this effort even more difficult. In states where cannabis is illegal, veterinarians and medical professionals are reluctant to release their findings when it comes to cannabis as a result of the potential for pushback from state government officials and the general public.
These professionals are also finding it difficult to pursue research and receive funding for studies focusing on cannabis products, all as a result of the legal status within their state. If it is this difficult to research the effects of cannabis on humans, it is even more difficult to do so when considering animals.
In the remaining states where cannabis is still illegal on all fronts, researchers are unable to even access cannabis products to conduct their studies. This is due to the fact that the DEA essentially severely restricts marijuana products, especially those with a higher THC content. These researchers are then required to put in some additional legwork to have their studies approved.
Released studies so far
Despite the pushback that many researchers experience when pursuing cannabis-based research studies, some have successfully conducted studies that have been peer-reviewed as well. These are the studies that veterinarians depend on when forming their opinions on the potential of cannabis-based products as a treatment strategy in animals.
Up until April 2017, there were still very few studies analyzing the effects that cannabis may have on dogs. Many veterinarians found this concept highly concerning, especially considering the positive effects that cannabis has on humans despite its unstable legal status in several U.S. states.
Making the legalization of medical cannabis for animals is further disrupted due to concern when it comes to cannabis toxicity. In particular, there has been evidence that the consumption of large amounts of cannabis by dogs and cats can prove poisonous to the animal.
In a 2004 study that concluded that cannabis can be toxic to animals when consumed orally, about 30% of these animals experienced gastrointestinal symptoms while 99% experienced neurological symptoms. It is important to note that the products consumed were actual cannabis, not cannabis-based products like CBD.
In that same study, cannabis poisoning was described as causing symptoms like vomiting, tremors, seizures, hyperactivity, and other behavioral changes. This was the first study conducted related to first-hand exposure to cannabis by animals, as all previous studies analyzed the effects of second-hand exposure to THC.
Negative Research Trends
As researchers began conducting studies in the 2000s that analyzed the effects of cannabis on dogs, most studies focused on the potential negative side effects that may occur as a result of the plant’s potential toxicity. Other more recent studies have determined that consumption of high-concentration THC cannabis products by animals is more likely to result in fatality and illness.
The concern with these research practices is the amount of emphasis placed on negative effects rather than opening up to the possibility that these products can have a positive effect on sick animals.
Recent studies conducted demonstrate the positive effect cannabidiol may have on dogs with arthritis as well as the functioning of the cannabis within the body. In addition, other organizations and scientists have begun spearheading research looking to analyze these effects and more.
Dogs & CBD
In 1988, a study looking to determine the effects that CBD has on animals concluded that the CBD products used in the study were not fully absorbed by the dogs participating in the study, thus resulting in minimal positive effects. Prior to most recent studies, the only method of cannabis supplementation used on animals was the ingestion of pills on an empty stomach.
In the Cornell University study analyzing the effects of ElleVet hemp oil products, the company was vying to have researchers determine the best CBD ingestion method in regards to greater absorbance in dogs. When the study was concluded, Cornell University researchers determined that consuming ElleVet oil products was significantly more effective than previous administration methods used in some previous studies.
Wakshlag and his team assert that the oil base is the reason for the differing results between their study and previous studies. Rather than administering CBD via powder, capsules, or intravenously, the study ultimately concluded that the oil was more easily absorbed into the system when it was administered in the form of oil and thus provided greater effects.
The greatest difference between using cannabis as a treatment method in humans versus dogs and other animals is figuring out the correct dosage to use to get the full effect. ElleVet’s hemp oil products and other similar products on the market that are CBD-only are only effective if a proper amount of CBD is administered. Otherwise, there is very little opportunity for positive effects in the treated animal.
In the Cornell University study, researchers understood the importance of using the proper dosage of CBD products, but very few companies could provide scientific reasoning for the recommended dosages of their products.
