By Amy Shojai, CABC, Fear Free Certified Professional
While medicinal hemp products have not been subject to rigorous FDA oversight, many pet product companies tout multiple health benefits for pets. In addition to potential health claims, the anxiety-reducing potential offers an attractive “natural” option for pet parent with fearful pets. Fear Free veterinarians may be asked to discuss or even recommend hemp treats and supplement products for clients.
Hemp Data For Pets?
Unfortunately, very few studies offer clear guidance for veterinarians, which makes species-appropriate recommendations nearly impossible. “There is one study that demonstrated very poor oral absorption of CBD when it was used as an isolated, stand-alone compound,” says Dr. Downing. She concludes that “whole plant” extracts versus single-agent extracts should be further examined.
Joe Wakshlag, DVM, at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, has completed a CBD study that demonstrated pain reduction in dogs with osteoarthritis, with no adverse side effects. Dr. Downing says important details about the formulation, manufacture, certificate of analysis, and sourcing of raw material must be determined, but feels hopeful and excited by the results.
“We do not know very much about either bioavailability or the pharmacology of these products in cats and dogs,” says Dr. Downing. Drug interactions remain unknown, so for veterinarians, it becomes a guessing game how to advise clients. This is complicated by legal issues, which may vary from state to state, and often tie the hands of veterinarians.
Confusing Hemp And Cannabis Terms
“Consumer knowledge is not very technical. Marijuana, cannabis, hemp: these are all definitions that depend on the use and the content of THC,” says Dr. Silver.
The word “marijuana” refers to the cannabis plant that contains the psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is a controlled substance.
In contrast, “hemp” refers to the industrial cannabis product used for rope, textiles, and other products, and may contain no more than 0.3 percent of THC to use this term.
Both marijuana and hemp are members of the cannabis family of plants. The flowers of this plant may contain more than 80 different cannabinoids. CBD oil most commonly appears in pet hemp supplements.
Complicated Marijuana Drug Laws
The law ties veterinarians’ hands because marijuana is not legal in most states and is still illegal at the national level. “Any investigator who is funded by federal monies runs the risk of having that funding withdrawn if they are found to be in violation of federal law [e.g., assessing products that remain illegal at the national level],” says Dr. Downing.
Hemp products still fall under the same legal restrictions as marijuana, even if they do not contain THC. “No state has specific legal language opening the door for veterinarians to recommend or prescribe cannabis products for their patients,” says Dr. Downing. “The only medical professionals prohibited [legally] from discussing and recommending cannabis in animals are veterinarians.”
She says the California State Veterinary Board has not taken a formal position on the matter of marijuana/hemp use in animals. However, if a veterinarian recommends or prescribes a cannabis or hemp-related product for a patient and there is a subsequent complaint to the Board, Dr. Downing says that Board would investigate and take disciplinary action.
Veterinarians understandably feel frustrated. “We know that our patients have the ‘lock’ mechanism that is built for the ‘key’ of the cannabinoids, and that with this tool we may be able to ‘unlock’ important pain issues,” says Dr. Downing. “Yet, we also have an ethical obligation to adhere to best practices, and that means knowing that what we give our patients is safe and effective. At the moment, the challenges of this issue leave us in limbo.”
Hope may be on the horizon. “The Farm Bill of 2018 looks to change this and make hemp legal. It may become legislation by September of this year,” says Dr. Silver.
What Veterinarians Can Say To Pet Parents
Dr. Silver suggests consumers should watch for specific red flags on cannabis products, such as misspelled words on the label or no phone number to call to ask question. There should also be some indication of strength of formulation, with recommended dosage.
Pet parents can also look for a Certificate of Analysis. “This is a way for a producer to affirm and assure the public that what they produce is consistent, not contaminated, and has a specific concentration of active ingredients,” says Dr. Downing. “Reliable companies are interested in acquiring and repeating independent analyses.”
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.