Medical marijuana is a controversial yet legal pain medication that can help provide relief to humans who suffer from certain ailments and conditions. But what about dogs? Can dogs who suffer from similar ailments receive medical marijuana, too?
Here’s everything you need to know, so you can decide for yourself – and properly dose your canine friend, if you conclude that it’s right for them.
What is CBD?
CBD (short for cannabidiol) is a substance called a cannabinoid, which, as you may have guessed, comes from the infamous cannabis plant.
What many people do not know is: the cannabis plant can refer to several different plant species – namely, the hemp plant and the marijuana plant. Hemp and marijuana are quite different from one another in terms of how they are used and cultivated.
Hemp vs. Marijuana
For one, hemp is legal in all 50 states and is used in many different industries, from fabrics to fibers to fuel to beauty products and even health supplements. You might even find hemp milk at the local grocery store.
Hemp contains extremely low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (better known as THC), another infamous cannabinoid. This is the psychoactive component in the cannabis plant that gets people high, but only if the dosage is high as well.
Harvested hemp used in everyday products, such as CBD for dogs, cannot have THC levels higher than 0.3 percent. However, before you pick any random CBD product off the shelf, make sure it was developed from the hemp plant and not the marijuana plant.
CBD products made from the marijuana plant can contain up to 20 percent or more THC than you would find in CBD products derived from the hemp plant. This higher dosage of THC can be potentially toxic for your dog, so it’s wise to check the package beforehand.
Of course, CBD products developed from the marijuana plant are only legal in states where recreational and medical marijuana are legal, too, so the chances of you coming across these products may be slim.
The Endocannabinoid System
Cannabinoids are processed through your body’s endocannabinoid system. This is a series of specialized neurons that run throughout your entire body. When any cannabinoids bind to the receptors in this system, it will produce several different responses.
In the case of CBD, you will find yourself relaxed (but not high or mentally compromised), while THC will make you feel high (but only if you take a significant amount of it).
Many different animal species, including dogs, have these systems as well. In fact, dogs are one of the more popular species used in CBD research, particularly regarding its effects on the body.
Can Dogs Have CBD?
Using CBD derived from hemp does not induce any mind-altering or euphoric sensations. As such, your dogs will reap all the medical benefits without the risk of getting high.
The severely reduced levels of THC in CBD oil for dogs makes these products safe and healthy for canine pets to consume, so long as you give them the proper dosages.
Pros of CBD for Dogs
Many dog owners using CBD on their dogs have noted that it’s very effective in treating pain, particularly neuropathic pain. It also helps to control seizures.
Unfortunately, there’s little definitive scientific data regarding the effects of CBD on dogs. However, pet owners and some veterinarians swear by its many benefits, including the cannabidiol’s:
- Anti-inflammatory properties.
- Cardiovascular benefits.
- Anti-nausea effects.
- Appetite stimulation.
- Anxiety-reducing effects.
- Gastrointestinal benefits.
- Possible cancer-fighting benefits.
Many of these effects, however, seem to be based on how CBD affects human subjects. The limited research about CBD for dogs finds that dogs who take CBD in some form are less reactive to low level pain stimuli like arthritis, back pain, and other similar conditions. However, the most common ailments that CBD is used to treat are anxiety and seizures.
Why? Your dog’s endocannabinoid system binds the CBD to their pain receptors. This will then modulate any pain, anxiety, and/or nausea they may be feeling.
Unlike some traditional pain medicine for dogs, CBD does not have any harmful side effects — provided you give them the correct dosage, of course. Taking this cannabinoid will not damage their kidney, liver, or GI tract in any way. It will not make your dog high, but it can make them slightly drowsy if you accidentally give them too much. This makes it far more appealing for long-term use.
Cons of CBD for Dogs
As stated above, there is still a great deal that researchers do not know about CBD.
This is mainly because the U.S. drug classification system categorizes marijuana (though not the cannabis plant as a whole) as a Schedule 1 drug. This makes it extremely difficult for medical researchers to study it. Other infamous drugs in this category include LSD, ecstasy, and heroin.
In fact, because marijuana is still illegal in many states, purchasing and using CBD derived from this plant may also be technically illegal under local laws.
The hemp plant has such miniscule amounts of THC that researchers cannot truly study the effects it will have on dogs. Likewise, they currently struggle to measure how the effects of taking CBD and THC from this plant compares to its sister plant, marijuana.
This lack of research also means that many researchers still do not know the risks of taking CBD products. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (better known as the FDA) has not yet approved the widespread distribution of CBD for dogs (or humans). As such, there are no standard dosing recommendations to follow. Since this product has no known risks, it is best to give your dog a small dose – just to be safe.
Like any medication, overdosing on CBD is very possible and very dangerous for your dog. The higher the dosage, the more THC they are likely to ingest. This could result in your dog becoming ill, feeling high, or even dying from an overdose.
