We finally have a powerful study that says giving cannabidiol (CBD) based oil to dogs with osteoarthritis (OA) results in a “significant” decrease in their pain and an increase in their activity, and that it does so without side effects. That’s huge because it puts CBD on the medical map – and not just for dogs.
The peer reviewed research, conducted at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and published last July in the prestigious journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science, found that 2 mg of CBD oil per kg of dog, administered twice daily, increases the comfort and activity in dogs with OA.
This is a landmark finding because (1) OA — chronic joint inflammation caused by deterioration of joint cartilage — is the most common form of arthritis in dogs, just as it is in people, and (2) Currently, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin & Ibuprofen are the primary treatment for OA. The problem with NSAIDs is they don’t always work and they can hurt you. For example, the Cornell paper cites one literature review that found adverse effects in 35 of the 64 (55%) studies examined, the most common being gastrointestinal problems.
As with all good science there are a few important nuances to be aware of with the Cornell study.
First, notice that the researchers use a CBD based oil, not a CBD infused gelatin capsule or doggie treat. That’s because of something called “bioavailability” – the amount of the drug that actually goes to work in your body. They point out that capsules are absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract and go to the liver where they’re broken down with the result that anywhere from 80 to 100% of the CBD can be lost. On the other hand, CBD in oil will bypass the liver initially and go directly into the circulatory system, delivering its full load to the cannabinoid receptors throughout the body.
Second, as with any drug there’s lag time between when you start using it and when it takes effect. In this case it was 2 weeks. But … that was the first time the investigators took a pain and activity inventory since the start of the study. In other words, the CBD probably took effect earlier but they simply didn’t look for it. Conversely, after they stopped administering CBD to the dogs they continued to see reduced pain and increased activity 2 weeks on.
Third, the Cornell group caution that their findings might have to be restricted to the specific strain of CBD they used:
The industrial hemp product used in this study is a proprietary strain-specific extract of the cannabinoids … with relatively high concentrations of CBD and lesser quantities of other cannabinoids as well as small amounts of terpenes [a cannabis extract] that may have synergistic effects often termed the “entourage effect.” This brings to light that fact that different strains of cannabis produce differing amounts of CBD and other related cannabinoids making the results of this study specific to this industrial hemp extract that may not translate to other available products due to differing cannabinoid concentrations in this largely unregulated market.
That may sound discouraging but it’s just another way of saying that to know if and how a drug works you have to know exactly what drug you have – as is the case with any medicine.
Finally, a close reading of the paper tells you what was really behind the Cornell research. It wasn’t just that OA is prevalent in dogs and humans and we’re having a hard time treating it. What really drove them to investigate CBD was the avalanche of glowing reports from CBD buyers and sellers that it helps treat a wide variety of ailments for both people and pets. As they say in their paper:
A recent survey reported that pet owners endorse hemp-based treats and products because of perceived improvement in numerous ailments, as hemp products were moderately to very helpful medicinally. Some of the conditions thought to be relieved by hemp consumption were: pain, inflammation, anxiety and phobia, digestive system issue, and pruritus [severe itching of the skin]. One immunohistochemical study suggested that cannabinoids could protect against the effects of immune-mediated and inflammatory allergic disorders in dogs whereas another uncontrolled study suggested that CBD has anticonvulsant and anti-epileptic properties in dogs.
In other words, with the public sort of leading the way on the benefits of CBD, the scientists, to their credit, are trying to catch up. Legalization is certainly accelerating the process but there’s a lot of work to be done.
As Dr Andrew Forsyth, a three-time President of the British Columbia Veterinary Medical Association told Canada’s Global News this week, “The CBD oil is such an emerging area and I bet in the next 5 years or so we’re going to see the amount of research in that area explode.”