Ramirez ruminates on the long, strange journey that marijuana acceptance has taken in the United States. From an unregulated medical tonic to a controlled substance punishable by a mandatory prison sentence to today, in 2021, where cannabis is docile and normalized enough to become a trendy solution for apprehensive dogs. He speaks about Penny’s CBD rations as almost a protest for the “ridiculous, harmful, and anti-intellectual” criminalization of weed, and how often that prohibition disproportionately targeted people of color. It looks like we are finally approaching a turning point, as we enter an era where microdosing our labradors is considering good pet parenting. But I don’t blame Ramirez for looking back on the last century and wondering why it took so long.
“Like most nutriceuticals, it’s poorly regulated right now. You could put olive oil in a jar and say it’s CBD,” he says. “So it’s important, as a vet, that while we don’t ‘recommend’ CBD, we can choose a product we have confidence in.”
“There was no information around ingredient sourcing, what type of CBD it was, how they extracted it, or where it came from,” says Weatherhead. “All of the best practices we saw on the human side were not being adapted to the pet sector.”
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“Over the last year or so we’ve seen the stigma of cannabis, both THC and CBD, flip. There’s been a lot of media showcasing all of the healing possibilities of cannabis,” says Weatherhead. “And considering that it’s been in the human sector for a while, it’s given people the education that this is a really good, safe alternative. And there are proof points that it actually works.”
That’s the sticking point. To date, there is still not a medical consensus about the efficacy of CBD for humans and animals alike, including whether the widespread claims about pain relief and blunted depression hold up to scientific truth. It is clear that CBD can be useful in regard to certain medical conditions — last year, the FDA approved a CBD-derived treatment called Epiodelex which reduces seizures among those with rare forms of epilepsy — but that remains the only authorized CBD medication in circulation. Dr. Mark Verdino, chief of veterinary staff at the North Shore Animal League America, tells me there have been CBD studies that reveal a potential impact on arthritis pain and anxiety, but there are others that show no tangible difference between the placebo group and the group that received the medication.
Jen Weatherhead, the owner of ZenPup, is one of those newly converted entrepreneurs. Four years ago, when she was working in product development for a makeup company, she became the owner of two miniature longhaired dachshunds, Rooster and Roxanne — and Rooster spent his first months in Weatherhead’s care alone in the bathroom. Initially, Weatherhead believed Rooster to be a little eccentric; then she discovered that he had crippling anxiety. Rooster’s veterinarian wanted to put the dachshund on a Xanax prescription, but Weatherhead bristled at the idea of integrating human anti-anxiety medication into the diet of a 2-month-old puppy. Weatherhead was already using CBD in her personal life and reported some “pretty noticeable” changes with her own anxiety and temperament. So, she decided to see if Rooster could find the same relief. Weatherhead researched the CBD pet care space and described what she found as the “Wild West.”
Still, Verdino tells me that his veterinarian practice has started stocking a CBD product because of how high demand has grown among his clients. Verdino echoes Weatherhead’s earlier point about the sheer number of disreputable actors active in the CBD pet care space, and it’s important to him that if a customer wants to give hemp a try, they’ll at least be taking home something aboveboard.
Reminder: CBD pet products aren’t regulated by the FDA, which means you’ll need to do some digging on your own to find out what exactly is inside them. The first step is to look for the company’s Certificate of Analysis online, which will show the exact amount of CBD, THC, heavy metals (think: lead, mercury, and arsenic found in the soil the hemp grew in), and pathogens such as E.Coli and salmonella (which may have transferred from any organic fertilizers used) that are in the product, says Cital. If any of the levels for harmful substances exceed the legal limit (in this case the online certificate will say "no pass") or the CBD concentrations listed in the certificate are different than what's advertised on the bottle, you want to avoid the product. You should also steer clear of CBD pet products that make any medical claims on their labels, websites, advertisements, and so on, such as statements that it will cure epilepsy or cancer, as no such claim has been backed up by science. (Related: How to Buy the Best Safe and Effective CBD Products)
However, you'll want to stick to isolate CBD products, rather than full-spectrum CBD products that include THC, for pets with heart disease, as the mind-altering compound can elevate heart rate, says Cital.
“Taken together, [all these compounds, including THC] create this thing called the entourage effect,” explains Cital. "They help each other work better. Oftentimes, if you have a full-spectrum product, you can use much lower dosages and maybe even fewer doses." This teamwork between compounds in full- and broad-spectrum products has been shown to be beneficial in both CBD for humans and animals, according to Frontiers in Plant Science.
Are There Any Risks of Using CBD for Pets?
Just because the CBD products don't have the backing of all veterinarians and aren’t specifically regulated by the FDA doesn’t mean they’re completely useless — or unsafe. A handful of published studies have shown that CBD is effective at reducing pain scores in dogs with osteoarthritis, says Cital. One of which, a small Cornell University study on 16 pooches with osteoarthritis, showed that a dose of CBD oil twice daily helped minimize pain and increase activity. Other research shows that giving pups with epilepsy CBD oil reduced the frequency of their seizures. The majority of research has used single-compound, CBD-only formulas, not full- or broad-spectrum options.
While "to my knowledge, there have not been any major negative side effects unless you’re using ridiculously high dosages (i.e. 20 or 30 to 100 milligrams per kilogram twice a day) for a long period of time,” says Cital, there are contraindications to consider before giving your pet CBD.
But despite all of these benefits, the Food and Drug Administration has so far approved only one CBD-containing drug called Epidiolex, which is used to treat seizures associated with two severe forms of epilepsy. That means that just like doctors, veterinarians can prescribe only Epidiolex to their animal patients, says veterinarian technician specialist Stephen Cital, R.V.T., who researches the effects of cannabis on animals. “All this CBD stuff on the market is considered an animal supplement, and you don’t need a prescription for it,” he explains, so you'll need to do your own research on its ingredients and be wary of any medical claims.
Though not life-threatening, your pet may have a few unpleasant side effects from CBD products, such as loose stool or gastrointestinal upset, says Cital. And just as you start to feel tired AF after you pop a melatonin gummy, your pet may feel lethargic after taking CBD, though Cital says this side effect is usually short-lived and may stop after the first few treatments.