The effects of an overdose may last for days at a time, and your dog may refuse to eat or even stand during this time. Any life-threatening reactions due to an overdose are exceedingly rare, but it’s still wise to take your dog to a vet as soon as you suspect that they’ve overdosed on CBD.
Even if their THC toxicity levels do not pose a threat, your dog may still have a problem with one or more of the other ingredients in the product.
How to Administer CBD to Dogs
CBD products are fairly easy to obtain and may be available in several different forms. Below are some of the most common varieties of CBD products for dogs.
CBD dog treats can come in many forms, from special chews to capsules to regular-looking dog treats and biscuits that your little buddy is sure to enjoy. These treats are a simple way to reward your dog for taking their pain relief medication, without all the fuss.
Topical or Edible Oil
CBD oil for dogs can be mixed into their food bowl, their water, placed under their tongue, or even come in a cream or balm that can be simply rubbed into their skin.
Of course, these products differ in their potencies. This will affect how quickly the CBD is absorbed in your dog’s endocannabinoid system, how high their blood concentration gets from the suggested dose, and how fast their body eliminates it once it has run its course.
In a 2018 study, three different CBD products for dogs were thoroughly measured against each other. After administering each treatment method (dog treat, oil, and cream, respectively) and leaving the dogs be for a 12-hour period, doctors found that the oil had the best pharmacokinetic profile – or the strongest effects.
What does this mean? CBD oil for dogs reaches the highest concentration in the blood, stays in their bloodstream the longest, and performs the most consistently across many dog breeds.
The study also found that, after taking a brief pain inventory, dogs that ingested the oil showed a significant decrease in pain and an increase in overall activity. No side effects were later reported by their happy owners, though serum chemistry showed a slight increase in alkaline phosphatases in their systems.
CBD Dosage for Dogs
Each brand’s dosing guidelines will vary widely from one another. As such, the concentration of CBD found in each product will vary, making it highly crucial to watch the dosage you provide for your dog.
Typically, you should only give your dog the minimal dosage listed on the package. Unless they are suffering from a more serious health condition and need urgent relief, there is no reason to give them much more than that.
When calculating if the dosage on the package is right for your dog, there are several factors you need to take into account:
- The potency of the CBD (and THC) in your chosen product.
- Your dog’s size and weight.
- The ailment you are treating.
- Any other health conditions your dog may be suffering from, especially those that can affect their ability to react to or metabolize CBD. (Reminder: You should NOT give your dog any CBD products if they suffer from liver or kidney problems.)
- Your dog’s activity level. (This can help you determine how your dog will metabolize the CBD among other types of medication.)
Because the potency of CBD will differ depending on the brand (and because the FDA has not regulated just how much CBD should be in these medications), it can be difficult to know if the measurements listed on the packages are too much or too little for your dog.
Luckily, there is an easy way to calculate the safest and most effective dosage for your pet.
First, you need to know how much your dog weighs in pounds. A basic rule of thumb is to give your dog 0.2 milligrams of CBD per pound. For example, if they’re 25 pounds, then you will need to give them 5 milligrams of CBD.
Next, you should calculate how much of the product you need to give them based on how many milligrams of CBD is in it.
Here are common product-formula-to-CBD ratios:
- 75 milligram formulas have around 2.5 milligrams of CBD per milliliter of oil.
- 150 milligram formulas have around 5 milligrams of CBD per milliliter of oil.
- 300 milligram formulas have around 10 milligrams of CBD per milliliter of oil.
- 600 milligram formulas have around 20 milligrams of CBD per milliliter of oil.
To put these numbers into perspective, let’s go back to the 25-pound dog who needs 5 milligrams of CBD administered to them. You can give these much-needed milligrams in a variety of ways:
- If you give them the 75-milligram formula, you will need to give them 2 milliliters of oil.
- If you give them the 150-milligram formula, you will only need to give 1 millimeter of oil.
- If you give them the 300-milligram formula, you will only need to give them 0.5 milliliters of oil.
It is not recommended that you use the 600-milligram formula for smaller dogs, due to how difficult it is to administer 0.25 milliliters in a small syringe.
With all that said, it’s best to consult your veterinarian about the proper dosages beforehand.
While there’s little research currently available about the effects of CBD on dogs, the existing research does appear to demonstrate a clear fact: In low doses, this cannabidiol works wonders in relieving all kinds of pains and ailments in both people and pooches alike.
Of course, it’s always wise to perform thorough research on the CBD products you buy for your dog. This can help you avoid poisoning their body accidentally, instead of healing it. Hemp-based CBD products are usually your best bet, and oil appears to be the most effective.
Now, you have a better answer for, “How much CBD oil should I give my dog?” With this knowledge on hand, calculating the appropriate amount to give your furry friend is far less confusing and troublesome.