Humans have a long history of self-medicating with plants. Archaeological evidence suggests that as long as 50,000 years ago, Neanderthals were using herbs, such as chamomile and yarrow, for medicinal purposes. Even today, roughly 40 percent of the drugs used in the Western world are still derived from plants that people have used for centuries. Aspirin comes from willow bark, codeine from poppies, and quinine from cinchona bark, just to name a few examples.
One plant-derived remedy that has been in the spotlight in recent years is CBD—cannabidiol—extracted from Cannabis sativa plants, such as marijuana and hemp. CBD has been successfully used to treat a variety of human ailments, including pain, mobility issues, muscle stiffness, anxiety and seizures. It has also been used to address these same issues in animals, especially dogs and cats. CBD works for both humans and animals because we all have endocannabinoid cell- signaling systems that play a role in our nervous systems. These systems have receptors that respond to cannabinoids, such as CBD, in ways that have positive impacts on pain, inflammation, mood, movement and more.
Despite the promise that CBD products have shown, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only approved one CBD drug so far, which is targeted at seizures. Without FDA approval, CBD products are marketed as unregulated supplements, which makes it challenging to determine their efficacy for people and pets. Furthermore, under current federal law, veterinarians may not administer, dispense, prescribe or even recommend CBD products for animals.
Between the laws, lack of regulation and the fact that there have only been a few published studies on CBD for pets, it’s no surprise that many veterinarians are reluctant to formally endorse CBD products. And yet, when animals are suffering and traditional medicine isn’t enough, the impulse to try alternative remedies is understandable, so many veterinarians recognize the need to answer questions about the use of CBD as a supplement.
To get a veterinarian’s perspective, I spoke with Nicholas Dodman, a professor emeritus at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine and a renowned veterinary behaviorist. When I asked him what he thought about using CBD products on pets, his response was favorable. Dodman believes that CBD products can be useful, especially when used as supplements to treat pain, anxiety and mobility. As for how one determines which brands are safe and reliable, Dodman respects companies such as ElleVet Sciences—a manufacturer of CBD products for dogs and cats—because of its quality control and involvement in research.
ElleVet Sciences participated in a clinical trial at Cornell University that looked at the efficacy of CBD as a treatment for canine osteoarthritis. The study, which used ElleVet’s CBD oil, was encouraging, with over 80 percent of dogs showing improvement. ElleVet also conducted a long-term safety study—again using its own product (a cannabinoid oil blend)—but this time it tested both dogs and cats. No known negative side effects were found in either species. In absence of FDA approval, companies like ElleVet are setting the kind of standards we should look for when considering treating our animal companions with CBD products.
When it comes to other brands, Dodman advises pet owners to take the time to call the companies and ask them about their testing and quality control. Purity, as well as concentrations, vary from brand to brand. Testing has revealed that some brands contain extremely low concentrations of CBD or none at all, so it’s important to do your research.
As always, before giving your dog or cat supplements of any kind—including CBD products— Dodman recommends consulting with your veterinarian. Even though the law limits how veterinarians can discuss CBD, you should still have the conversation. Your veterinarian will be able to help you make better-informed decisions based on your pet’s personal history, especially if your pet is on other medications.
Also, never give CBD products intended for humans to pets because they might contain ingredients that are harmful to animals, and the dosing will be different. Finally, keep all CBD products out of your pet’s reach to avoid overdosing.
Resources: CBD For Pets
American Veterinary Medicine Association
For further information, download the AVMA’s publication, “Cannabis in Veterinary Medicine” pdf.
Participated in a clinical trial with Cornell University and showed promise.
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