Cathy Brooks
Jun 10 2019 . 5 min read

Getting out of the Weed(s)

Getting out of the Weed(s)

Debunking the hype surrounding cannabidiol and your four-legged friend

Debunking the hype surrounding cannabidiol and your four-legged friend

It sounded too good to be true.

Standing in front of me at the 2018 SuperZoo Pet Retail conference was a former military K9 officer who was regaling me, in hyperbolic verse, about the miracles CBD oil had bestowed on his retired military dog. The dog, as most all military and law enforcement K9s, had substantial physical pain and joint issues, wrought by a high intensity job. Only seven years old, the dog had to be picked up and put into the car and then lifted out again. It was also having trouble walking.

Attempts to use standard, high-powered, pharmaceutical solutions to alleviate the pain were wreaking havoc on the dog’s kidneys and liver. As the story was told, just a few days on CBD oil, the dog was walking normally. After a few more days the dog was jumping in and out of the car unassisted. He didn’t just tell me stories. He showed me pictures and videos. It was amazing.

Transfixed by the possibility, I glanced down at Truman. My just-turned-12 Labrador/Standard Poodle mix had ceased leaping into the car with joy. He’d never been a particularly bouncy dog, but over the last few months a distinct shift had occurred. He had slowed down, and I could see he was in discomfort. I wanted to avoid putting him on drugs that would have a potentially catastrophic impact on other aspects of his health.

I’d been studying the rapidly evolving and expanding world of hemp products, and cannabidiol (aka CBD) in particular, as a powerful asset in the health of dogs and was at SuperZoo specifically to assess options. After months of research and three full days of intense conversations with various vendors, one thing was abundantly clear. There is very little clarity.

As of today, there is still no comprehensive, scientific data regarding the efficacy of CBD for dogs (or any pet for that matter). Anecdotal evidence, absolutely. Some small studies and initial data, for sure; but the nascent nature of the market and of the product has, to-date, limited the ability of any group to gather data sufficient to state unequivocally that CBD absolutely does or doesn’t answer specific health needs for our pets. The best CBD pet products I’ve seen on the market do not promise anything. Their language speaks of “possible” and “potential” benefits.

Still with me? Good. Now let’s talk about what we do know.

Hemp is among the most versatile and powerful plants known to man; and as noted, while data doesn’t exist, anecdotal evidence does. There is proof of great efficacy on issues from joint and hip pain to injury recovery to arthritis in pets. From overt injuries to relieving discomfort, the highly anti-inflammatory properties of CBD make it a superb augmentation to and, in some cases, replacement for more toxic pharmaceutical solutions.

Some groups claim CBD can and should serve as a central solution for pets’ behavioral issues and anxiety. Evidence here is far less clear and also far less consistent. While cases of anxious dogs experiencing a reduction in that anxiety after the use of CBD exist, much like with people, there is no real consistency across those cases. For pets with extreme anxiety/behavioral issues, you would be more well-served to tackle the issue using modification training and allow CBD to be an augmentation or supporting element.

When evaluating CBD products to use for your dog, there are many elements to consider. Here are two major ones:

How is the CBD grown and extracted?

Hemp is an extremely absorbent plant. That means whatever is in the soil, whatever is used to grow or treat that plant, will end up in the plant and by default its byproducts. For that reason, making sure the hemp is organically grown—pesticide- and chemical-free—is crucial. That organic process needs to start with the seed and continue all the way through to how it’s grown and harvested. It’s also important to know how the CBD is extracted. Many extraction processes use chemicals including butane (lighter fluid) or even ethanol to leach CBD out of the plant. That not only means the core product has been exposed to harsh chemicals, it also means the end product will retain some of these toxic elements. If a product is an “isolate” it means even more harsh processing was involved to essentially tear apart the whole spectrum of the plant’s CBD component. Also, worth noting, about 90 percent of CBD isolate products are sourced from China.

Is the CBD product full spectrum or an isolate?

To get the full power of the hemp plant’s properties, you need the full spectrum of the plant. That means the entirety of the plant is utilized, each piece serving as a key to unlock each element. On this topic, we need to mention THC. The psychoactive element of the plant, the component that gets you “high” is a delicate matter, because in any substantive amount it is deeply toxic for dogs.

Veterinarians have shared with me (again, anecdotally) a rise in pets coming in with THC toxicity. Increased legalization for medical and recreational cannabis use has also resulted in an increase in THC-infused edibles in people’s homes. Where dogs would be unlikely to consume a plant—a bag of cookies, or brownies or gummies capture a pet’s attention and appetite.

When it comes to therapeutic CBD products for pets, some claim these products must be entirely THC-free. That is not the case. There will be trace, as in undetectable amounts, in the product as a necessity to fully unlock the true potential and value of CBD. Without it, it’s like having a combination lock but missing one of the numbers.

While still nascent, the explosive growth of the pet-related CBD market implies that it is only a matter of time before more substantive data—anecdotal and otherwise—will be readily available. In the meantime, the best judge of how well these products work for your own pet, is you.