What does CBD do to my dog?
Cannabidiol, or CBD for short, has become very popular in pet stores around the United States. So what does it do and how does it work? CBD is associated with marijuana, and the ‘high’ feeling it provides, however this feeling is actually associated with tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. The strain of plant used for human consumption varies in different ratios of CBD and THC; strains with high THC are usually used for human consumption.
The endocannibinoid system is the part of our (and our pets’) bodies that responds to CBD. This plays a role in both the nervous system and immune system. CBD from plants (phytocannabinoids) can act as partial agonists of this system, meaning they can activate the opioid receptors in the brain. They may also be able to help reduce inflammatory responses. CBD has indirect effects via the CB2 receptors, which are distributed on the immune cells, joints, muscles, and organs of the body. The reproductive tract and nervous system have the highest concentration of these receptors. We do not have many studies to show how CBD affects reproduction in animals, and as a result, consider stopping use before breeding.
CBD can be absorbed in dogs either through the mucosa (e.g. inside the mouth) or via the digestive tract. Giving food improves absorption through the digestive tract markedly (almost doubled!).
Is CBD even legal?
This depends on where you are and the current law. Federal law declared hemp to be lawful, but cannabis is still up for interpretation. Veterinarians are not allowed to prescribe CBD in most states; some veterinarians are not even allowed to discuss it! By the time I finish publishing this, the regulations will likely have changed where you live, so please reach out to your veterinarian or look up the legal regulations in your state.
So many products!
What is on the shelf?
As CBD becomes more accepted legally and socially, more and more products designed for your pooch end up on the shelves. But not all are the same. Unfortunately, since this is considered a supplement, the FDA is not monitoring CBD products. This means that anything and everything may be in that bottle you pick up in the store. Ingredient labels are not checked by the FDA in these products, and the amount of CBD and THC listed on the bottle is often incorrect (Colorado State University performed a study on multiple pet labeled products and found that most do not contain as much CBD as listed on the bottle). When considering a CBD product, keep this in mind. Consider looking for brands that are tested and regulated by third party lab testing and that stand by their products with a full refund guarantee.
Consider also how the product is to be administered. Transmuscosal absorption is the best way to avoid direct metabolism and excretion by the liver, so many chews or drops on food are not as effective. If the product is to be ingested, make sure the product instructs to give with food.
Dose makes the poison
Consider also the dose you are giving your pet. Many pets need 0.1-0.5 mg/kg of CBD in order to see and effect. For a 20 lbs. dog, this is 1 to 4.5 mg of CBD. If the product contains 5 mg/mL of CBD, you would have to give anywhere between 0.2 to almost 1 mL of product to your dog! Many products suggest a lower dose than this and may require a large volume to get to the appropriate dose. If there are other products in, you could risk overdosing on those if you are not careful. If you are unsure of dosing, please contact your veterinarian.
Is CBD right for my pet?
Now that we know how to give it and how it works, what are the benefits of CBD products? What about the bad side effects?
Once on the correct dose in the correct form, CBD has been shown to be helpful for treatments of various diseases such as epilepsy and arthritis. In one study, 40% of canine patients with arthritis had marked improvement in mobility. The response is also very fast! Rather than taking 2-3 weeks to work, as is the case with some medications, effects are seen in less than an hour. In humans, it has been shown to reduce anxiety, improve appetite, and help with certain types of cancer. It is well tolerated in humans, and in many animals. It has very few noted side effects if used appropriately.
One aspect of note is that dogs are especially sensitive to THC, and it can become a health problem. When a dog ingests a human product high in THC, he or she can become very ataxic (wobbly gait), very nervous, and may urinate uncontrollably. They are also more prone to falling down the stairs, aspirating food, etc. Even a very small amount of THC can produce these effects, and your pup should see your veterinarian if this occurs. Many THC products are consumed along with other toxic compounds (xylitol, chocolate) so please alert your veterinarian immediately if this is a possibility.
CBD does affect liver metabolism of certain drugs. If you are giving your pet CBD, please alert your veterinarian before she prescribes any drugs. She may need to adjust the dose or run additional testing to make sure the medication is not being affected by CBD. High doses and long term use can also elevate one liver value in dogs (ALP). This is not linked to liver damage, but this is something to keep in mind.
When using CBD on your pet, remember that the biggest side effect is that it will not work. In some pets, it may increase anxiety, aggression, or cause them to forget house training. While this is very rare, please keep this in mind before starting CBD products on your pet.
Many universities and laboratories across the United States are studying the true effects of CBD right now. Over the last year, our knowledge of CBD products has grown significantly, but it still feels like we know so little about it. Studies are showing that it is safe overall, but may or may not be effective. There are very few studies on long term (over 6 month) use however. Over the next 5 years, regulations will change, more products will be reliable, and veterinarians will be able to prescribe certain products with confidence. However, at this time, veterinarians are more likely to recommend products they know work based on a longer history of scientific research (e.g. your veterinarian will likely recommend fish oil for arthritis, rather than CBD oil).
CBD is less effective in cats, and they require a much higher dose.
For more information, please read the following article. It contains all of the most recent studies, and is peer-reviewed (unlike this blog).