No matter what type of animal you are, whether mammal, bird, or fish, odds are that information on CBD is scarce, regardless of where you look for it.
We’ll have to start by defining what CBD is. If you’re familiar with the cannabis plant, it means you most likely are familiar with the effects it has on the body.
The effects of cannabis don’t come from magic. They come from somewhere, and that ‘somewhere’ is not a single source. The source comprises a total of 545 different components, of which 113 are estimated to be cannabinoids.
These numbers are continually changing as with research studies and further conclusive evidence. It would seem like we’re lightyears behind on actually understanding the cannabis plant and its chemical composition, but that’s because we very much are lightyears back.
As cannabis acquires an increasingly legal status globally, more retailers are now interested in selling it. More doctors want to prescribe it, while pharmaceutical companies have become interested in developing medicine around it. Individuals are now becoming regular users. More governments have begun implementing regulations around it. The impending need for medical studies and data allows for understanding cannabis and its components individually. There is no way to adequately regulate a substance if you don’t know what it does, where it comes from, and how it’s developed.
A few decades ago, we didn’t need data on cannabis. We only knew that it was illegal and that it should be entirely and strictly prohibited. This was true whether the discussion was around marijuana, hemp, CBD, or THC.
Sir Francis Bacon said that "knowledge is power," and it most certainly is with cannabis. Through our acquired knowledge on the cannabis species, we've understood that not all components of the plant are psychoactive, and they don't all share the same benefits or effects on the body.
We also understand now how some cannabinoids and other components found in cannabis play the sidekick role by helping enhance or control the effects of their counterparts in the body. While some parts play a functional role, others play a more superficial one like aromas and tastes. These are all things that we already knew about the components in countless other plants but are only beginning to learn about them in cannabis.
CBD is a part of said pool of cannabinoids (currently estimated to be 113 items). But these are not all precisely found in nature. This means that there is a portion of cannabinoids naturally occurring in the cannabis plant and another portion of components that are not. These naturally occurring cannabinoids are called Phytocannabinoids and play the role of a predecessor.
According to a 2017 study on phytocannabinoids' molecular pharmacology, "To date, over 120 phytocannabinoids have been isolated from Cannabis…" (Morales et al., 2017).
The way it works is that the cannabis plant goes through a series of natural and externally influenced processes that produce other cannabinoids like THC and CBD, from existing phytocannabinoids like THCA and CBDA, in the same order.
The only psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), while cannabidiol (CBD) is one of its 112 non-psychoactive counterparts (or at least believed to be non-psychoactive to date).
The only questions that remain are relevant to the safety and legality of cannabinoids for your pet. If we have access to the whole plant, how can we access a single cannabinoid? How do we separate cannabinoids from each other? What do I do if I don't want my pet to consume a psychoactive substance but still want it to benefit from cannabis?
This is a pretty long guide. If you're here looking for one thing in particular, check out the the Table of Contents to make things easier for you.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. How does CBD Oil Work for Pets
2. What are the Benefits of CBD Oil for Pets?
3. What to Look for: CBD for Pets
3.5 THC Free
3.6 Third-Party Tested
3.7 U.S. Grown Hemp
4. Is CBD Oil for Pets Legal?
5. How Safe is CBD for Pets?
6. CBD for Pets: Regimen, dosing consideration, and strategies
6.2 No THC
7. CBD for Pets: Edibles, capsules, tinctures, topicals, and more
7.1 Hemp in Animal Feed
7.2 Hemp Seeds
7.3 Cannabis Seed Extract / Hemp Extract
7.4 CBD Oil
7.5 CBD Capsules/Tablets
7.6 CBD Treats & Chews
7.7 CBD Topicals
7.8 Other Products
What is the Difference Between CBD Oil for Pets and Humans?
How does CBD Oil Work for Pets
The endocannabinoid system, or ECS for short, comprises three main components in human beings - endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes.
Endocannabinoids are molecules made by the human body; they are similar but not identical to cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. There are two endocannabinoids identified so far, and the levels produced by the body will vary from person to person for each one of them.
Receptors made by your body are intended to bind to endocannabinoids. This "binding" signals the ECS to activate a specific function. There are two different kinds of receptors; CB1 and CB2 receptors. These receptors are distributed throughout your body, and when they bind to an endocannabinoid, an effect is triggered. The effect triggered will depend on where in the body the receptor is located and which endocannabinoid it is bound to.
Enzymes are responsible for breaking down endocannabinoids once they've bound to a receptor and have carried out their function on the body.
