Cannabidiol (CBD) is just one of the over 150 phytocannabinoids found in the Cannabis Sativa plant. Using CBD for its health benefits is one of the most energized wellness trends happening today thanks to more robust data, better knowledge and changing laws that have facilitated CBD’s wellness potential. Of course, pet lovers want to share with their dogs the same benefits CBD provides people.
As Brad Tipper, CEO of Prospect Farms, sums it up: “Because our pets comfort us, we want to help comfort them.”
Hemp-based CBD products for pets have been with us since 2016. For some pet owners, these health products have worked well; for other pet parents, they are still searching for something to improve the well-being of their companion animals.
“Recently there has been an increase in the alphabet soup of new cannabinoids making their way into pet specific formulations,” explained Chris Denicola, founder of Santeer, referring to CBG (cannabigerol), CBN (cannabinol), CBDV (cannabidivarin) and CBDA (cannabidiolic acid). “While CBD is still the go–to cannabinoid, these additional compounds can provide many added benefits.”
However, how the specific product is made and how each delivers the cannabinoids can differ. Understanding how a pet will respond to a given product is mostly about understanding the product itself; namely the cannabinoids used, the amount of each cannabinoid and the way the compounds are formulated into the product. The current slate of hemp-based cannabinoids includes:
CBD (Cannabidiol): Having been in pet products for many years, CBD is primarily used for calming, mild to moderate pain and inflammation relief, but at higher doses can result in sleepiness. According to Denicola, doses should be based on the size of the pet so look for a product that is clear about size/dose recommendations.
CBG (Cannabigerol): CBG has been around for a few years and is the second most common hemp–based cannabinoid after CBD. Popular uses for CBG are to help with a pet’s temperament and reduce inflammation. When looking for CBG pet products, Denicola recommends seeking a product that has at least equal parts CBG to CBD to maximize the effects.
CBN (Cannabinol): CBN is another cannabinoid that has been around for a few years but not incorporated into many products. According to Denicola, CBN is a great compound to use for pain relief and muscle spasms. He considers CBN to be a great complimentary cannabinoid when used in conjunction with CBD and CBG.
CBDV (Cannabidivarin): CBDV is an up–and–coming cannabinoid that is difficult to find on the market due to its scarcity and very high cost to produce. CBDV is being used in trials to learn its effectiveness as an alternative to CBD for seizures. It is typically used for pain, inflammation and nausea relief.
CBDA (Cannabidiolic Acid): CBDA is one of the newest cannabinoids to be introduced into pet products. CBDA is the natural, plant derived version of CBD and has been shown to have a better effect than CBD. Most studies and use cases have focused on its pain relief along with its anti-anxiety and anti-nausea effects. When looking for newer CBDA based pet products, look for doses in the 5mg to 10mg range.
According to Dr. Trina Hazzah, co-founder and president of the Veterinary Cannabis Society, there is limited research on the majority of phytocannabinoids, but there is substantial research on the potential benefits of the major (CBD and THC) and some of the minor cannabinoids.
“With the lack of regulatory oversight of many of the hemp-derived cannabis products out there and potential inconsistencies in labeling and accuracy of potency of products, it has created a buyer beware environment,” she said. “As an agricultural product, cannabis extracts may potentially be contaminated with pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, heavy metals, bacteria pathogens, mycotoxins and potential residual solvents.
“Therefore, performing due diligence in assessing the safety and potential efficacy of a cannabis product must include the evaluation of a Certificate of Analysis [COA],” she continued. “A COA is a laboratory evaluation of a cannabis product providing an objective measurement of its contents. Ideally, a COA should come from a third-party laboratory displaying levels of each cannabinoid and terpene as well as levels of any contaminants or potential pathogens present.”
Several pet health brands have offered their expertise on the topic of hemp-related products and what pet industry – especially retailers – need to know so they can better pass this valuable knowledge to pet parents.
Erika Sauerwein, Elixinol’s director of marketing, recommends that retailers always look for a certificate of analysis for proof that the ingredient list is reliable, and that each batch was tested by a third-party lab. Results should be published and easily accessible for easy viewing to enable consumers to know that the product is free from fillers and any contaminants that could be potentially harmful to their companion animals.
With the proper product, pets can take full advantage of the interaction between CBD and the endocannabinoid system. CBD can have positive effects on everything from stress and hypertension to pain relief for muscles and joints to overall wellness.
