The cannabis genus of plants has a conflicted reputation, mostly because marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning it “has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States,” according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Times, attitudes, and even laws, change, and it’s been a decade since California pioneered the legal use of marijuana specifically for medicinal purposes. As of this writing, 25 states and the District of Columbia permit the sale and consumption of marijuana, both as medicine and as a recreational narcotic.
Marijuana, of course, is only one product of cannabis. Sources vary on the exact number, but cannabidiol, or CBD, is one of among 60 to over 100 distinct chemical compounds — called cannabinoids as a group — that can be derived from the plant. Acting on receptors in the brain, cannabidiol has proven effective in alleviating symptoms of human nervous system disorders, from multiple sclerosis to epilepsy.
Over the last several years, cannabidiol has been finding new uses, not only in humans, but also in dogs. We’re going to look at what CBD is, clarify what it is not, how it functions, and the kinds of medical conditions that it might be useful in treating.
First, we need to outline the distinction between CBD and THC. Cannabidiol is not the same thing as tetrahydrocannabinol. Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the major reason why words like “cannabis,” “marijuana,” “pot,” and “weed” provoke immediate and negative reactions among the general populace. Like CBD, THC is a cannabinoid. THC is a psychoactive compound that produces the sensations of being “stoned.”
Cannabidiol is not a psychoactive agent. Before we even get to CBD dog treats, some may shake their heads, cluck their tongues, and say they don’t want their dogs getting high. That objection is very common, but just as easily dismissed. CBD is not toxic, and it does not have a particularly strong effect, if any at all, on the receptors in the brain that are influenced by THC. CBD does not affect perception and is incapable of turning normally functioning people or their dogs into Cheech, Chong, Harold, or Kumar. CBD treats for dogs are not the canine equivalent of pot brownies.
The bodies of most mammals contain native receptors for cannabinoids. These receptors in the brain run throughout the nervous system. From there, they influence the workings of internal organs and systems. Their function is to regulate and govern things as diverse as memory, emotional states, pain tolerance, and hunger. For patients — human or canine — who experience excessive pain, anxiety, or lack of appetite, CBD supplements may be useful in providing relief from these symptoms.
Scientific research has shown that cannabidiol does not operate, or at least operates very weakly, on the CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors in the brain. Those two receptors are the ones most powerfully influenced by THC, which creates the cognitive changes associated with feeling “high” or “stoned.” In fact, the CBD found in dog treats counteracts and suppresses the effects of THC. Cannabidiol binds to different receptors that suppress pain, moderate body temperature, alleviate pain, and lessen anxiety, among other effects.
The primary claims of reputable CBD treats for dogs revolve around cannabidiol’s effects on the brain and the body. They are not a cure for any particular ailment; they are used as palliatives for a number of neurological and persistent pain conditions. We are not trying to make claims ourselves for their effectiveness, simply reporting that these treats have been used specifically for the following purposes:
In treat or biscuit form, with tastes and flavors that appeal to dogs, CBD treats may work for dogs who refuse, reject, or are resistant to medications in pill or tablet form. They may also be useful for dogs who are not keen on injections or for whom standard medicines have proven ineffective. Given the skepticism surrounding medical uses of cannabis, CBD treats should be approached when other avenues have been exhausted, and only after thorough conversations with a veterinarian.
Doubts that linger around cannabidiol in dogs involve the continuing confusion and conflation of CBD with THC, as well as the cannabis plant’s legal status. To reiterate, CBD does not get anyone high, neither human nor dog, since the chemical is non-toxic and non-psychoactive. You may be aware that, in 2015, there was some controversy, as the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning to CBD dog treat manufacturer Canna-Pet. The substance of this warning was that Canna-Pet’s site announced claims on their website, touting the medical benefits and medicinal uses of their dog treats.
Along with Canna-Pet, another of the major reputable producers of CBD dog treats and supplements is Treatibles. Looking through their websites and scanning through the ingredients of each of their product lines, from a nutrition standpoint, their dog treat recipes contain primarily, if not exclusively, gluten-free, organic materials. Chemically, a trustworthy CBD treat should contain cannabidiol and other non-toxic, non-psychoactive cannabinoids.
The FDA conducts scientific tests on the contents of these products and posts a yearly clearinghouse of warnings on ones that either misrepresent themselves or their chemical contents. These lists for 2015 and 2016 show that you should educate yourself before purchasing CBD treats, and always consult with your veterinarian first.
Yes. Due to the tenuous legality of cannabis generally, CBD treats are not offered by big box retailers. Both PetSmart and Amazon have no results when you search for the two major brands we’ve mentioned. Both Canna-Pet and Treatibles offer their products direct from their websites, and each have posted lists of boutique retailers and veterinarians nationwide that do stock their merchandise. These physical locations tend to be, but are not exclusively, found in states where medical marijuana is legal.
As with many products of agriculture, the more scientists research the common flora of our planet, the more salutary uses they find for plant matter. Any cannabis advocate will tell you that marijuana is not the only product that derives from the cannabis plant. Famed dog lover and first American president George Washington grew cannabis, which was then referred to popularly as hemp, for its uses as a textile. It was harvested, processed, and fashioned into rope, fishing nets, and even clothing. Oils extracted from it had a number of uses that had nothing whatever to do with drug use or abuse.
A comparable plant that has gained wide acceptance and use is the opium poppy. In Washington’s time, it was the opiate properties of the poppy that were used and abused in liquid form as laudanum tinctures and smoked as opium. In our own time, chemicals derived from the opium poppy are used in the production of heroin. However, this same plant also gives us widely accepted medicines such as codeine and morphine. Over time, CBD advocates anticipate changes in the legal status of cannabis so that beneficial products can continue to be researched, refined, and distributed in forms that are both safe and well-regulated.