Cannabidiol, or CBD for short, is being lauded as a way to relieve pain and anxiety and as a sleep aid for both humans and companion animals, as well as a treatment for epilepsy and arthritis. Various companies in Canada are poised to release CBD-containing pet products once regulations are in place, and several in the United States have already done so. Before we look at those developments however, let’s look at research on CBD being conducted by Stephanie McGrath and colleagues at the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University.
In a double-blinded crossover clinical trial, 60 dogs with uncontrolled epilepsy are going to be given either a control (no) treatment or treatment containing CBD to try and determine if CBD works for this condition and if it’s safe. Qualifying dogs must be experiencing at least two seizures per month for four consecutive months while on therapeutic levels of conventional anti-epileptic medications.
Neurology clinical trials co-ordinator Breonna Thomas says the research is focused on epilepsy because “not only is it a pressing problem in canines, but anecdotally, people were claiming that it worked to treat epilepsy and we need to do some research to see if there is any merit to those claims. Our pilot studies for both arthritis and epilepsy in canines have both shown that CBD may have a lot of benefit in dogs.”
The hope, says Thomas, is that CBD-treated dogs will have fewer seizures. This was seen in the pilot trial where almost 90 per cent of treated dogs experienced a reduction in their usual number of seizures. The team also hopes to do some sort of CBD study on cats in the near future.
The lack of studies like this one hasn’t stopped pet owners from dosing their pets with various legal and illegal edible cannabis or hemp-based products, and some unfortunate accidents have occurred relating to the toxicity of THC, the intoxicant in cannabis. Dr. Katherine Kramer, founding chair of the Veterinary Advisory Board at True Leaf Pet, a British Columbia-based maker and distributor of hemp-based pet products, notes that “dogs and cats are much more sensitive to the effects of THC, and edible products are often combined with other ingredients such as chocolate and xylitol [a non-caloric sweetener] that can be quite toxic to pets. Even some CBD products can cause some pets to appear intoxicated.”
Kramer adds that illegal pet products containing CBD can present problems in terms of quality differences, poor labelling and even the inclusion of ingredients in the product that are not listed on the label.
“Dosing is another huge issue,” she says. “Until we have the proper pharmacokinetic studies, dosages for dogs and cats are widely experimental. Dosing may be individualistic as well, depending on the product, patient and condition being treated.”
True Leaf will be launching a line of pet supplements with hemp-derived CBD and other compounds once it becomes legal to do so in Canada. At that time, its sales of CBD pet products will join what is already a huge market. Research firm Brightfield Group noted recently that worldwide sales of CBD-containing pet products rose from US$8 million in 2017 to a whopping $32 million in 2018. And by 2022, the firm estimates the market could reach $1.16 billion — just in the U.S.
One company already selling CBD-containing pet products in the U.S. is Boulder, Colo.-based Charlotte’s Web. It launched an ingestible CBD oil for dogs in 2016 and recently rolled out more items, including a chicken-flavoured CBD oil and meat chews.
Phivida, based in Vancouver and San Diego, already produces CBD-infused functional beverages and health supplements for people in the U.S., and just announced in May that it intends to launch hemp-derived CBD pet products in both the U.S. and Canada once regulations are in place. Chief marketing officer Mike Cornwell says the initial products will be tinctures in three strengths, one for cats and small dogs, one for medium-sized dogs and one for large dogs.
When asked for his view on the potential for CBD for pets, Cornwell reflects that with these products, “we believe we can provide a natural alternative option for pet owners instead of pharmaceutical medicine to relieve stress, anxiety or moderate pain conditions.” However, he says “we would always recommend pet owners to seek out a veterinarian’s advice.”
The veterinarian perspective
Similarly, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) states that the increased medical use of cannabis by Canadians over the past few years and the legalization of cannabis in Canada in October 2018 have been associated with the CVMA receiving “a number of anecdotal reports” concerning “increased interest among companion animal owners, livestock producers and others about the potential therapeutic benefits of using cannabis in animals for the alleviation of pain, relief of anxiety, and treatment of behavioural conditions.”
To address the issue, the CVMA is taking a rather proactive — and some would say, quite surprising — stance.
The organization points out that currently there are no therapeutic protocols available to Canadian veterinarians since there is no legal means for veterinarians to make cannabis [or hemp-based] products available to their patients — and while “the CVMA supports a cautious approach in order to demonstrate purity, safety, efficacy of cannabinoids in animals, so that they can be properly registered by Health Canada as drugs and made available to our patients” — “in this interim period before new veterinary products are registered, knowing that many owners may search out and administer cannabis unsupervised to their animals, the CVMA supports veterinarians being permitted to grant access to medical cannabis products to their patients so that veterinary oversight can take place.”
In terms of just how many other Canadian companies are currently developing CBD pet products and may market them, PIJAC (the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, a non-profit organization of 800 members which offers guidance and resources to pet businesses, and helps advance the well being of Canada’s pets) isn’t sure.
“Currently the way we are tracking the evolution of CBD in the pet industry is through contact with government agencies, the veterinary community and industry news from Canada and abroad,” says PIJAC communications manager Susan Dankard. “We are focusing on any reports that come out and watching to see how this new ingredient will be integrated into the pet product landscape.”
However, it is integrated, through oils or other products, with a few or a wide range of concentration levels and so on. At this point, it seems that CBD use for pets is destined to become common in Canada in the near future. If it will be a commonly used substance over the long term remains to be seen.