The endocannabinoid system and its functions have been linked to bodily processes involving appetite, digestion, mood, sleep, muscle formation, and many more. The ECS has particular importance when it comes to CBD products because, just like its receptors bind to endocannabinoids, they also bind to external cannabinoids from the cannabis plant that enter the body. When cannabinoids bind to ECS receptors, they activate their effects on the body, following the same model of the interaction between receptors and endocannabinoids.
In essence, the mammalian ECS works in the same necessary manner throughout all mammals. However, the location of CB1 and CB2 receptors can differ between the animal and human ECS. Because of this difference in place, the consumption of cannabinoids can cause different effects on animals than in human beings.
For instance, it's almost impossible for humans to overdose on THC because CB1 receptors (the receptors that THC binds with) are not principal organs responsible for vital autonomic functions like breathing and heartbeat. But it's not the same way for dogs. In this animal, this receptor is also found (although to a lesser extent) in cardiovascular, immune, gastrointestinal, and reproductive tissues (Hartsel et al., 2019). Hence the illegality of THC for pets.
However, this is not the case with CBD, where overdosing seems does not to be a threat in animals or humans. However, the difference in the ECS receptors' location between animals and humans might explain side effects on animals, like tiredness, diarrhea, and changes in appetite and weight (Iffland & Grotenhermen, 2017).
Our current state of knowledge on the animal ECS is under development, and few experimental studies have been performed to date. Regardless, and according to new research (Silver, 2019), it is a fact that the ECS is shared among all animal species except insects and possesses nearly the same benefits in each regardless of the species under review. Receptor, enzyme, and endocannabinoid structure will vary in some species, but the ECS's overall function is essentially the same.
What are the Benefits of CBD Oil for Pets
Because of how the endocannabinoid in all mammals focuses on the same functions and shares a similar structure, we can conclude that pets' CBD benefits will reflect those found in CBD for humans.
According to new research, CBD has been credited with positive effects in the management of pain, anxiety, insomnia, and depression (Shannon et al., 2019). Other positive outcomes have been found in the same large case series based on clinical and preclinical evidence that documents CBD usage as a coping treatment for neuropsychiatric disorders, including epilepsy and schizophrenia.
A different study (Welty et al., 2014) showed promise in CBD included as a part of treatment for refractory epilepsy in children with Dravet syndrome. A few other potentials are used in gout remedies, rheumatism, malaria, pain, and fever.
Below is a list of areas where cannabis can be helpful in humans and animal species alike. Although the use of cannabis as a therapeutic agent in veterinary medicine needs to be explored further:
5. Metabolic Diseases
8. Pulmonary Effects
9. Cardiovascular Effects
More benefits, other effects of CBD, and other cannabinoids are yet to be discovered and understood in veterinary medicine. Hence, it would be best if you first discuss any CBD prescriptions with a licensed vet before dosing your pet.
What to Look for: CBD for Pets
You might get confused when purchasing a new product if you don't know how to use it. Unfortunately, due to a lack of information, this is the case with most cannabis-related products. In the list below, you'll find a few things to watch out for when buying a new cannabis product, but above all else, a trusted brand goes a long way.
A label that says the product comes from a natural source is something you should bear in mind. However, it's also a feature you should be wary of. Not necessarily everything natural is good. There are many different substances technically natural, that are toxic to animals. For instance, avocados are fundamentally healthy food to humans, but they carry a person substance that can be toxic to dogs, causing vomiting and diarrhea.
Something else to consider with natural products is that almost every finished good out there involves a process. Extracts need to be extracted, and not all dog treats come directly from someone's kitchen. So even if the label states "natural,", sometimes that can be a spectrum.
An organic call-out on the label is perhaps more important than that of a call out for ‘natural’. If a specific food is classified as ‘organic’ it means that it’s produced with farming methods that do not involve the use of any synthetic chemicals or human-made pesticides and fertilizers. Which reduces the risk for the inclusion of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
The reason why organic is more important than natural is that there are no loop-holes around organic. Not around the meaning of being organic at least. Organic will always mean that the materials that make up the finished goods were farmed organically, period.
An organic label is more important than one that says "natural." If food is farmed organically, it's produced with farming methods not involving synthetic chemicals or human-made pesticides and fertilizers. This method reduces the risk of the inclusion of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Organic is more important than natural because there are no loop-holes around organic farming.
As briefly discussed on the previous item, GMO stands for: genetically modified organisms. But what exactly does that mean?
If your pet is consuming GMOs, you might be feeding it with foods that carry a potential biomedical risk with short and long-lasting health problems. This argument is hotly debated.