When conducting the Cornell University study, Wakshlag and his team based their dosage methods off of studies that had proven effective in humans. Based on these studies, Wakshlag and his team decided that the appropriate dosage for humans is somewhere between 1 and 5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. To prevent excess financial strain while also focusing on observing a positive reaction during the study, Wakshlag determined that 2 milligrams per kilogram of body weight would be an appropriate dose for dogs.
The role of THC
Finding an appropriate dose of CBD-only products was relatively simple for Wakshlag and his team, but the prevalence of THC products slightly complicated the process. According to some researchers and veterinarians, THC should not be ingested by animals, as there are potentially negative side effects from administering these products to animals.
In particular, there is a significant risk of poisoning and toxicity when it comes to administering THC products to dogs. However, when using ElleVet’s hemp oil products in the study, animals were only exposed to a maximum of 0.3% THC, as opposed to a larger amount found in other types of products.
Despite this, while the Cornell University study settled on using CBD-only products that did not contain large amounts of THC, some veterinarians believe that THC can be beneficial when treating animal health conditions. In particular, a few veterinarians that have given other types of cannabis products to animals have noticed the positive effects that they may have.
For these veterinarians, the extensive amount of research noting the positive impact of THC on humans is a major reason for their beliefs relating to its potential for animals. Most specifically, there are incredible similarities between the endocannabinoid systems of humans and dogs. With this information, there is evidence that THC can impact dogs similar to the way it impacts humans and that toxicity is purely based on dosage, not on the actual substance. These findings are absolutely significant.
What veterinarians find most concerning this topic is the misinformation that has been spreading about cannabis products, especially those with THC in them. Because of this information and the negative connotations associated with it, pet owners are less likely to agree to have their animals treated with any of these products to protect them from potential harm that they have heard about. This substantially limits the treatment methods that can be used for their animals and also deprives the pet of the opportunity to experience greater relief from their chronic conditions.
The perfect combination
Rather than assuming all of the information you receive about THC products and animals is accurate, the best thing you can do is perform your own research on THC products and your pet’s condition. In particular, you should be looking into your pet’s specific medical condition and the role THC may play in treating the condition or its symptoms. If you decide to use THC products with your animal, you should begin with the smallest dose possible in an attempt to prevent any possible adverse reactions.
While THC and CBD are the most common compounds when it comes to cannabis products, there are plenty of other products and cannabinoids that can be used to treat health conditions. Simply put, THC and CBD may not treat your pet’s condition on their own, but they can be more effective if they are combined with other cannabinoids that may have a greater effect on your pet’s particular illness.
If you eventually decide to provide your pet with cannabis products to treat their condition, the most important step you should take is consulting your veterinarian about the proper dosage to use. This is made possible with the recent passing of a California law that allows California veterinarians to prescribe and recommend CBD products.
The role that this new law will play in terms of educating pet owners is remarkable. Now that veterinarians are allowed to provide insight into the positive and negative effects of CBD products on pets, pet owners are now able to make more educated decisions based on veterinary professionals.
With the passing of recent legislation and a slew of ongoing studies regarding CBD products, dosage, and effects, there is a greater potential when it comes to using CBD products to treat animals.
In reference to the Cornell University study, finding the proper dosage to treat your pet’s condition has been scientifically proven to reduce the amount of pain caused by arthritis in dogs. Of the 16 participants in the Cornell University study, each dog experienced a positive effect when it comes to their condition.
CBD products are not only useful in treating pain but can also help to reduce the number of unnecessary euthanizations of animals suffering from severely painful conditions. During the Cornell University study, one of the animals nearing the point of euthanization experienced a significant improvement in her condition and was still alive and thriving two years after the conclusion of the study.
Wakshlag noted how impressed he was by the results of the Cornell University study, even going on to state that he would personally use CBD products as a treatment method for his dogs if they were to ever experience symptoms of arthritis. This goes to prove how confident researchers are in the results of the study.
