CBD and Pets
By Zachariah Finning
Most people have had or currently have a beloved animal in their lives. With the rise of CBD tinctures and supplements in holistic health trends, it is no wonder that we have begun to see CBD products geared towards animals. Most domesticated animals have a shorter life span than that of our own. This shorter lifespan doesn’t mean that owners do not want to bring relief to ailments in their pet’s daily lives or try to improve their end-of-life quality. It is just a natural law that we have learned to accept as we add these companions into our families and lives. CBD can provide relief to those pets whose owners live more holistic lifestyles and who would prefer an alternative to pharmaceuticals for their pet’s conditions. In this blog, we will discuss the functions and importance of the endocannabinoid system and we will also touch upon the similarities and differences of the endocannabinoid systems in our pet’s bodies to our own. Lastly, we will look into an article and a case study focusing on CBD as a possible form of therapeutics and treatment for a multitude of animal ailments.
For any cannabinoid to have an effect it must pass through, or interact with, an endocannabinoid system. The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) can be found in almost all animals and mammals on earth (S2). The ECS is linked to many bodily functions including but not limited to appetite, digestion, metabolism, mood, learning and memory, sleep, and even stress (S1). As discussed in previous blogs the Endocannabinoid System is made up of three main components, they are endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes (S1). Scientists have narrowed down two key internal endocannabinoids (EC’s): anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG) (S1). These EC’s keep the internal functions of the ECS running. The levels of these EC’s are different in each animal or human as the body produces them on an as-needed basis (S1). Endocannabinoid receptors (ECRs) can be found throughout the body. EC’s bind to them in order to signal the ECS to trigger certain responses. The two main and famously known ECRs are CB1 and CB2 (S1). CB1 receptors are mainly found in the central nervous system while CB2 receptors are primarily found in the peripheral nervous system, high concentrations of CB2 receptors can be found in immune cells (S1). EC’s can bind to either of these receptors and the effect that results depends primarily on the receptor’s location and the endocannabinoid it binds with. In theory, certain cannabinoids may “target the CB1 receptors in a spinal nerve to relieve pain” while “others may bind to the CB2 receptor in your immune cells to signal that your body is experiencing inflammation” (S1). The two main enzymes within the ECS are a fatty acid amide hydrolase and monoacylglycerol acid lipase. They are solely responsible for breaking down EC’s after they have fulfilled their purpose (S1). With an understanding of what the ECS is and how it works, we can turn our attention to our beloved animals.
Only the phyla protozoa and insects are without an endocannabinoid system. The system seems to be found in nearly all animals “including vertebrates (mammals, birds, reptiles, and fish) and invertebrates (sea urchins, leeches, mussels, nematodes, and others)”. With this knowledge in hand, it seems common sense that what helps and benefits us as humans through the ECS would help and benefit our beloved pets through this shared system. This is the question that research is currently trying to address. In a study sponsored by NCBI, there are some interesting facts about the ECS comparatively between humans and animals. The study states that “intraspecies and interspecies differences are common in terms of the anatomical sites and density of cannabinoid receptors” (S2). This means that the locations and numbers of endocannabinoid receptors throughout the body do differ depending on the species one is studying. Another interesting piece of the study explains that “These receptors, in humans, are not located to any extent in the brain stem” and “it is the absence of any significant amount of these receptors in areas that control vital functions that are responsible for the safety profile of cannabinoids [specifically THC] for humans” (S2). This basically means that we, as humans, can safely break down a majority of endocannabinoids because there is not enough of the ECR’s in our brain stem to disrupt vital actions such as heart rate, breathing, motor functions, etc. The study goes on to mention a big interspecies variation in anatomical locations of these receptors. This variation is between the beloved Canis lupus familiarities, or dogs, and humans. “As compared to humans, studies have determined the number of CB1 receptors in hindbrain structures in the dog to far exceed those found in the human-animal” (S2). The study claims “the US Government conducted studies that determined that dogs have large numbers of cannabinoid receptors in the cerebellum, brain stem, and medulla oblongata” (S2). This finding can shed some light as to why dogs may react negatively to THC but beneficially to CBD. Too much THC in a canine’s ECS will overload the brain stem and impair functions such as muscle coordination, ability to vocalize, and eye movements. This is a condition known to affect dogs and it is called “Static Ataxia” (S2). Scientifically the main differences in the human ECS and animal ECS seem to be, as previously mentioned, location and density of the ECR’s. These differences in location and density, specifically regarding the brain stem and lower brain regions, seem to make “the psychoactive effects of THC undesirable in all veterinary species” (S2).
