What is CBD?
CBD, or cannabidiol, is one member of a family of molecules (called cannabinoids) that naturally occur in Cannabis plants. The bodies of mammals also make related compounds, called endocannabinoids, which modulate numerous important processes in the nervous system. As research into the endocannabinoid system is still in its infancy compared to the study of other biochemical systems in the body, we do not yet have a complete picture of all of its roles and the full therapeutic potential of plant-derived cannabinoids.
Is it legal?
Due to the dynamic status of industrial hemp and marijuana at both the federal and state level, the issue of legality is a confusing one. While the FDA recently declared CBD derived from industrial hemp (defined as Cannabis sativa L. plants containing less than 0.3% THC) federally legal, CBD derived from marijuana (Cannabis sativa L. plants that contain more than 0.3% THC) is still federally illegal. As no legally defined process for certifying the source of a specific CBD product has yet been established, there is no way at this point to differentiate legal from illegal CBD. Hopefully, the FDA, USDA, and DEA will clarify this situation soon. Adding to the confusion, a few states still classify all CBD as illegal regardless of its source.
Could my pet benefit from CBD?
In humans, ongoing research suggests CBD is effective in treating seizure disorders, nausea, anxiety, pain, and inflammation. Last year the FDA approved a CBD-based prescription medication called Epidiolex for two forms of human epilepsy. Research is ongoing, and additional pharmaceutical formulations will likely be brought to market in the future.
So far there is little research into the potential benefits of CBD in animals. A 2018 study found that 2 mg/kg of CBD given twice daily was effective in reducing pain associated with arthritis in dogs. A 2019 study found that adding 2.5 mg/kg of CBD twice daily to their current medications mildly improved seizure control in epileptic dogs with breakthrough seizures. The authors suggest that higher doses should be studied to see if greater improvements in epilepsy management are possible.
Is CBD safe?
CBD appears to be well-tolerated in dogs. At 2.5 mg/kg twice daily, two of twelve dogs in the epilepsy study developed temporary ataxia (incoordination). At higher doses (5-10 mg/kg twice daily), dogs often develop diarrhea. No side effects were reported in the arthritis study. CBD administration in dogs does cause an increase in one liver enzyme, called ALP. The significance of this elevation has not been determined. No studies have yet been performed in cats or other species.
What if I want to try CBD for my pet?
There are a few important things to keep in mind if you are going to try one of the many pet CBD products on the market. First and foremost, there is no guarantee with any of these products that they contain the amount of CBD claimed on the label. This is because the supplement market is not tightly regulated like the pharmaceutical market, and whenever a new supplement becomes popular, many disreputable products appear. In fact, when the FDA recently evaluated 38 over-the-counter CBD products (including several marketed specifically for pets), 34 of the products contained either negligible amounts of CBD or none at all. Only 4 products actually contained approximately the amount of CBD claimed on their labels.
When evaluating a product, look for a Certificate of Analysis (COA) confirming its contents from an independent testing lab (ideally one that meets ISO 17025 standards and uses methods validated by the AOAC, AHP, or USP.) A reputable company will have a COA available to consumers. Also check the origin of the industrial hemp used to manufacture the product. Industrial hemp grown in the US or Canada has the lowest risk of containing potentially dangerous contaminants.
If you do select a product to try on your pet, do not exceed the doses found to be safe in the studies mentioned above. Monitor your pet closely following their first few doses and seek veterinary attention immediately if any adverse effects develop.
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