CBD research is going to the dogs
CSU vets are testing the effect of alternative medicine on our furry friends.
FORT COLLINS» Riley lumbered into the laboratory and greeted scientists with sloshes of slobber.
The 135-pound Newfoundland is a favorite at the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital, where she’s among pooches participating in one of the first scientific clinical trials assessing the efficacy of cannabidiol in treating canine ailments.
In addition to being hailed for its potential medicinal benefits in humans, evidence is emerging that CBD, the non-psychoactive cannabis compound, could be a life-improving medicine for man’s best friend. In Colorado, Cbd-rich whole plant hemp extracts already are available for purchase online or at neighborhood pet shops.
Scientists and veterinarians caution, however, that clinical research is lacking, dogged by complications — notably marijuana’s Schedule I status and CBD’S shaky legal standing as it relates to another more familiar cannabis compound: psychoactive delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which can be toxic to animals.
CSU veterinary neurologist Dr. Stephanie Mcgrath began fielding queries about CBD’S therapeutic powers for pets after Colorado legalized recreational marijuana and cultivation of industrial hemp in 2012. Owners and vets alike called about administering CBD to pups for everything from sore hips, to seizures, to anxiety caused by fireworks and thunderstorms.
What Mcgrath heard was disturbing. Some pet owners were dosing animals with their own edibles or other medical marijuana products.
“That, as you can imagine, is not safe at all,” she said.
In addition to her concerns with the DIY nature of the dosing, Mcgrath said she was skeptical of what was being packaged and sold in pet stores. No qualified, peer-reviewed scientific studies had been conducted on CBD products for pets, she realized.
“Looking at it from a scientific standpoint and as a doctor, I felt really uncomfortable with the products being offered,” she said.
Whether it’s Thc-laden marijuana or industrial hemp with traces of that illicit compound, cannabis is a Schedule I substance. The uncertain legal landscape surrounding CBD oil — even the hemp-derived variety — has stymied studies for humans and animals alike.
Its murky legal status doesn’t just impede access to the whole hemp plant extract, said Michael San Filippo, spokesman for the American Veterinary Medical Association. It also makes it difficult for scientists to receive the blessing — and funding — for CBD research from major academic institutions wary of crossing federal boundaries, he said.
“There are a lot of unanswered questions,” he said.
Avoiding the placebo effect
A CSU research team led by Mcgrath is starting to provide some answers.
In March 2016, the CSU team completed work on a safety, toxicity and pharmacokinetic study of CBD in healthy dogs that was the first to demonstrate the compound was measurable in blood and safe enough to warrant a clinical study.
the study, 30 research beagles were given high doses of a Cbd-rich oil derived from Colorado hemp and produced by Fort Collins-based Applied Basic Science Corp. (ABSC). Of the three dosing methods tested — capsule, tincture and transdermal cream — tincture showed the most promise for safety and measurement in the bloodstream, Mcgrath said.
Side effects included diarrhea and an elevated liver enzyme, she said, noting that no blood test abnormalities prompted dogs to be removed from the study.
The results, under peer review, were enough for CSU to green-light clinical trials.
Last November, CSU researchers began enrolling dogs in two clinical trials measuring the effectiveness of ABSC’S Colorado Hemp Oil, or CHO, in treating osteoarthritis and epilepsy.
The CSU studies are conducted with a double-blind method, considered the most reliable way to eliminate the power of suggestion since neither the researcher nor test subjects (and in this case the pet owner) knows who receives a placebo.
Mcgrath leads the epilepsy study while Dr. Felix M. Duerr, a CSU veterinary surgeon, leads the arthritis study. By the end of June, CSU had enrolled 20 of 24 arthritis patients and 16 of 34 epilepsy patients.
The stakes are high for Mcgrath’s epilepsy study. About 30 percent of dogs on conventional anti-convulsant therapies continue to have uncontrolled seizures or experience side effects so debilitating that their owners consider it a poor quality of life, she said. Sometimes those dogs have to be euthanized.
“It’s imperative, really, that we find a drug or drugs that are able to control seizures in dogs — and humans, for that matter,” she said.
Over the course of the 12week trial, owners maintain a daily seizure log and patients are assessed and subjected to blood tests every four weeks.
The osteoarthritis study is a double-blind crossover, meaning that each dog will receive either a placebo or CBD oil for six weeks and then be “crossed over” to receive the opposite solution for the next six weeks.
Patients are required to walk 15 minutes daily, and their vitals and activity are monitored by a “doggy Fitbit” collar. Patients also pop into the lab every few weeks for a gait analysis.
“We like these clinical studies because it gives us a chance to help individual dogs and also advance veterinary science,” Duerr said.
Enter Riley, the slobbery 3-year-old Newfoundland suffering from a rough bout of arthritis.
“I’ll try whatever I can to help her”
Previous surgeries addressed elbow dysplasia and a torn ACL, but developing arthritis slowed Riley down. She can’t play for long without needing rest. Sometimes, she lies down to eat. She cries at night when the pain gets to be too much.
“I’ll try whatever I can to help her,” said Astonna Mccoy, Riley’s owner. “She needs to have a life.”
The Loveland resident signed up Riley for a stemcell study at CSU. The treatment relieved her arthritis pain for a few months.
Then, “like a light switch,” it wore off, Mccoy said.
That’s when Mccoy learned that CSU researchers were beginning clinical trials measuring the effectiveness of CBD in treating symptoms of osteoarthritis.
At first, she was “freaked” to have Riley try any derivative of cannabis. But the prospects of a long-term solution outweighed the miniduring mal risks, she said.
By early July, four weeks into the study, Mccoy reported Riley was doing well, but still had “good days and bad days.”
On some days, the Newfoundland wanted to take walks or play with her dog brother Tank, a 95-pound golden Labrador retriever mix. On other days, she was listless.
Mcgrath and Duerr said they expect the outcomes of their clinical studies to be available in the next 12 to 18 months.
Research a key investment
ABSC, which is funding CSU’S studies, isn’t the only CBD company investing in pet research.
Denver-based Therabis Pet Products, a subsidiary of Dixie Brands, is backing an efficacy study of its hemp-derived CBD products at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.
Although Therabis has received positive reception in the consumer and veterinary communities, clinical trials could validate the company’s CBD products, said Chad Reiling, company spokesman.
A Penn Vet spokeswoman declined to comment on the status or funding of the ongoing clinical trial.