Genetically modified foods (GMOs) exist for multiple reasons. One is the overwhelming expansion of the population, which is now being reflected in pet populations. (Zhang et al., 2016). Other reasons include a decrease in farmable land and a bottleneck of conventional and modern breeding of crops.
A product that advertises being both 'organically grown' and 'non-GMO' is advertising out the same thing.
Veganism is the practice of abstaining from consuming or ingesting animal products. That includes meat, dairy, eggs, and any other product you can think of that originates from an animal source. When a product is labeled "vegan," it means the products do not contain any animal-source ingredients. The term is widely and mostly used for edible products but is not limited to them. It can also be used to describe topicals and other non-edibles.
Individuals have different reasons for practicing veganism. Some practice veganism for animal rights. Others think that it's just a more suitable form of nourishment for human beings. Whatever the reason you might practice veganism, there are various vegan options in the CBD industry for both you and your pets. However, some animals like cats are believed to come from a carnivore ancestry that hunted and feasted on small prey. From a nutritional perspective, this means that a cat's optimal diet is high in protein, moderate in fat, and includes only a minimum amount of carbohydrates, as stated in research from Verbrugghe and Hesta (2017).
Some believe that it's not essential for CBD treats to be vegan for your pets, especially if the product will take on a vital role in the pet's diet (in cats, at least). This view can change from different breeds and species, so it will ultimately depend on your pet and how you intend to use each product. You should consult with a veterinarian on whether you should feed your pet with animal-sourced or vegan products.
There's no mystery around this one. We've already discussed that it's illegal (in the U.S.) to give your pet psychoactive substances like THC. The question then becomes, how do I know that the CBD for pets I'm purchasing does not contain or contains only legal amounts of THC?
Many brands list directly on the front label features like "THC Free" or "Hemp Extract CBD." Both are useful labels to keep an eye open for, but if you're buying CBD extracted from hemp plants, you don't run any risk, as Hemp CBD extract will always have THC contents equal or lower than 0.3%. Another way would be to check on your product's ingredients label. If it lists up to 0.3% THC contents, then you and your pet are safe.
With any of these options, you are subject to the brand's honesty and the testing standards.
With CBD increasingly treated as an essential part of diets and treatments, you should always look to purchase from brands that third-party test their products. If a substance is sold after not passing quality or safety standards, the responsibility would fall on the testing lab and not on the brand. At first glance, this doesn't seem optimal, but by making the third-party lab accountable for testing results, you are ensured that results are not botched or swayed.
It would be best if you also tried to find out when the testing was done for that specific product. You want to make sure that testing is recent rather than years old. It’s relatively easy to know if a CBD product is third-party tested or not; most companies list it right on the main label, but to find out the date of the test, you might need to dig a little deeper.
U.S. Grown Hemp
U.S. grown hemp is not necessarily the best in terms of chemical composition or product quality. The reality is that high-quality hemp is produced in other countries. However, the problem with foreign-grown hemp is that it is not always subject to the same quality, health, and safety standards as in the U.S.
Because the U.S. is one of the front runners in the race to legalize marijuana, it has become prevalent with harvesters and manufacturing companies to follow strict safety and quality standards.
It's much easier to find legal grow operations respecting these standards inside the U.S. than in other countries. There's a straightforward reason for this. If you do not have to obligatorily include processes that will drive your manufacturing process's costs, then why do it? With U.S. grown hemp, you are assured that the hemp used for extraction meets those criteria.
Some labels include this call outright on the product package. Other products don't have this on the brand itself but will have it in their product descriptions online or on its official website.
Is CBD Oil for Pets Legal?
Giving your pet psychoactive substances by accident should not be a problem at all, in fact, it’s illegal to dose or prescribe pets with THC in every state in the U.S. Remember, it’s only now that THC is starting to become mainstream for human beings, let alone for pets.
The 2018 Farm Bill states that ‘hemp’, legally defined as Cannabis Sativa L. and derivatives of it with less than 0.3% THC per dry weight, has been removed from the Controlled substances Act (CSA). What this means is that CBD extracts, concentrates, and oils are all legal for consumption.
In short, this means that feeding or dosing your pet with THC that complies with those regulations is, by all means, legal. But the question still stands on whether or not it’s legal for veterinarians to prescribe CBD for a pet. This one’s a bit trickier because some states have allowed the prescription of Cannabis-derived products, but some have not, so it will twist and change according to which country or state you live in, in the case of the United States.
With that in mind:
Legality seems to be quite clear in the case of what interests us most in this article; CBD. But how safe it is for us to dose our dog, cat, horse, or any other pet with it is another subject that’s still up for discussion. Not to mention, if you happen to own a horse perhaps dosing it with high-end CBD concentrate could tear a hole in your pocket.
