Pothead pets: The growing debate over CBD products for animals

In line with the growing popularity of cannabidiol (CBD), the use of the cannabis compound within the veterinary field has gone from completely unheard of to a much more conventional topic in recent years.

The budding attraction in new treatments for beloved pets has already led to an evolving multi-million dollar industry solely focused around cannabis-related products for animals.

Naturally, users who have found that taking CBD oil has benefited them in some way will be curious as to whether it could also potentially aid in healing their best fluffy friends.

Dr Scott Bainbridge, co-owner of Dundas West Animal Hospital, recently claimed: “What works in medicine is usually applicable to animal medicine, but we are talking about a different species… and the amount of receptors for CBD that a human has may vary from a dog or a cat.”

Being that there is currently a lack of research on the effects of CBD on animals and there aren’t even any legal CBD products on the market targeted towards animal wellness, it’s understandable that experts in the field are hesitant to discuss or endorse potential cannabis-related medicine.

Bainbridge continued by saying: “I can see potential for treating things like anxiety, arthritis, or chronic pain… but we do need to do more research in the area.”

Legal status of cannabis for pets

Prior to the surge of medicinal interest in cannabis and CBD related to animals, the California Veterinary Medical Board reminded veterinarians of its legal status with a statement released in 2017.

It claimed that under state law, it was prohibited to recommend cannabis and any derivatives to pet owners. If vets were found to recommend or discuss the compound for use on their patients, they would risk losing their medical licences for good.

An increasing number of veterinarians and other professionals in the animal medical field have grown concerned for the safety of their patients after a number of pet owners opted for medical advice from their local cannabis dispensary instead of the vets.

In response to this, veterinarians petitioned for a change in the law to enable protection for licensees from harsh disciplinary action for the sole discussion of possible therapeutic use of cannabis and CBD for animals.

California became the first state in late 2018 to introduce vets into the area of medical cannabis after bill AB-2215 was passed, allowing veterinarians to discuss the use of cannabis with pet owners. 

Although the direct definition of ‘discuss’ has yet to be confirmed, the Veterinary Medical Board has until January 2020 to come to a clear definition. The continued effort to allow vets to recommend cannabis and derivatives is nonetheless still moving forward.

However, some professionals have argued over the ethics of administering animals with cannabis, with the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reporting a 700% increase in calls related to marijuana in its poison centre in 2019.

A survey by the Veterinary Information Network published by ResearchGate demonstrates that the subject of cannabis is frequently inquired about by clients in regards to their pets. 

Of the 2,131 veterinary professionals who took part in the survey,  63% claimed they were asked by clients at least monthly about cannabis products for their pets, with some respondents admitting to being asked weekly and even daily.

Potential benefits for animals

From the same survey, 56% claimed to have clinical-level experience with cannabis products either by direct observation of its effects on pets or from clients disclosing the effects on their animals.

The common canine conditions outlined in the survey as being most improved by CBD were anxiety, atopy, bacterial infections, diabetes, and seizures.

More than 90% of respondents indicated that CBD products were very or somewhat helpful for use as an analgesia for chronic pain in dogs. 82.6% of the respondents indicated that the products were also helpful for use as an analgesia for acute pain.

Many of the problems in pets are a result of the natural ageing process. However, conventional pharmaceuticals used to treat pain often have many negative side effects such as vomiting, intestinal issues, and liver and kidney damage, among others.

As of last year, a multitude of professional organisations and universities began to undertake vital research into how cannabis derivatives can benefit animals. They also launched clinical trials by enrolling patients to test the results of the research first-hand.

Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences begun clinical trials to test the effects of CBD on dogs responding poorly to the standard treatment for epilepsy.

The program was awarded $356,022 by The American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, becoming the first study to attract independent funding.

A recent study from Cornell University demonstrated a reduction in pain involving the use of CBD in dogs with arthritis. Owners reported no side effects with activity scores showing a significant decrease in pain and an overall increase in physical activity afterwards.

According to PETA, cannabis ointments were also intriguingly used by the ancient Greeks to heal horses after battles around 2,800 years ago.

Prospective market worth

The universal pet care market is continuing its steady rise, with a report forecasting that revenue from the United States market alone should experience growth from around $19.5 billion in 2018 to $22.39 billion in 2023.

With the rise in the number of pets being adopted and owners seeking premium products for their pets to mirror the growing interest in human wellness, there are a number of factors contributing to the expanding market.

A similar report detailing CBD-focused market analysis points towards CBD-infused animal products becoming a dominating branch in the already surging CBD market sector.

Predictions include animal product sales reaching approximately $125 million by 2022, representing a 5-year annual growth of 57% and making it one of the fastest-growing sectors within the market.

Veterinary-specific research into cannabis and CBD as a medicine is still in the earliest of stages, with much of the foundations for usage being based on laboratory reports. However, the future looks hopeful, as supplemental research continues to be undertaken at a rapid pace.