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CBD for Pets—A Brief Research Review

Updated: Jan 21

The endocannabinoid system (ECS), discovered fairly recently in the 1990s, is a critical network of cellular neurotransmitters that modules many critical systems of the body, including immune response, sleep, mood, and energy level. To learn more about the ECS, see the 2016 study entitled "Endocannabinoid System: Role in Depression, Reward, and Pain Control."

It was once thought that all mammals feature an endocannabinoid system, or ECS. However, it is now understood that all vertebrates feature an ECS, meaning they can gain benefit from the cannabinoids and terpenes from herbs such as hemp and cannabis.


ECS Present in All Vertebrates

According to UCLA Health, "[The ECS] is present in all vertebrates—mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, etc. all produce endocannabinoids."


"Sea squirts, tiny nematodes, and all vertebrate species share the endocannabinoid system as an essential part of life and adaptation to environmental changes."

Dr. Dustin Sulak, a clinical practitioner based in Maine who specializes in natural remedies in the treatment of his patients, reported: "Sea squirts, tiny nematodes, and all vertebrate species share the endocannabinoid system as an essential part of life and adaptation to environmental changes. By comparing the genetics of cannabinoid receptors in different species, scientists estimate that the endocannabinoid system evolved in primitive animals over 600 million years ago."


More can be learned from the 2006 research study entitled "Evolutionary Origins of the Endocannabinoid System" that was published in the journal Gene. Check out the Higher Learning LV Study Summary of this research here.


Humans vs. Dogs vs. Cats

Unfortunately, while thousands of studies have been conducted regarding the efficacy of cannabinoids and terpenes for humans, data and clinical studies exploring the effects of these molecules on animals such as household pets is relatively scant.


A few basic facts regarding the efficacy of cannabidiol (CBD) for pets have emerged. In potent doses, full-spectrum extract products containing delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) may present a toxicity issue to dogs. Because of this, many veterinarians are favoring broad-spectrum hemp extracts to avoid any potential negative side effects.


"In potent doses, full-spectrum extract products containing THC may present a toxicity issue to dogs."

Also, cats and dogs metabolize various cannabinoids in very different ways. For example, cats cannot consume many of the pharmaceutical drugs administered to canines for pain due to a liver intolerance. Also, hemp oil appears to have a much shorter active lifespan (half life) in cats than in dogs, meaning that felines require a higher dose that is administered more frequently for maximum efficacy.


To learn more about the differences in metabolization and efficacy of CBD for humans and other creatures, see the 1991 study entitled "Comparative Metabolism of Cannabidiol in Dog, Rat, and Man" that was published in the journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and Behavior.


Two Studies Lend Insight

Idiopathic epilepsy, a condition with no known cause, afflicts about six percent of the dog population worldwide and is the most common neurologic condition among canines. A 2019 study conducted at Colorado State University entitled "CBD Clinical Trial Results on Seizure Frequency in Dogs 'Encouraging'" that was published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association investigated the use of CBD in the treatment of dogs with epilepsy.


"We saw a correlation between how high the levels of CBD were in these dogs with how great the seizure reduction was."

This placebo-controlled in vivo study spanned 12 weeks and reported that "89 percent of dogs who received CBD in the clinical trial had a reduction in the frequency of seizures. Nine dogs were treated with CBD, while seven in a control group were treated with a placebo."


The study also revealed that efficacy of CBD, measured in decreased seizure activity, for the dogs in the study was dependent upon dose. "We saw a correlation between how high the levels of CBD were in these dogs with how great the seizure reduction was," reported the researchers.

A 2018 study conducted at Cornell University entitled "Pharmacokinetics, Safety, and Clinical Efficacy of Cannabidiol Treatment in Osteoarthritic Dogs" was published in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science. The landmark research investigated the safety profile of this cannabinoid and its ability to kill pain for dogs with osteoarthritis. It found that more than 80% of study participants experienced significant improvements in mobility and decreased pain.


The study reported, "Clinically, canines...showed a significant decrease in pain and increase in activity with CBD oil. Veterinary assessment showed decreased pain during CBD treatment." Regarding the safety profile of CBD for dogs, the study observed "no side effects were reported by owners...during CBD treatment."


"2 mg/kg of CBD twice daily can help increase comfort and activity in dogs with [osteoarthritis]."

This research also revealed dosing characteristics of CBD for dogs, reporting: "This pharmacokinetic and clinical study suggests that 2 mg/kg of CBD twice daily can help increase comfort and activity in dogs with [osteoarthritis]." The study revealed that bioavailability of CBD is greater in oil-based products involving a lipid carrier agent.


"I believe we only scratched the surface in regard to how this could be used from an overall pain perspective," said Joseph Wakshlag, team lead for the study. "If my dog ever has chronic arthritis, this would be one of the things I’d definitely use."


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