If you’re a Massachusetts resident you’re probably already familiar with our state’s progressive legislature around marijuana legalization, with the flurry of dispensaries and products, and supposed health remedies that have followed. But overshadowed by this conversation is another question that’s just as important, and one we’ve heard a lot of in the veterinary world: What the heck is CBD, and should I be giving it to my pet?
CBD has been legal in Massachusetts in one form or another for a while now, and it’s only become more widespread in recent years. From liquor stores to gas stations to supermarkets, you’ve probably seen CBD products sitting on store displays without even looking for them. You may have heard a friend or coworker tell you about how CBD helps with their back pain or their sleep problems, and you may even know someone who gives CBD to their pets. But that raises a lot of big questions: Is CBD safe? Is it effective? Should I be giving it to my pet?
For the answers to these questions and more we’ve brought in Tufts Cummings alumni and CAH veterinarian, Dr. Kaitlin Rondeau.
What is CBD?
You’ve probably heard the name around, but what actually is CBD? “Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of two active ingredients found in marijuana, with the other being delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC),” Dr. Rondeau explains. “THC is the psychoactive ingredient and is responsible for the high people get from Marijuana. CBD has no psychoactive effect and comes from both marijuana and hemp plants.” CBD sometimes gets a bad rap because of this association, but it’s just one component of many. You can think of it like chlorophyll or cellulose; just because it exists in the marijuana plant doesn’t mean it will cause a high on its own.
What are the benefits?
CBD has been the subject of a bit of a health craze recently, and there are a lot of (often anecdotal) stories about its benefits and effects. CBD can potentially help with anxiety, insomnia, chronic pain, and substance addiction cravings in humans, and veterinary advocates believe it could have similar benefits in animals. But as we’ll get into, words like potentially are doing a lot of heavy lifting!
Should I be giving CBD to my pets?
CBD is legal, widely available, and seems to have some great benefits. So what’s the hold up? Unfortunately, for everything we do know about CBD and its possible veterinary uses, there are ten more things we don’t.
For a start, there are currently no CBD products that have received FDA approval for veterinary use. “This doesn’t necessarily mean a product is bad or harmful, but it does mean there’s no oversight into whether the product does what it claims,” Dr. Rondeau cautions. It also means there’s no guarantee the product contains the ingredients and quantities it claims, and could even have unlisted ingredients or contaminants. In fact, federal law allows CBD products to contain THC in quantities below 0.3% of their weight. Without that FDA approval you can never be entirely sure what you’re giving your pet!
Another equally large cause for concern is a lack of available information on how CBD interacts with other drugs. “CBD could very well be okay in a vacuum, but what if your pet is already on carprofen, or gabapentin, or phenobarbital?” says Dr. Rondeau. “Until we know more about when CBD is safe and when it isn’t, we can’t recommend it as a part of any treatment plan.”
Okay, but… What if I want to use it anyway?
Look, we get it. We could sit here and talk about the uncertainties and potential health risks for hours, but at the end of the day we can’t stop anyone from doing what they’re going to do. CBD probably does have veterinary benefits, and ten years down the road it could be a popular part of veterinary treatment plans. But until then, if you’re giving your pets CBD, we want to be sure you’re doing it in the safest way possible.
While CBD might still be awaiting FDA approval, reputable manufacturers of CBD products should be able to offer an FDA-compliant Certificate of Analysis verifying the product’s contents. Especially if giving products intended for humans you should also be on the lookout for potentially harmful ingredients, such as chocolate or the artificial sweetener xylitol.
“As with all medications and supplements,” Dr. Rondeau adds, “we advise starting at a low dose to test how your pet will tolerate the change.” But above all else, we just want you to be honest with us! We’re not your parents, and we’re not trying to get you in trouble. For the sake of your pet’s safety, we always want the honest truth about any medications, supplements, or other substances your pet might receive.
All that was a lot of words to say “We just don’t know yet,” but it’s important to talk about these things! More research on CBD comes out every single day, and we’re keeping an eager eye on the findings. We’re sure we’re not alone in this thirst to know more either, so if you have questions about CBD, managing pain or chronic conditions, or anything else, give us a call! We’re always happy to do a little CBD of our own- Chatting ‘Bout Dogs, that is!