The cannabis compound cannabidiol (CBD) is expected to jump from a $1 billion dollar industry to a $22 billion industry by 2022. That's because people around the world are eager to see if the non-intoxicating ingredient of cannabis will work for them as well as their pets. CBD reportedly has numerous therapeutic properties in both animals and humans, including to help with anxiety, depression, neuroprotection and inflammation, according to a 2018 study from Surgical Neurology International.
And these therapeutic properties can also help your furry friend safely manage stress, pain, osteoarthritis, anxiety and more. But CBD isn't a one-size-fits-all medication. Dr. Josh Sosnow - a veterinarian and owner of an animal hospital in Arizona as well as co-founder of CompanionCBD - says you need to tailor your pet's CBD regimen to your pet’s specific endocannabinoid system, not the whims of companies trying to cash in on the CBD trend by offering products that might not be right for your pet.
What is the Endocannabinoid System?
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a biological process found in people as well as many other animals. The system is composed of neurotransmitters and cellular receptors, and acts in concert with our microbiome (also known as our gut).
"From a functional point of view, it’s a complex system which manages our basic functions such as our ability to relax, eat, sleep, remember, et cetera," Sosnow told Civilized. "It’s a very important system that until the last ten to 15 years was not widely studied. In fact, most MDs and vets have no knowledge of this system."
The new understanding we have about this system and how it functions means that from a practical point of view, we need to look at diseases and conditions in a new light and determine if the treatment options we were using in the past are the optimal choices.
"Perhaps we need to manage the ECS in ways we didn’t anticipate previously," Sosnow said. "Did we miss something because of this lack of knowledge? For example, there are certain advantages with how opioids interact with CBD, such as decreasing the addiction potential with opioids and does the ECS play a role in this?"
According to Sosnow, most of what they know about the ECS is based on people. However, he is clear that because of the way that each individual ECS works, the dosing becomes a bit more complex regardless of if you’re dealing with a person, a bunny, a cat or a dog. This is why it’s important for vets to have the authority to help with dosage guidelines, something that currently doesn’t exist.
"For example, you could have two dogs that are the same age, same weight and have the same condition such as arthritis, but they could have two different doses. This is especially true if you’re treating a dog (for example) with more than one condition. The distribution of receptors in the animal differs so you need to dose to the more demanding condition – so you might end up at the higher end of the dosing range."
Figuring out those patient-specific dosages will be crucial to future cannabis research.
"We are facing a new paradigm in some respects," he shared. "Cannabis can be part of a multi-modal treatment plan. CBD can work through many different pathways and we need to concentrate the dosage to the individual. We do have some starting points, but more research is needed."
Extreme Enthusiasm from Pet Owners
While medical professionals are clear that more research is needed, the anecdotal evidence has increased public awareness around the potential value that CBD can offer. That's why so many clients are going to their veterinarians and asking for it. However, due to a lack of regulations, Sosnow equates the CBD market with the Wild West.
"Pet owners are extraordinarily enthusiastic about the potential benefits of cannabis for their pets. For them, it’s a no-brainer. And most vets are also interested, but the state Vet’s Associations are recommending against it because of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s position on cannabis."
Despite these barriers, Sosnow feels that from a harm reduction stand-point, it’s important for pet owners who are pursuing cannabis as a treatment option for their pets to be up front with their veterinarians. That way, they can at the very least provide supportive care. As well, he is clear that CBD is not a one-size-fits all to manage any condition.
"Pharmacology is complex and vets are trained to understand and know what’s most appropriate for their patients. This is an industry that lacks regulation, most of the online discussions are not backed by science," Sosnow pointed out. "It’s important for pet owners to research their suppliers to ensure they know exactly what they are getting, and because of the variance in dosage and frequency, particularly when dealing with multi-modal treatment – it’s critical to talk to your vet. Let’s be clear, the CBD industry is more about moving product versus moving the right product for the right pet."