Now that we have a more in-depth understanding of the ECS, and a little knowledge of the differences between the animal and human versions of this system, we can begin to look into the benefits of CBD for animals. While THC in small and large doses is non-beneficial to animals, CBD does not bind directly to the CB1 or CB2 receptors. Instead, CBD primes the enzymes of the ECS and allows the system to function in a better manner to attain homeostasis. This is discussed in a previous Herbivore blog; Cannabis 101. In the study, previously mentioned by NCBI, they look at a case study performed by Colorado State University. The study took place in 2018. Its purpose was to evaluate the safety of CBD when administered to Dogs. They used Beagles for their choice of canine. The study concluded that “CBD, when present in a full-spectrum hemp oil extract to be safe” for the animals (S2). They used a dosage of “20mg/day” and ran the study for “six weeks”. There were no detrimental side effects noticed besides diarrhea in this case study by CSU (S2). In another study performed by Cornell University, it was found that CBD can benefit dogs that suffer from osteoarthritis (S3). The dogs used in this study were given CBD for about four weeks. It was found that the dogs who had received the oils had less pain than those given a placebo, the “pain levels” of said animals “were determined using the University of Pennsylvania’s Canine Brief Pain Inventory” (S3). Another study conducted by CSU shows some promise concerning CBD and epilepsy in animals. The small study on dogs concluded that “89% of the dogs given CBD had fewer seizures” in a monitored timeframe (S3). While the extent of truly scientific researched-based evidence to support CBD for pets is still rare, there is some more promising anecdotal information out in the world. In an article found online, Dr. Robert Klostermann, founder of Middletown Veterinary Hospital located in Wisconsin, speaks about his experience with CBD and his Dogs (S3). Klostermann explains he has “two older dogs, and one of them has developed separation anxiety in his old age, so I decided to see if CBD could help”. He goes on to insist that “after one week of treatment, I really noticed a difference in my little dog”. It “is limited, but there is now evidence that reveals CBD can be helpful for certain [animal] ailments, and that’s something we didn’t have before” (S3). Dr. Stephanie McGrath, a head researcher at CSU says “Overall, what we found seems very promising” (S3). As we continue to make advances in the Medical Marijuana and Hemp Industries hopefully more research can be done to solidify the promise of CBD as medicine for our pets.
No matter how old or young, how agile or handicapped we may be, the animals we allow into our lives are more than just simple additions and cute faces. They are members of our families. To some, they are emotional or physical support, and to others, they are the warm body at the end of the bed on lonely nights. Our animals add a level of compassion, love, and understanding to our lives that might otherwise be absent without them. It is no wonder that loving owners want to see their animals happy and healthy throughout their daily routines and lifetime. As humans, we understand the natural law that is a shorter lifespan for our animal companions; however, this understanding does not make their suffering or loss any easier to bear. Some owners may look to CBD for their pet’s daily ailments and end of life quality. They may find a multitude of benefits when administering CBD to their pets, but it is always up to every owner to monitor their animal and approach it with care. There are some promising scientific studies and endless anecdotal reports that point towards the benefits of CBD for our pets. Hopefully, as more research is funded and brought to light we will continue to understand the healing properties CBD has for our friends in the animal kingdom.