Almost everyone knows someone who has used or is using CBD oil to manage conditions like pain, anxiety, insomnia and neurological disorders like epilepsy or multiple sclerosis. If humans are using CBD oil for medicinal purposes, can we give it to our pets for their ailments and pain? Let’s first take a look at what CBD is and how it works.
What is CBD?
The Cannabis group of plants is also known as marijuana or hemp. There are approximately 400 different types of cannabinoids – chemicals specific to the Cannabis plant group. These chemical compounds are all found in varying concentrations within different strains of cannabis plants. Cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are two of the most widespread and sought-after cannabinoid compounds found in cannabis plants.
CBD is popular as a perceived remedy to manage seizures, anxiety, cancer, pain and itchiness in dogs and cats. THC is better known for its psychological effects when ingested or inhaled and is responsible for the ‘high’ effect in people. CBD is not usually considered psychoactive (meaning that it does not affect the brain’s functioning in mood, perception or behaviour). However, it has been shown to have anti-anxiety and anti-epileptic effects, so we can assume that CBD also acts on the brain but has fewer toxic effects. THC and CBD interact with each other, which means that the amounts of THC and CBD in products will influence how they are absorbed and what effects they will have in the body.
What are the regulations surrounding CBD and THC in South Africa?
According to the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA), CBD can be dispensed over the counter without a script, but only as a complementary medicine. Oral CBD supplements are considered complementary medicines because they claim to generally enhance and/or maintain health, and/or provide relief for minor symptoms. These complementary medicines are not as closely regulated as prescription medication, but they must still contain less than 600mg of CBD per sales pack. A maximum dose of 20mg of CBD per day is legally allowed in these products.
THC is listed as a schedule 6 drug, meaning that it can only be dispensed on a signed medical script because it has addictive properties. The exception to this is in cases where:
- Raw plant material and processed plant products are intended for industrial purposes and not for human or animal ingestion. These products must contain less than 0.2% of THC.
- When fresh plants are grown, possessed, and consumed by an adult (over 18 years of age), in private. This is only for personal consumption and not for resale.
How does CBD work, and is it effective?
CBD is thought to act on the endocannabinoid system in mammals. CBD reduces the release of inflammatory enzymes in this system, which means less pain and inflammation by regulating the immune system.
We don’t know exactly what the side effects of CBD are on different species (like humans, dogs and cats). The following factors need to be taken into account:
- Treatment safety levels for different species (is CBD as safe in dogs as it is in people?).
- Different dosages for differing medical conditions (must the same dose of CBD be given for arthritis and anxiety? Is the dose the same for both dogs and cats?).
- How frequently CBD is administered.
- How and in what form CBD is administered.
So far, CBD has been found to be most effective when it is given in an oil-based format. It is also better absorbed when taken with food. The pet’s age, size, breed, and any other concurrent illnesses that he may have will also influence the effects of the CBD.
Is it safe for my pet? How much should I give and what side effects can I expect?
There is no simple answer to this question. Multiple studies using different research methodologies have been conducted into the safety of CBD in companion animals, specifically focusing on dogs. The most widely recommended dose is 2mg per kilogram of bodyweight of the animal, given twice daily. This is generally a much lower dose than the one used by people.
CBD has been shown to reduce the symptoms of pain associated with arthritis in dogs. It can also reduce seizure activity in epileptic dogs. Both of these claims are only valid when CBD is used together with medications that have already been prescribed for these specific conditions in dogs, like non-steroidal painkillers (for arthritis) or phenobarbitone (for epilepsy).
In a study comparing dogs to cats when they were administered the same CBD-based products, several important differences were found. CBD was generally well tolerated in dogs, but cats were found to absorb and metabolise CBD differently and had a much higher incidence of side effects. These adverse effects were mainly neurological, but excessive drooling and vomiting were also noted. Multiple studies showed an increase in liver enzymes when CBD oil was administered long term. Importantly, this research was conducted on healthy, young adult animals. CBD may have different effects when it is given to older animals who may already be compromised by other illnesses like kidney, liver or gastrointestinal disease.
What do vets recommend regarding CBD products?
Always speak to your veterinarian before starting any new type of therapy. Your pet’s health and any other conditions they may have will be influenced by giving them CBD. It is best to use a CBD oil specifically formulated for animals, because that way you can regulate the amount of CBD your pet receives, to minimise side effects. You should take your pet to see your vet at least every six months when using CBD oil. They may recommend regular blood tests to monitor your dog’s liver and kidney function. It is riskier to give CBD oil to your cat because less research is currently available regarding its safety and efficacy in cats.