Health Benefits

Research Update: What’s Known About Cannabinoids and Pet Health

October 2, 2019 3 min read

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The story of how cannabinoids affect us and our pets begins in 1988. That year, scientists from the St. Louis University School of Medicine discovered the binding site of a well known cannabinoid – delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – in the brains of laboratory animals. These binding sites, called receptors, are found in all mammals and are part of what’s now known as the endocannabinoid system - a system that helps regulate pain, anxiety, memory formation and much more.

The St. Louis discovery also brought attention to a plant – Cannabis sativa – that could potentially improve human and animal health. Remarkably, compounds found within the plant, called phytocannabinoids (like THC and cannabidiol, CBD), have the ability to affect biological processes in ways that are the subject of current research. There are over a hundred phytocannabinoids, but CBD is one of the best known and can be found in some human and pet products.

What are some potential benefits?

Some phytocannabinoids, including CBD, interact with receptors within the body, ultimately leading to complex biochemical processes. These various receptors occur in the brain, lungs, liver, kidneys, immune system, bone marrow and more. Having receptors present in all of these tissues suggests that compounds which interact with the receptors, including CBD, have the potential to broadly affect human and animal health.

CBD is thought to interact with the serotonin system that impacts mood, TRPV1 receptors that impact pain perception, body temperature and inflammation, GPR55 receptors that impact neurological functions, and more.

More research is needed to determine the efficacy of CBD and other phytocannabinoids. Such research is underway, with investigators seeking to understand how CBD may affect nausea and vomiting, pain, lack of appetite, digestive health, epilepsy, anxiety and other symptoms and disorders.1 2

What do the existing animal research studies report?

While it’s still too early to know exactly how CBD may improve pet health and well-being, a study conducted at Colorado State University in 30 dogs suggests that CBD is well tolerated.3

Studies have also provided some evidence of the positive effects of CBD on dogs with osteoarthritis and epilepsy.

  • Veterinarians from Colorado State University conducted a study, published in 2019, that demonstrated the favorable effects of CBD (2.5 mg/kg twice daily) as an adjunctive therapy on the frequency of seizures in nine dogs with epilepsy as compared to the placebo group.4
  • Veterinarians from Cornell University conducted a study, published in 2018, that demonstrated the favorable effects of CBD (2 mg/kg twice daily) on pain and activity associated with osteoarthritis in 16 dogs. Dogs receiving CBD were perceived to be more comfortable and active.5

What are pet owners saying?

While anecdotal reports are not a substitute for rigorous scientific trials, pet owners’ perceptions of CBD’s effects on pet health seem to be positive. 

A 2016 survey of 632 pet owners conducted by Colorado State University found that 58.8% of respondents were using hemp products for their dogs and 11.9% were using hemp products for their cats. Dog owners reported positive impacts on pain, sleep and anxiety, while cat owners reported positive impacts on pain, inflammation, and sleep.6 The majority of dog and cat owners surveyed (64.3% and 66.0%, respectively) perceived these products to “help moderately” or a “great deal” for pain.6

So, what does all this mean for your pet?

Results of the few, small-scale CBD studies conducted so far are encouraging but not conclusive. More work is needed to evaluate the efficacy and safety of CBD. 

Researchers are currently exploring the potential benefits of cannabinoids for pain reduction, appetite stimulation, moderation of anxiety and additional indications in pilot trials. Trials to establish the proper dose of CBD for a given indication are also underway. Larger scale trials will follow, including safety trials that evaluate short-term and long-term dosing.

 

1 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/24625.
2 Health Canada 2018. Information for Health Care Professionals. Cannabis (marihuana, marijuana) and the cannabinoids. Government of Canada. Available at: https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/hc-sc/documents/services/drugs-medication/cannabis/information-medical-practitioners/information-health-care-professionals-cannabis-cannabinoids-eng.pdf
3 McGrath S, Bartner LR, Rao S, et al. (2018). A Report of Adverse Effects Associated with the Administration of Cannabidiol in Healthy Dogs. Journal of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association. 52:34–38.
4 McGrath S, Bartner LR, Rao S, Packer RA, Gustafson DL. (2019). Randomized blinded controlled clinical trial to assess the effect of oral cannabidiol administration in addition to conventional antiepileptic treatment on seizure frequency in dogs with intractable idiopathic epilepsy. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association; 254 (11): 1301 DOI: 10.2460/javma.254.11.1301
5 Gamble L-J, Boesch JM, Frye CW, Schwark WS, Mann S, Wolfe L, Brown H, Berthelsen ES and Wakshlag JJ (2018). Pharmacokinetics, Safety, and Clinical Efficacy of Cannabidiol Treatment in Osteoarthritic Dogs. Front. Vet. Sci. 5:165. doi: 10.3389/fvets.2018.00165
6 Kogan LR, Hellyer PW, Robinson NG. (2016). Consumers’ Perceptions of Hemp Products for Animals. Journal of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association. 42:40–48.