“Our pet products are made with quality, U.S.A.-grown hemp, and are formulated with broad-spectrum hemp extract with no detectable levels of THC. The products go through the same rigorous third-party testing and quality control as the brand’s full product line. In addition, we pair CBD with functional ingredients for optimal results” said Sauerwein, referring to turmeric, ashwagandha and anivestin to support anxiety, mobility and overall well-being.
“Without good absorption the product won’t work, and with good absorption you can use less product to get a good effect,” noted Amanda Howland, co-founder of ElleVet. “It’s using the product efficiently to achieve the serum concentrations necessary for good efficacy. CBDA is essential for absorption, and we have proven this. We have also shown that many species only absorb CBDA. Look for a 1:1 ratio of acidic to non-acidic molecules in the product. Ask for the COA to make sure this is true. Isolates are not a good choice because they won’t have the acidic forms. Ask for the pharmacokinetic study data that will show absorption of the product. All products should have pharmacokinetic data as you can’t determine accurate dosing without that information.
Many companies claim to be “the best,” so how do you know you are getting the right product? Howland advises retailers to ask these questions to make sure they are getting a product that works for their customers:
Efficacy: Has the actual product been tested in a clinical trial at a respected university? Are the results available? Science and data are essential.
Source of hemp: Does the company buy hemp from another source, or do they grow it themselves? Do they have control over growing and extraction from seed to product? Many companies buy from the same bulk manufacturers; look for phrases like “sourced from” or “grown for us.”
CBDA: Does the product contain 1:1 CBD to CBDA ratio? CBDA is essential for absorption and for inflammatory issues.
Extraction: What is their extraction method? Some methods, such as CO2 extraction, do not preserve the acidic forms such as CBDA and CBGA.
Dosing: Is the dosing specific for different issues? Is the dosing based on science? Dosing varies greatly depending on issue and species. Without a scientific study, the dosing is based on guesswork.
Support: Does the company provide full support to retailers and their customers? Being there to answer questions and having a veterinarian on staff is key.
Since founding Healthy Hemp in 2014, Dave Merrell understands that brands and retailers be as comprehensive, yet simple, as possible when talking to customers about pet CBD products. The first thing to note, states Merrell, is “the three most well-known benefits of CBD are anxiety relief, pain relief and reduction in inflammation.”
“But when people ask, ‘Does it work?’ that answer can depend on the quality of the product and the dosage, and after they wait 20 to 30 minutes for it to take effect,” he continued. “Make sure people remember that CBD is a medicine, and treating it accordingly is the best way to make that investment on a nice bottle of hemp oil or treats worth it.”
Just like with any medication, he recommends that retailers look for ingredients that are pure and transparent about sourcing and extraction. Merrell is a proponent of products made with U.S. organically grown, full-spectrum hemp for the benefits of the whole plant, and the entourage effect of its cannabinoids and terpenes.
“Because it offers the most benefits, and is the most potent extraction form, full-spectrum hemp is the gold standard for CBD pet products,” he stated. “CBD pet products, even if they are made with full-spectrum hemp with trace amounts of THC – the euphoria-inducing cannabinoid – will not have psychoactive effects on pets because the THC level is kept at less than 0.3 percent for legality. Hemp naturally has higher levels of CBD and lower levels of THC. Hemp is understandably confused with hemp’s sister plant, marijuana, which is naturally higher in THC and lower in CBD.”
And back to the reminder that CBD is medicine, Merrell encourages proper dosage as directed on the label and consistent use – he recommends with food – is best for measuring the success of the product.
“Finding the right dose can be challenging for individual pets because some require more than the standard recommended dose of 1 mg per 10 pounds of weight,” he concluded. “And some do well with less than the recommended dose. It’s important to know that if the standard dose isn’t giving the results expected that the dose can be safely increased up to 4.5 times [4.5mg per 10 pounds] without adverse effects, as Healthy Hemp’s pharmacokinetic and toxicity study we did with Purdue University has shown.”
Jason Lysak, president of Heirloom Pet Products, believes it’s important for retailers to know the difference between hemp and CBD products. According to Lysak, products typically listed as hemp are made with hemp seeds while CBD is made from the whole plant. Products listed as CBD have higher cannabinoid content than products with only hemp. He warns retailers about those products on the market that are listed as hemp but are actually CBD. That’s where he advises retailers to examine the brand’s Certificate of Analysis, which is only on products that contain CBD and shows levels of THC, heavy metal and pesticides.
