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Air Bud: Cannabis and Pets

“CBD is estimated to have over 40 different receptors, or cellular targets, in both human and animal bodies."

Anyone who has entered into my orbit, whether online or in-person, knows I have a dog. He is, at this point, a three-year-old, 17-pound dachshund named Romeo and for the most part, he is perfect (just check my Instagram). He loves people, kids and other dogs, and is generally sweet and a good learner, too.

Unfortunately, he loves me and other people a little bit too much. We have been having separation issues since he was a puppy, which for Romeo means he barks when left alone. It is sad and stressful for him, me and all of my neighbors, and the fact that his humans have been around him non-stop during Covid has been wonderful, but less great for tackling his separation anxiety and barking.

I’m one of those intense dog humans who likes to think we’re living with our pets rather than lording over them, so in general, I’m loath to correct normal dog behaviors. But I also hate being an inconsiderate jerk, and excessive barking isn’t good for anyone involved, whether canine or human. More structure in training was a given. Increasing Romeo’s exercise regimen also took top priority, so he could work off any excess energy. I also decided to include cannabidiol (CBD) in his daily regimen, something that the American Kennel Club, countless veterinarians and many others heartily endorse.

Dogs have the same endocannabinoid system that humans do, so if one understands how CBD can affect humans, it’s a short leap to understanding how it can also help our furry friends. Research on the endocannabinoid system is always evolving, but basically, it’s the bodily system responsible for homeostasis, or regulation, and both mammals and humans possess one. It is intertwined with all physiological aspects of our bodies, and plays a role in regulating things like appetite, metabolism, sleep, pain, mood, memory, movement, inflammation and reproduction, to name a few.

Though I’ve had marketers trying to sell me on CBD bath bombs for dogs (no, thank you), I settled on tinctures and treats, which are the two best and most popular ways to administer the compound to animals. Overall, I favor tinctures, because they enter the bloodstream faster and skip the digestive process – meaning the resulting dose will be more potent and therefore more therapeutic.

“CBD is estimated to have over 40 different receptors, or cellular targets, in both human and animal bodies, and in fact has little affinity for CB1 and CB2 receptors, the major receptors of the endocannabinoid system,” said Tim Shu, veterinarian and CEO of VET CBD, which makes CBD products for pets.

Shu said that to help people understand the most common medical uses of Cannabis, he came up with an acronym: PAINS. 

“It stands for Pain, Anxiety, Inflammation, Nausea and appetite loss, and Seizures,” Shu said.

Shu explained how CBD helps with anxiety. “CBD activates 5HT1A receptors, which are also known as serotonin receptors. Activation of these receptors helps relieve anxiety and makes us feel good. CBD also inhibits enzymes known as fatty acid binding proteins, or FABPs. It’s thought that inhibition of these enzymes leads to increased circulating levels of anandamide, one of our bodies’ own endocannabinoids responsible for alleviating stress and anxiety,” he said. “The mechanisms of action for other conditions like seizure control act on entirely different receptors and cells.”

Overall, Shu says that, as I suspected, oral use is better for “systemic conditions,” like dog anxiety, and topical for localized skin issues. When it comes to pet CBD, just like with humans, proper sourcing and dosing to achieve the aforementioned effects is crucial. It’s widely believed and agreed upon that Cannabis-derived is better than hemp-derived when it comes to human medicines, and with pets it’s the same.

However, THC use in dogs freaks me out. I have definitely walked in on Romeo munching on an edible before, which was dosed for humans and sent him on a wild ride for a few days after that. It’s not an experience I’d ever like to repeat, so, again, dosing is crucial here and it’s why pet owners should only purchase CBD products – even those that are hemp-derived, that are formulated specifically for pets.

“The amount of THC in pet-focused cannabinoid products is more beneficial because of the synergistic effects of multiple cannabinoids acting in conjunction to yield greater therapeutic effects – the ‘entourage effect’ of full spectrum products,” Shu said, advocating for the presence of some THC that would be found in full-spectrum CBD. 

“Additionally, THC does have medical properties, and pets are able to benefit from it without getting high when used appropriately in the right dose and formulation,” Shu said, assuaging my fears. “THC can be used for appetite stimulation and nausea, inflammation and pain. It’s gotten a bad rep over the years because people only see what happens when pets get into their owners’ THC stash, which is selection bias.”

Overall, Romeo’s separation anxiety treatment has been a smash hit. I know that training and exercise have had a huge impact on his behavior, but it’s also clear to me that the introduction of CBD has made a significant difference. Rather than appearing drugged or lethargic (CBD is non-intoxicating), instead it seems like CBD appropriately relaxes Romeo. It allows him to focus on the task or moment at hand, which in turn means that training is easier and more successful. Being happy and in-the-moment is a dog’s natural state. They’re not supposed to be worrying about the past or the future, which is why dog anxiety is considered a disorder. 

A word of caution: Many veterinarians are not CBD-friendly, so would-be pet caregivers should approach theirs with caution and do some research first.

“[Veterinarians] never learned about it in school,” Shu says of why many are CBD-averse or ignorant. “We are hard-wired to fear what we don’t know. But let me put it this way: If we don’t learn everything there is to know about Cannabis and the endocannabinoid system, aren’t we doing our patients and clients a disservice? The endocannabinoid system is deeply intertwined with all other physiological systems, plays a crucial role in health and disease, and is present in humans and animals. But the stark reality is that our medical professionals know little to nothing about the endocannabinoid system, even though it was discovered over three decades ago, and medical schools aren’t teaching anything about it.”

Shu adds that he thinks it’s the equivalent of healthcare providers knowing nothing about the endocrine system, which is the system that creates and regulates hormones, and schools deciding it’s not worth teaching. So, much like with human Cannabis access, there’s still a long road ahead for mainstream acceptance of therapeutic Cannabis use for pets.

Still, the Cannabis community is not one to take such hurdles as anything other than just that – something to work around. Personally, I feel solid that providing CBD to my dog is a healthy choice. We’re not totally out of the woods with Romeo’s separation issues yet, but when I think of how far we have come in the last few months, I feel so relieved and happy I almost get choked up. Simply put, when used in concert with other training techniques, CBD helps my dog be a dog.

This article was originally published in the January 2022 issue of all Leaf Magazines.

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