CBD re­search is go­ing to the dogs

CSU vets are test­ing the ef­fect of al­ter­na­tive medicine on our furry friends.

The Denver Post - - DENVER & THE WEST - By Ali­cia Wal­lace

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.

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