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CBD: Breaking Down the Research

  • 6 min read

Many times, pets are treated as members of the family. The connections people have with pets can be emotionally powerful. That connection makes it heartbreaking to see pets suffer from a health condition.  

The pets cannot speak for themselves and tell their owner what the problem is. When pets are ill, the best option is to take them to a veterinarian. If a veterinarian is prohibitively expensive, people sometimes seek alternative treatments.  

The problems lead people to be hopeful about CBD. Proclaiming CBD to be a wonder drug is an exaggeration. However, the therapeutic potential is impressive. The first concern of people who learn CBD is derived from cannabis plants is its legality. 

That is an understandable concern. Cannabis derivatives or products were considered Schedule I drugs under federal law until recently. Schedule I drugs are in the class that contains LSD and heroin. In 2018, the Farm Bill was passed that removed certain products that were derived from cannabis from the bill, the most significant being CBD. 

CBD is the term used when describing cannabis not grown for recreational consumption. As far back as 8000 BC, it was used in textiles. The defining  quality is the level of THC. It is the compound responsible for cannabis's psychoactive effects. 

Under U.S. federal law, CBD oil can contain no more than 0.3 percent THC. Products available for general consumption have little chance of causing the 'high' effect associated with cannabis. The changes allowed the growing and processing of CBD, which leads to the product boom of today.  

The two standard methods of CBD extraction from cannabis material are carbon dioxide extraction and ethanol extraction. Carbon dioxide is manipulated from a pressurized solid to a liquid in carbon dioxide extraction. The cannabinoids are then removed without altering or damaging the compounds. 

Ethanol is more straightforward but may affect cannabinoid quality. Much like a coffee machine, ethanol drips through CBD material that has been compacted, extracting CBD in the process. After being removed, the CBD is distilled further. It is then classified as either full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, or isolate. 

is cbd oil safe for your dog?

What is CBD? 

Unlike THC, CBD produces no 'high' but is psychoactive. 

CBD is part of a class of chemical compounds in the cannabis plant. Cannabinoids interact with the Endocannabinoid System of humans to help maintain homeostasis. Unlike THC, CBD produces no 'high' but is psychoactive.  

In 2019, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration approved an oral CBD solution, Epidiolex, to treat Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, two severe and rare pediatric seizure disorders. There is also an investigation into the possible treatment for schizophrenia symptoms, anxiety, and pain in humans.  

CBD Use Research 

Because of the somewhat recent legality of CBD, there are few clinical trials. Stephanie McGrath, a prominent veterinary cannabis researcher, explains what is known and not known about giving CBD to animals. 

When recreational marijuana was legalized in Colorado, McGrath gave little thought to it at first. After calls started coming from family veterinarians and pet owners asking for her views on medical marijuana for pets, she began to research the subject. 

The following information deals with substances that are not legal everywhere. It is for informational purposes and not legal advice. Illegal drug use is neither endorsed nor encouraged. The research began in either 2013 or 2014. 

There was no quality scientific literature for CBD use in humans at the time, much less for animals. Ms. McGrath, a Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medical and Biomedical Science assistant professor of neurology, started by investigating whether it was plausible to conduct research. 

She became a pioneering researcher in the veterinary cannabis field. Even with early efforts and research, she struggled to keep up with the demand for information. There is an increase in people turning to CBD products to treat pets' seizure disorders, anxiety, and pain. 

When the study began in 2016, how a cream, an oil, and a capsule delivery method affected how CBD traveled through healthy dogs' bodies were analyzed. The pharmacokinetics were measured by giving dogs a single dose of all three and measuring the blood levels over 12 hours. 

The tests determine how quickly the CBD was absorbed, the blood concentration of a single dose, and how fast it was eliminated. Oil had the best profile. It reached the highest blood concentration, stayed the longest in the bloodstream, and performed most consistently in different breeds of dogs.  

The capsule performed well also, the cream not so much. It was inconsistent, and the McGrath team could not draw any conclusions. These results are in line with what is known about human CBD absorption. The research in its preliminary stage is not used to make medical decisions. 

Are There Health Benefits to Giving Pets CBD Oil? 

While the research is not definitive, a 2018 study indicated CBD helps increase activity and comfort in osteoarthritic dogs. The following year, McGrath's study showed CBD potentially reduces the number of seizures epileptic dogs experience. 

These studies are peer-reviewed and well-designed, but still very preliminary and small. The study consisted of giving the drug to dogs and recording blood level observations. Whether the blood levels achieved are enough to treat diseases is not yet known.  

McGrath is optimistic. The drugs available to veterinarians to treat diseases is limited. Some of those that do exist have debilitating side effects, such as lethargy and weight gain. For CBD to work, it should be effective and have minimal side effects.  

Currently, McGrath and other nationwide researchers are conducting more extensive studies on CBD's effectiveness in the treatment of osteoarthritis in cats and dogs. It will be a while before all the results will be published.  

Researchers found it to be effective in pain management in humans and mice and an anti-inflammatory as well. Anecdotal evidence indicates possible antidepressant and anti-anxiety properties. It seems to be beneficial for the cardiovascular system and a variety of cancer treatment side effects. Talk to a veterinarian before giving a pet CBD.

Is CBD Safe for Animals? 

In its present state, CBD appears to be well-tolerated and safe for animals, according to a 2017 report by the World Health Organization. The studies mentioned above were conducted in 2018. They noted an increase in phosphatase, a liver enzyme alkaline, during CBD treatment.  

As part of the McGrath study, a liver function test was run simultaneously to ensure the livers of the dogs were not failing. Every result was normal. It is unclear whether the elevated phosphatase was due to something benign or may develop into a serious long-term problem.  

Quality control is a concern that pet owners need to be aware of. CBD is not well-regulated. The products may have ingredients not listed on the label, including THC, that is toxic to dogs and cats. Avoid potentially harmful ingredients by using only products that have a COA (Certificate of Analysis).  

A COA results from an independent test of the product that confirms the ingredients and potency. Legal CBD products contain 0.3 percent or less THC. That amount should be safe for pets. Lookout for CBD poisoning symptoms such as trouble standing, restlessness, lethargy, diarrhea, and vomiting.  

How Does CBD Work? 

Due mainly to the 2018 Farm Bill that made CBD legal, analysts predict by 2022; the CBD pet care market will the $125 million. It is the segment of the CBD market that is growing so rapidly. Here is what needs to be known when considering CBD for a pet.  

Exactly how CBD works in animals is puzzling to researchers. They are trying to answer the question for humans also. Dogs have an ECS. Whether it interacts with CBD in the same manner that experts think it interacts with humans has not been definitively established. 


People who suffer from many of conditions see the advent of an alternative treatment with CBD to be a blessing. Some of those conditions had no prior treatment available or had treatments with unpleasant side effects. 

CBD is a natural product that takes very little processing. It has few interactions with medication and few side effects. The potential for addiction is low. Benefits and safety make CBD a promising alternative to opiates and opioids that have serious interactions and side effects and are commonly abused. 

CBD also has the potential to be a safe tool to help pets. All signs point to it being well-tolerated by animals' physical systems and safe. The ECS of animals appears to be similar enough to humans that pets will enjoy the same benefits found by humans who use CBD oil.  

Some of the same delivery methods used by humans to consume CBD are also available for pets. They are available in edibles that resemble traditional treats. The oils can be added to peanut butter, topical balms, and regular meals.  


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