CBD: What you need to know about its uses and efficacy

When it comes to CBD, it’s important to separate the facts from the fiction.

CBD stands for cannabidiol, which is an oil extracted from hemp plants. Hemp does not contain a significant amount of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is the psychoactive component in marijuana. Hemp itself usually has no more than 0.3% THC. (Cannabis, which is the marijuana plant, contains 12% THC).

For this reason, CBD oil is now approved in most states. Most of the hemp plant is used for other purposes such as making fabric and paper.

Dr. Joseph J. Wakshlag, section chief and professor of clinical nutrition, says veterinarians can now recommend and discuss CBD oil with all clients.

No regulation

What medical problems can CBD help treat? According to some advertising, the sky is the limit. In reality, clinical studies show a few areas where CBD is helpful and some where it is not.

The use of CBD for any health problem is complicated by the fact that it is not FDA regulated or approved. There is a huge variation between products in terms of their quality, as well as potential contamination from THC and synthetic cannabinoid.

No standard therapeutic dose has been established at this time, and since many products are made without standards, you can’t always be sure exactly how much of the active ingredient is present in different batches of cannabinoid products anyway.

Wakshlag was the lead author on a study that evaluated 29 CBD products for pets and found heavy metal contamination in four of the products. The research team determined that two products had no cannabinoids in them. Of the remaining products, only 10 were measured to have a total cannabinoid concentration that was within 10% of the amount that they claimed to have on their label.

Concerns about CBD

Studies done with CBD have shown that it can affect liver enzymes, specifically cytochrome P450s and alkaline phosphatase, both of which are involved in the metabolism of many medications.

This means that there is a risk that using CBD in combination with other drugs will cause them to interact and change how the medications perform. It may also affect the prescribed or recommended dosages. So, while you may be able to pick up CBD treats at the store, you need to check with your veterinarian before giving them to your dog.

The most common side effects noted by owners were an increase in appetite and sedation.


Studies using CBD have greatly increased in recent years.

Based on the available literature, Wakshlag says that there seems to be a place for hemp products in the treatment of osteoarthritis, atopic dermatitis and seizures.

One of the first CBD studies was done at Cornell, and it showed that CBD helped with pain management in many dogs. In the study, more than 80% of the dogs with osteoarthritis experienced a decrease in pain, allowing them to be more comfortable and active.

Colorado State University has an ongoing study on using CBD as an addition to epilepsy control in dogs. The goal, as with all seizure medications, is to gain control of seizure activity — reducing it as much as possible, while having minimal side effects and maintaining good quality of life. At this point, their research demonstrates that CBD used in combination with traditional seizure medications can be a successful approach.

Another study by the Australian animal therapeutics company CannPal tested a CBD product for its potential to help with dogs with atopy (a dermatologic allergy resulting in itching and chewing). In the trial, dogs were randomly given a CBD product or a placebo for four weeks. The results were encouraging — showing 65% of the CBD dogs having at least a 50% decrease in itching and chewing. Of those dogs, half recovered from all signs of itchiness while being treated.

Other ongoing studies are also looking at how CBD could supplement cancer treatments, since it appears to be synergistic with some standard chemotherapy drugs. Working on its own, CBD may be able to affect cancer cell growth, but more research must be done.

Anecdotally, many dog owners have found that CBD also helps with anxiety. In a Cornell study, dogs were given CBD chews prior to a stressful event, and 83% showed a decrease in stress or anxiety-related behaviors. However, more research with different CBD products and dosages is necessary to understand how to effectively treat dogs with anxiety.

Bottom line

Even if you think your dog may benefit from CBD products, there’s still risk in just going out and buying a product to try. Be sure to consult with your veterinarian first about how CBD might affect your dog’s health, and ask them for a list of recommended brands or products.

Remember, this is still a new area of research in canine health, and so recommendations may vary between different studies.

This article has been reprinted with permission from the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine’s DogWatch newsletter, published by Belvoir Media Group. When you become a member of the Riney Canine Health Center, you will receive a free subscription to DogWatch.