How Safe is CBD for Pets?
We need to clear up, before going into further detail, that there resources that answer this question in a conclusive medical form are not yet available, and a firm unmovable answer is not possible at the time.
Photo by Arie Wubben on Unsplash
There are two main reasons for this ambiguous answer. One is that few drugs are 100% effective on all members of a single species, be it humans, dogs, or cats. That means that the effectiveness of any drug on a specific illness will vary according to the patient.
The second reason is that research for CBD use in veterinary medicine is still developing, and the studies available to the public can be both positive and negative in outcome.
Overall, CBD is safe for most animals (mammals, more specifically). In one study, 30 healthy Beagle dogs were assigned a different dose of CBD in the form of microencapsulated oil beads (capsules), CBD-infused oil, or CBD-infused transdermal cream for six weeks straight. Data showed that all dogs in the study experienced diarrhea not associated with CBD's formulation or the dosage. Overall, CBD appeared to be well tolerated in dogs. "However, a more extensive safety study is necessary to determine if there are long-term effects of CBD on the liver and an association with diarrhea." (McGrath et al., 2018).
Another study found that veterinary medicine has not seen the same advances compared to human medicine. Several randomized clinical studies examine CBD from hemp extracts have measured its safety and pharmacokinetics in veterinary medicine. This information backs up the previous comments on conclusive clinical evidence being scarce.
However, the same study also states that "…the same or similar benefits of cannabinoids found in humans also can be applied to most veterinary species." (Hartsel et al., 2019). This leads us to believe that CBD leans towards the safe side rather than the spectrum's risky side like in humans.
The effects that CBD has on pets seem to be positive, according to the literature available online. However, a few side-effects reported like diarrhea in the McGrath mentioned above et al., 2018 article. The positive side is that none of the side-effects found seem to be threatening and, in most cases, are only found while the organism gets used to the substance.
Effects and side effects can also be correlated with the type of format you are using to dose your pet with. Edibles might be a bit stronger on digestion, while sublingual drops and tinctures could prove less harsh on an unseasoned stomach.
CBD for Pets: Regimen, dosing considerations, and strategies
Due to the lack of legal certainty around cannabis for animals, veterinarians have been unable to access the same amount of clinically guaranteed information as human physicians. This uncertainty puts cannabis use in veterinary medicine a few steps behind that of human medicine.
Due to this, CBD for pets’ doses has been determined mostly empirically and anecdotally by pet owners. This makes data a bit uncertain and ultimately makes regimens for CBD in pets that much more ambiguous.
Unwanted side effects like diarrhea and sedation are more likely to appear in subjects receiving higher doses. It is recommended that pet owners start with micro-doses of 0.5mg of CBD for every kilogram of weight per day. Gradually increase the amount if the pet reacts well to the substance.
Micro-doses could vary depending on the breed and size of your pet. This is why it’s essential to first consult with a licensed veterinarian before considering dosing your pet with cannabis extract. However, an incremental strategy that begins low is recommended across the board.
Another safe way to go about it is to listen to the brand’s suggestions on user habits and dosage sizes.
Do not give your pet THC, at least not until THC for animals is legally approved. This means you need to be extremely careful with the brands you trust and the type of CBD extract you are using for your pet.
CBD for Pets: Edibles, capsules, tinctures, topicals, and more.
As hemp is slowly becoming more of a commodity in the agricultural landscape, specifically in the United States, there is a continuous flow of product and format innovations. They are ranging anywhere from finished branded products like treats and chews to products that you can mix with others (i.e., mixing in hemp with animal feed). Bear in mind that most of the CBD added value products mentioned above are made from Hemp CBD extracts, which means that hemp dosages in animal feed may also provide some of the CBD benefits.
Hemp in Animal Feed
Currently, hemp is not an approved nutritional ingredient in the United States, according to the FDA. Due to this, animal feed containing traces of hemp is considered an adulterated product. This results in potential legal consequences or other regulatory actions when hemp-infused animal feed is marketed as food.
If hemp is mixed with any animal feed, it would have to be included as a nutraceutical. It would be accompanied by a label reflecting support that hemp provides to a healthy animal and its legality. To be marketed, it would consequently have to be sold as a dosage-form animal health product and comply with maximum THC levels (Hartsel et al., 2019).
Hemp seeds are considered a "grain" containing both protein and valuable fatty acids. In Europe, hemp seeds produce a protein cake used as animal feed comprising 20-25% protein, 20-30% carbohydrates, and 10-15% insoluble fiber.