In addition, Lysak feels oil-based products, which he admits are good, have low bioavailability or absorption. He prefers water-soluble CBD, which is made is by emulsifying the CBD oil and reducing the size of the particle so that it is easily absorbed. Although water-soluble CBD is not as well-known as CBD oil, Lysak expects it to gain traction because of its absorption rate.
“Product evolution has allowed us to create a more effective products that offer a host of benefits when it comes to CBD and our animals,” Lysak stated. “We know mammals’ bodies are mostly water and the science has shown CBD oils have very low bioavailability, so all of our products are made with water-soluble CBD. When I introduce our brand, we like to make the comparison of oil vs. water soluble as, iPod and iPhone. The iPod was a great product, but the iPhone was on another level when it came to product evolution.”
Trevor Crotts is president of Natural Doggie, an animal wellness brand established in 2013. His company focuses on sustainable-sourced ingredients and products that focus on helping animals with pain, mobility, allergies and anxiety so they can live a happy and healthy life. His product line includes organic, full-spectrum CBD as well as CBG and CBN.
“CBG has been found to be a natural anti-inflammatory and alleviating pain,” Crotts noted. “It alleviates pain in joints and research has indicated it can assist in calming down colitis other digestive issues. CBN is a naturally occurring sedative compound that has been shown to have soothing and slightly sedative properties. Combining CBD and CBN creates an ideal formulation for calming anxious pups and keeping them happy and healthy. CBN can help pets improve their mood and relax. Some research has shown improvement in muscle and joint pain in addition to mood enhancement.”
His advice for store owners and pet parents is to do their research.
“There is a lot of CBD snake oil on the market that is incredibly ineffective and misleading,” Crotts explained. “A lot of the CBD oil for pets is simply relabeled products from human CBD companies. We advise consumers to look for animal wellness companies that make CBD products vs. CBD companies that make animal wellness products. There is a difference. You can usually tell by the marketing. Transparency is key. We include QR codes to COAs on every one of our labels. We recommend not purchasing a product unless there is some transparency in the supply chain and looking for reputable lab results.”
According to Tracy Werner, sales manager for Ziggy Marley’s Apawthecary by One Farm, there are no shortcuts to a high-quality hemp extract.
“The No. 1 indicator of quality is that both the farm and manufacturing are USDA-certified Organic,” she stated. “Organic standards go above any other current pet supplement certifications. A full-spectrum hemp extract will have all of the cannabinoids in the ratios that nature has intended, and that extract should be created using supercritical CO2, which is solvent-free and gentle for the environment and pets. Another indicator of quality is transparency from the manufacturer – can they tell you where and how exactly the hemp was grown?”
While there are many published studies of CBD in dogs and cats, Werner explains there are none currently available for CBG and CBN.
“We just don’t know at this time the correct dosing for these cannabinoids in dogs and cats,” she noted. “No strains of hemp have high enough CBN to be viable as product, so it’s created in the lab via a chemical conversion process that involves solvents and heat.”
One Farm believes in the entourage effect, in that the whole spectrum of cannabinoids in the hemp flower act synergistically for whole body wellness. A full-spectrum hemp extract oil will have CBD, CBG, CBN, among other cannabinoids in the amounts and ratios that nature has intended.
“We do not yet know the effects of higher amounts of CBG or CBN in relation to overall wellness, especially in dogs and cats,” she added. “Singling out CBG or CBN, for example, is like isolating ascorbic acid from an orange. Holistic practitioners for ages have believed the whole plant, fruit, seed, etc. has all the synergistic compounds that make the native Vitamin C much better and efficient for the body than the isolated ascorbic acid.”
Pawse co-founders Matt Frazier and Bradley Kerrick state that, when it comes to cannabis, trying to understand the components involved in such a complex plant can be overwhelming. One of the first things they feel the industry needs to understand is that “marijuana” and “industrial hemp” are both cannabis. The only difference is the amount of, and ratio of, specific cannabinoids present in the different plants. Marijuana typically has much more of the psychoactive cannabinoid THC. Industrial hemp, on the other hand, is required by law to contain under 0.3 percent of THC at the time of harvest as well as in finished goods for sale to the consumer.
