CBD Basics: What Is CBD Oil and Is It Safe for Pets?

This content is sponsored by HEMPVET pet health remedies.

You know that where you go, your pet follows. In the pet products industry, that’s certainly the case, especially for cannabidiol (CBD) oil and products.

As CBD in its many forms becomes increasingly popular among people, pet parents want to know: What is CBD? And is CBD safe for my pet? There’s not a wealth of research on CBD and pets — yet — and it depends on the kind of animal you have, so there are several important  things to consider before you make CBD part of your pet’s routine, whether through chewable supplements or oil drops.

What is CBD Oil?

CBD stands for cannabidiol. It’s one of the many cannabinoids, or molecules, produced by both the hemp and marijuana plant, and it is a non-psychoactive derivative. Put simply, CBD doesn’t have a strong effect on the brain’s cognitive activity and doesn’t produce a “high.”

CBD is a popular product for humans, offered as a wellness solution to treat everything from chronic pain, anxiety and arthritis, and it’s included as a key ingredient in cosmetic and skincare products. In 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first ever cannabis-derived medicine to treat rare, severe forms of epilepsy.

Pet parents are turning to CBD to treat many of the same symptoms: joint pain, anxiety and seizures. 

How is CBD Oil Different Than Marijuana?

CBD does not contain tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive compound that provides the “high” people get when they use pot. Marijuana is the overarching term many people use for THC. When cannabis sativa (the plant where CBD and THC is derived from) has less than 0.3{65e2db858ac1ac16a1d3a88427e0552dfedcf6a36460683254b8186ac70cdbfc} THC, it is technically hemp and therefore legal but with restrictions under the 2018 Farm Bill.

The National Animal Supplement Council is setting standards and guidelines for CBD pet products too, whether they’re CBD dog treats, hemp oil for dogs or other types of supplements. It’s a fast-growing market and there is little guidance from the FDA, said Bill Bookout, president and a founding member of the council, which has 243 members and affiliates that make animal health supplements for companion animals (dogs, cats and horses). The NASC requires CBD products to have THC levels below 0.3{65e2db858ac1ac16a1d3a88427e0552dfedcf6a36460683254b8186ac70cdbfc} for raw materials and finished products. 

As of early December 2019, with more than 57 million administrations of CBD products across dogs, cats and horses, there have been just 110 non-serious adverse events reported and no serious adverse events reported, Bookout said.

What’s the Law on CBD?

Veterinarians in the U.S. cannot suggest, recommend or prescribe CBD for clients because CBD is classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration. In California, however, veterinarians may talk about CBD with clients because that state approved legislation specifically allowing them to do so.

“It’s complicated, and we’re in a constant state of change, legally, around CBD,” said Dr. Jeffrey Powers, a veterinarian who practices in northern Michigan and is vice chairman of the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Council on Biologic and Therapeutic Agents. It’s a similar response for animals. “People are trying CBD on their pets whether their vet tells them about it or not, and it’s worse when the veterinary profession can’t talk about it.”

The FDA recently warned 15 companies for illegally selling products containing CBD and claiming their products help treat diseases or other ailments for humans and/or animals. The FDA also published a revised Consumer Update that detailed safety concerns about CBD products and indicated the agency “cannot conclude that CBD is generally recognized as safe among qualified experts for its use in human or animal food.”

What Does CBD Do?

CBD reacts with endocannabinoid receptors, and the endocannabinoid system (ECS) is essential to normal brain and body health. The system helps control humans’ anxiety and stress response, and whenever we have inflammation in our body, we have a response that the endocannabinoid system helps to modulate, Powers said. It’s a similar response for animals.

For his geriatric St. Bernard, Powers has used CBD regularly for three to four years. “It helps with her anxiety and keeps her moving, plus it stimulates her appetite and she’s more active when on it,” he said.

Does CBD Work for Pets?

“Controlled research on animals is very limited, and so now people are taking notice of human research and applying it to their pets,” said Dr. Gary Pusillo, a board-certified animal scientist, veterinary nutritionist and formulator of HEMPVET soft chews and oils.

The challenge is that animals are more sensitive than humans in many ways, Pusillo said. “Their system is wired for a lot more perception of the environment than we are. CBD is going to affect them at a greater rate.”

There are few studies about how dogs metabolize CBD, but early results of clinical trials conducted at Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences show promise. Powers said that CBD research so far shows benefits for animals, and it’s imperative that the veterinary profession get out in front of it. “We’re seeing in dogs that it can be beneficial for osteoarthritis, seizure conditions and anxiety,” he said.

The 2018 Farm Bill, which made it legal for farmers to grow industrial hemp, is helping to open the doors to more research on the many properties and applications of hemp-derived products, including those for animals, he added. 

Choosing a CBD Product for Your Pet

Bookout says people who are giving or considering giving a CBD product to their pets need choose high-quality supplements or oils. It’s important to read labels to make sure CBD products don’t contain contaminants, such as pesticides, heavy metals, molds or E. coli.

Powers said he sees the positive effects of CBD on dogs who come to his practice and his dogs at home. He can’t offer CBD as treatment and notes that effective dosages are still fairly expensive, but he tells clients who ask where to find information.

As more states legalize cannabis, he expects the research and interest in the benefits of CBD to grow even faster. “In five to 10 years, we’ll probably be a lot better off.”