Since essential fatty acids are not produced naturally in the animal's body, it means that they must come from the animal's diet. For instance, dogs cannot synthesize omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids naturally, found in cannabis seed oil in the proper ratio of 4:1, respectively (Hartsel et al., 2019).
Cannabis Seed Extract / Hemp Extract
Commonly referred to as CBD extract, this concentrate can come from two different sources; Marijuana or Hemp plants. Both are classifications of the same genus of flowering plants from the family Cannabaceae. As we learned before, marijuana has higher THC levels, which hemp keeps THC levels equal to or lower than 0.3% per unit of dry weight.
CBD extract is usually, but not solely extracted from the hemp plant. This extract is also called 'CBD concentrate.' It's split into three main categories:
- Isolates: Contain only pure CBD extract. This one is mostly extracted using solventless or cold-press methods that make for a more refined concentrate.
- Full-Spectrum: Contains all cannabinoids in different volumes but keeps THC below or equal to 0.3%.
- Broad-Spectrum: Contains all cannabinoids found naturally in cannabis, except for THC.
Concentrates can be kept as is and labeled as a 'tincture' or infused into carrier oils like, but not limited to, MCT or coconut oil.
CBD oils allow for a broader mixture of elements and potentially beneficial compounds. Some brands keep ingredients reduced to the bare minimum; extract + carrier oil. Others take it one step further and infuse oils with components that will add value to the finished product, including ingredients that will help with specific goals like combating insomnia, seizures, etc.
Examples of additional ingredients are but are not limited to, chamomile, peppermint, vitamins, antioxidants, flavorings, etc. CBD oil can come packaged in dropper bottles that can be drizzled over your pet’s food. However, CBD oil may also be compressed to make other products like tablets and capsules.
CBD capsules follow pretty much the same rules as CBD oils. They can be made either of oils with additional ingredients that target specific disorders or be made from tinctures that only include CBD concentrate.
Pills seldom get to be a top choice among pet owners because of the difficulty of feeding pills to a pet. If you own a cat or dog, you know that cats will likely say “no thank you,” and dogs will manage to eat their food and leave the pill as a token for you to clean up. That’s where other edibles come into the picture.
CBD Treats & Chews
It’s essential to keep in mind that most added value CBD products for pets like treats, chews, capsules, and other edibles are also made from the same crucial main ingredient; CBD Hemp or Marijuana extract. Treats and chews have become increasingly popular as they provide a flavored option that pets will benefit from and enjoy.
Cat-oriented flavors commonly include salmon and other fish flavors, while dog treats range in flavors from peanut butter to bacon and chicken. Chews and treats (not necessarily CBD infused) have evolved up to the point where they target different things, like providing relief for a puppy whose teeth are growing or providing extra nourishment in the form of a tasty supplement.
CBD has become just one ingredient of many products that bring plenty of worth to the table. Not to mention that they’re also easy and convenient to dose.
Balms and creams offer a feature that other supplementation does not-focused relief. With topicals, you're able to apply the product directly on the problem areas, whether your pet is trying to deal with hip and joint pain, or if your goal is to treat a scar. With tinctures and edibles, you might get CBD pain relief benefits, but it will never be focused on a single problem area.
Keep an eye out for dosage instructions and whether the topical can be applied to open wounds. More often than not, it's counterproductive and perhaps even detrimental to your pet's health to apply topicals on open wounds.
Brands are starting to get creative with CBD products for pets. A few examples include CBD infused peanut butter for dogs, honey with CBD, coconut oil infused with CBD for cats and dogs, and CBD infused salmon oil for cats. Those are just a few examples in the market, and we see the landscape of products growing extensively over the next decade.
CBD for pets is the same CBD extract or concentrate used on products meant for human needs. In more than a few cases, companies and brands will market their CBD products for humans for animals. However, this does not mean CBD for pets is always manufactured following the same standards as CBD products for humans.
CBD is a legal substance for humans and animals alike. The way it affects both humans and their pets have been proven to be beneficial. This is why we can conclude that CBD is usually safe for pets to consume but should be, on all accounts, consulted with a licensed veterinarian before deciding to dose any pet with it.
The features you should look for in CBD for pets will vary significantly on what you plan to accomplish by dosing your pet with CBD and your pet’s specific situation. To summarize, based on anecdotal data, we can say that the same benefits experienced by humans through CBD are similar to those that can be shared by pets (in exception for a few side effects). Consulting your veterinarian, purchasing from a brand you trust, and ensuring that all quality and safety standards are fulfilled are vital steps that should be taken before medicating your pet with CBD.
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