CBD, along with THC, are the most abundant and well researched cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. According to Frazier, CBD has been researched for use as a treatment for everything from arthritis and seizures to hair loss and male pattern baldness. The reason for this is that the bodies of people and pets are full of endocannabinoid receptors known as CB1 and CB2. These receptors, which are found in the brain, skin, intestine and spleen, help regulate everything from inflammatory responses to appetite. CBD and other cannabinoids interact with these receptors to regulate and modify a myriad of systems and responses within the body.
As Frazier explains, “the potential for cannabinoids to improve our pets’ lives is incredible. We have seen amazing results with its ability to address such a wide variety of issues from joint discomfort to separation anxiety, and we are really only scratching the surface.”
Emma Kumbier, veterinary outreach coordinator for Primal Pet, explains that early evidence suggests that CBD and CBG may have similar properties, including their non-psychoactive nature. For example, research suggests that the CBD cannabinoid is great for supporting a healthy inflammatory response, and the CBG cannabinoid is supportive of urinary and gastrointestinal health. Unless it’s an “isolate,” she says most cannabinoid products on the market will have trace amounts of various other cannabinoids. She also has the following advice for retailers.
“Rather than looking for warning signs, I like to discuss what you should look for in cannabinoid products,” noted Kumbier. “In the pet industry, an NASC quality-seal is the first thing I look for. Per their website, ‘the NASC Quality Seal identifies products from companies that are committed to quality, vigilance, and continuous improvement to promote the well-being of companion animals.’ Products fit with the seal have undergone rigorous quality audits and continuously demonstrate ongoing compliance. In addition, look for CBD/CBG brands that publish their certificate of analysis reports on their website. This can include potency, heavy metals, microbials, and other relevant third-party tests.”
Tipper says he is the first to admit that there is a lot of confusion around CBD, and that not all CBD products are created equal. The brand’s CEO believes education can ensure that the industry is providing the safest, most effective CBD support to our canine companions.
In addition to advising retailers buy CBD products only from companies that can provide independent, third-party lab results and a Certificate of Analysis with details on cannabinoid concentration plus heavy metal, pesticide and bacterial analyses, Prospect Farms is an advocate for full-spectrum CBD products, which preserve all the hemp flower’s beneficial compounds. The brand’s products also contain a proprietary blend of terpenes to promote the entourage effect that, according to Tipper, amplifies physiological benefits when all cannabinoids and terpenes are present; thus, yielding the most effective CBD product.
“At Prospect Farms, we believe a truly clean product should have non-detectable results, which is why we test our products upwards of 14 times from flower to extract to finished product to provide our customers with true transparency,” Tipper concluded. “We ensure our product is truly free from mycotoxins, heavy metals, microbiological contaminants, bacterial contaminants, pesticides and residual solvents. With this level of testing and transparency, we aspire to elevate the CBD pet industry standards by providing true transparency into our supply chain from farming to extraction and formulations to manufacturing.”
Treatibles founder and CEO Julianna Carella believes that, as the industry progresses, the discovery of the benefits of other cannabis compounds, such as CBG and CBN, has ushered in the development of new products containing them. She expects new pet products with these extracts will slowly roll out as brands diversify their product range.
“CBG is deemed the Rolls Royce of cannabinoids since it is quite expensive to extract,” she explained. “It is great for pets with anxiety or neurological conditions, for example, since it interacts with serotonin receptors in the brain. It also contributes to pain relief, so its inclusion is an easy transition for CBD pet brands.”
“CBN is a minor cannabinoid compound,” she added. “Just like CBG and CBD, it has properties that could be beneficial when used therapeutically. It is also important to note that CBN is derived from the traditional cannabis plant. CBD is typically extracted from hemp since it contains a higher amount of CBD, but it can also be extracted from the cannabis plant. Since it is a minor cannabinoid, there is not a lot of research available to make any affirmative conclusions on its touted benefits.”
The hemp-CBD sector remains a complicated category that required a great deal of research, study and education. Once retailers select which reputable brands they trust, it’s up to the store owner and staff to fully study the product line and pass that knowledge on to their customers. After all, it’s vitally important to match the appropriate product with each individual companion animal that will benefit from its ingredients. Failure to do so could do more harm than good.