A new group of companies is providing cannabis and hemp products for pets that are said to treat issues ranging from anxiety to cancer. The primary ingredient in the products is cannabidiol (CBD), a chemical compound that can repress the transmission of chemicals between nerve cells. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which has not approved cannabis or hemp for use in animals, has issued warning letters to several of the companies. “Often [non-FDA approved drugs do not even contain the ingredients found on the label,” said Michael Felberbaum, press officer for the FDA. “Consumers should beware when purchasing and using any such products.”
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals does not support using cannabis or hemp to treat pets. “There have been no scientifically accepted studies comparing marijuana products to known pain control medications,” said Dr. Tina Wismer, a veterinarian and the medical director of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. “In addition, research has not been able to adequately define what a safe and effective dose of marijuana would be, due to the wide variety in product available.” Dr. Wismer made correlated statements concerning hemp.
Similarly, Dr. Steve Hansen, a veterinarian and president and CEO of the Arizona Humane Society, said he is concerned about cannabis and hemp-based products for pets because they are not FDA-approved or registered. “I would ask what research has been done and try a product very cautiously,” Hansen said.
Dr. Sarah Brandon believes that scientific studies will eventually prove CBD is safe and effective for pets. Brandon is a veterinarian and the executive director of Canna Companion, a company that creates a hemp-based product for dogs and cats.
Canna Companion collected data during informal tests of its product between February 2014 and December 2015 and plans to present its findings in June 2016 at the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine Forum in Denver. Her husband, Dr. Greg Copas, a veterinarian and the chief medical officer of Canna Companion, added that he and Brandon have talked to several universities about beginning clinical trials. “Right now, we’re looking at Tennessee State University, the University of Kentucky, and the University of California, Davis,” Copas said.
Copas became interested in treating pets with hemp about 15 years ago when he began using oral cannabis sativa supplements. Brandon and Copas first treated their own pets, then pets of friends and family, and lastly, pets of their voluntary and informed private practice clients. Canna Companion is composed solely of ground hemp in vegetarian capsules and offers 205 mg for small doses and 600 mg for extra large doses. By winter 2016, Canna Companion also plans to offer products with higher amounts of CBD for horses.
“We use several different strains [of hemp],” Brandon said. “We want to make sure the THC ratios are low.” Copas said Canna Companion helps with arthritis and joint pain but is not a cure-all. “We recommend using it in conjunction with other therapy [and medications],” Brandon said.
Like Brandon and Copas, there are many other veterinary leaders looking to cannabis to treat animal ailments. Dr. Stephen M. Katz, a veterinarian and founder of Therabis, a New York City company that created a hemp-based powder for dogs, said his product assists with joint mobility, anxiety, allergies, and pathological scratching. By the second quarter of 2016, Therabis will offer a product for cats. “It’s a formula that I’ve been working on and refined for the better part of 10 years,” Katz said. “I’ve used the three different formulations [for small, medium, and large dogs] on approximately 100 dogs each.”
The sachet for dogs up to 20 pounds contains three mg of CBD, the sachet for dogs between 21 and 50 pounds contains five mg of CBD, and the sachet for dogs 81 to 100 pounds contains seven mg of CBD. Katz has witnessed Therabis relieve separation anxiety and pain related to the hip joint. “[Many] dogs suffer from separation anxiety,” Katz said. As a result, they chew or bite the walls in their homes while their owners are away. “I can’t tell you how much drywall I’ve removed from intestines. Also, [New York] is one of the epicenters in the country for dog allergies.” Katz said. Therabis has partnered with Dixie Elixirs, a Denver company that creates a variety of human-grade products containing cannabis extract. In 2016, Therabis will partner with the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine to start clinical trials on its product.
Marjorie Fischer, director of Treatibles, a company that creates hemp-based products for animals, said her company has benefited from the knowledge and experience of a cannabis-based company. Treatibles started in 2013 as a sister company of Auntie Dolores, a California company that makes gourmet human edibles. Fischer said Treatibles’ baked products come in two flavors: pumpkin and blueberry. They contain one mg of CBD in a small treat for animals up to 50 pounds and two and a half mg of CBD in a large treat for animals 50 pounds and over. Treatibles is working to create a grain-free version of the product for dogs and a cat-specific product as well.
“Our customers report that Treatibles can be helpful with decreasing nausea and increasing appetite… [as well as] relieving anxiety, joint pain, seizures, aggression, and behavioral issues,” Fischer said. The company has received positive feedback from thousands of customers.
Alison Etwell, founder of TreatWell, said her company creates a variety of cannabis products for people and animals alike. “We’ve been treating dogs for the past decade for seizures and serious illnesses like cancer,” Etwell said. “We use cannabis because we think hemp is not safe for animals. You need the THC in order for the CBD to bind well to the brain’s [neuron] receptors.” Etwell said TreatWell’s pet tinctures are made with the extract of flower that comes from two different strains of cannabis, one with a 20-to-1 CBD to THC ratio and the other with a 1-to-1 CBD to THC ratio. The first tincture is used to treat anxiety, arthritis, and mild pain; the second for cancer, severe pain, and topical skin conditions.
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Both tinctures come in two sizes, a small pet size that contains 75 mg of cannabinoids total and a large pet size that contains 300 mg of cannabinoids total. TreatWell works with veterinarians and animal experts to design a treatment plan for each pet patient. “It’s easy to dose up or dose down with a tincture because you can put [the liquid] on the side of their mouth or in their food,” Etwell said.
Dr. Tim Shu, a veterinarian and founder of VetCBD, also prefers to use cannabis over hemp. Shu, who is a medical cannabis patient, said cannabis has been bred to produce resinous flower, while hemp has been bred to produce fiber. Shu designed an olive oil-based tincture that’s easy to measure and give. Each bottle of VetCBD contains 115 mg of CBD and is administered based on the animal’s weight. Shu said VetCBD has received positive feedback from thousands of pet owners in California.
“It works amazingly well for pain, arthritis, nausea, separation anxiety, and noise anxiety,” Shu said. “We have some cancer patients who take a dosage roughly four to five times the regular dose. We haven’t seen any issues.” All companies stated an overdose of their product would not be lethal and added that use of their product would not cause an animal to experience a euphoric high. An overdose could result in nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, sleepiness, or dizziness: basically, the animal might “act drunk,” as Etwell said, but the symptoms would subside within a few hours. All in all, those backing cannabis-based products are confident in their safety.
The companies added pet owners should talk to a vet before beginning treatment with products containing CBD. “We really have to find out the underlying issue and address it,” Shu said. If a pet owner notices that their pet is experiencing negative effects from exposure to cannabis or hemp, they should call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435 or visit the organization’s website to learn more.