CBD & seizures
In the last several years, scientists and researchers have effectively determined that CBD is a viable treatment option for humans with seizure disorders, and these conclusions have slowly transitioned into veterinary treatment practices.
When using CBD products to treat seizures in animals, there is a possibility of reducing the frequency of seizures on a remarkable scale. Rather than having dozens of seizures per day or week, a dog may only have a few per month when treated with CBD products.
In a study being conducted at Colorado State University, scientists are looking to determine how effective CBD may be in treating dogs that have epilepsy. Though the study is not yet completed and the results have yet to have been fully released, the scientists involved in the study describe the future results as “promising.” In addition to analyzing the effects on epilepsy, Colorado State University is also planning to research the effects that CBD has on osteoarthritis in dogs.
Researchers are investigating how CBD can affect health conditions in animals, but many people have been discovering the positive effects that off-label usage of CBD has on their animals on their own.
ElleVet is a company that describes itself as being “science-oriented,” which is why it does not advertise its products as a treatment for conditions that have not been researched and scientifically proven as of yet. So, while the Cornell University study asserts that ElleVet products are an effective treatment method for arthritis in dogs, ElleVet will not go as far as saying its products can treat other illnesses as well.
With that said, company employees of ElleVet do recognize the potential that their products have in treating conditions like anxiety, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and a wide range of autoimmune disorders. ElleVet does not outwardly recommend that pet owners use their product for other purposes, but there is the potential that future research can widen the claims that companies like ElleVet make.
In fact, ElleVet and Wakshlag plan to join forces once again to determine how CBD products can affect other types of pain, not just pain resulting from arthritis. Also, at the University of Florida, three new studies seeking to determine the effects of cannabis in post-operative and oncology dogs began in the fall. Results are expected to be released in the near future.
CBD and cats
Research into the effects of cannabis on dogs is increasing, but very few studies have actively sought the effects of CBD on cats.
As of now, the only studies conducted regarding CBD and cats are in relation to the potential toxicity that cannabis products may pose. ElleVet, on the other hand, has been conducting its own studies on cats using its own products to determine their efficacy.
In the studies conducted by ElleVet, there seems to be a possibility that their hemp blend oils can prove effective for cats, but there is a significant difference between treating cats and dogs, especially considering the effects of cannabis on each.
The greatest concern when it comes to treating cats with cannabis is their method of metabolism. While dogs can be prescribed certain pain medications, the livers of cats respond much differently. This is why many medications produced for animals are for cats or for dogs, not both species.
ElleVet is conducting long-term studies on the effects that their products have on cats before advertising their products as being safe for cats.
In their own studies, ElleVet determined that, compared to dogs, cats actually respond to cannabinoid medicines much better. ElleVet products were shown to decrease arthritis pain in cats, very similar to the effects seen in dogs. The greatest difference between using ElleVet products in cats and dogs is the half-life of the products, which only appears to be about two hours when given to cats. This requires higher doses in cats, as compared to dogs.
Research into CBD and dogs is more widespread than ever, but a few research organizations and CBD companies are looking into testing their products on cats. In particular, ElleVet is currently conducting studies on cats that are looking to determine whether CBD products can help reduce anxiety in cats with chronic UTIs.
The amount of research being conducted on cats and dogs and the relationship they may have with CBD are becoming more apparent, but there is still much more research to be done. The most difficult task related to the subject is providing this research to veterinarians and proving that cannabis products can be valid treatment methods for both dogs and cats. This is the biggest hurdle that CBD advocates are facing.
As with any new research and conclusions in the medical field, it often takes a significant amount of time to convince members of the community that these treatment methods or findings are valid and usable. Oftentimes, professionals will not accept these studies until the results are further confirmed by additional research and studies.
While it may take some time to convince veterinarians and other pet professionals that cannabis can be a great tool in treating chronic conditions in dogs and cats, some veterinarians recognize the potential of these products now. It is likely that, in the near future, veterinarians will begin confidently prescribing or recommending CBD products.