Cannabist Special Report: CBD, TBD || Veterinarians at Colorado State University and beyond are spearheading clinical studies on the effectiveness of cannabidiol in treating canine ailments
Cannabidiol is a non-psychoactive cannabis compound touted for its medicinal promise — but marijuana- and hemp-derived extracts rich in CBD and low in intoxicating THC are facing a future yet to be determined.
The Cannabist’s special report “CBD, TBD” explores a regulatory and legal landscape pockmarked by federal-state conflicts, and examines national drug policy, pioneering research efforts and disparate avenues toward the compound’s full legalization. This is the fourth installment in an ongoing series.
FORT COLLINS — Riley lumbered into the laboratory and greeted scientists with hefty, loving nudges and sloshes of slobber.
The 135-pound Newfoundland is a favorite at the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital, where she’s among a few dozen pooches participating in one of the first scientific clinical trials assessing the efficacy of cannabidiol in treating certain canine ailments.
The non-psychoactive cannabis compound isn’t just hailed for its potential medicinal benefits in humans — the anecdotal evidence emerging from legal marijuana states has some pet owners wondering if CBD could be a life-improving medicine for man’s best friend. In Colorado, CBD-rich whole plant hemp extracts already are available for purchase online or at the neighborhood pet shop down the street.
However, scientists and veterinarians caution that clinical research is lacking, dogged by complications — notably marijuana’s Schedule I status and CBD’s shaky legal standing as it relates to another more familiar cannabis compound: psychoactive delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which can be toxic to animals.
CSU veterinary neurologist Dr. Stephanie McGrath began fielding queries about CBD’s therapeutic powers for pets after Colorado legalized recreational marijuana and cultivation of industrial hemp in 2012. Owners and vets alike called to inquire about the safety and efficacy of administering CBD to pups for everything from sore hips, to seizures, to anxiety caused by fireworks and thunderstorms.
What McGrath heard was extremely disappointing, she said. Some pet owners were dosing animals with their own edibles or other medical marijuana products procured to treat human ailments.
“That, as you can imagine, is not safe at all,” she said.
In addition to her concerns with the DIY nature of the dosing, McGrath said she was skeptical of what was being packaged and sold in pet stores. No qualified, peer-reviewed scientific studies had been conducted on CBD products for pets, she realized.
“Looking at it from a scientific standpoint and as a doctor, I felt really uncomfortable with the products being offered,” she said.
Whether it’s THC-laden marijuana or industrial hemp with traces of that illicit compound, cannabis is a Schedule I substance. The uncertain legal landscape surrounding CBD oil — even the hemp-derived variety — has stymied studies for humans and animals alike.
Its murky legal status doesn’t just impede access to the whole hemp plant extract, said Michael San Filippo, spokesman for the American Veterinary Medical Association. It also makes it difficult for scientists to receive the blessing — and funding — for CBD research from major academic institutions wary of crossing federal boundaries, he said.
As such, the science isn’t there yet on aspects such as CBD’s effectiveness and dosing, San Filippo said.
“There are a lot of unanswered questions,” he said.