Pet parents and veterinary professionals throughout the state gathered at the Butterfly Pavilion on Saturday, October 7, for the 2017 Cannabis in Veterinary Medicine Symposium. Seven Colorado doctors at the top of their field gave talks that offered the most current information about using cannabis with animals, which is changing at a fast pace.
Dr. Stephanie McGrath, who specializes in neurology, is leading a Colorado State University study on the efficacy of cannabidiol (CBD) for the treatment of epilepsy and osteoarthritis in dogs. A leading advocate for testing and researching CBD in the veterinary field, McGrath spoke about veterinary CBD trials and the science involved.
“We have diseases that we don’t have treatments for that work, so there's a problem. A solution to that problem is trying to find a solution that does work, so we are always searching," she said. "That, along with this drug becoming legalized, prompted a lot more questions from clients and veterinarians. And [with] me being unable to answer their questions, that really bothered me. So the more I started looking, the more I realized what a void there was in cannabis research."
McGrath has spent her career treating seizure disorders and inflammatory brain diseases, as well as a variety of spinal cord disorders. So how did she end up pioneering CBD studies and information in the veterinary world?
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Around 3 to 5 percent of all dogs have genetic epilepsy, she told the audience, and 14 million dogs are affected by arthritis. These serious, costly medical issues afflict humans as well. CBD isn't the miracle cure-all for those suffering from such issues — whether humans or animals — but McGrath believes it can be an important alternative for both. She is currently running two trials at the CSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital, studying how effectively CBD can treat osteoarthritis and epilepsy in dogs.
To participate in her studies, dogs must have arthritis affecting one or more joints and a visible lameness that has been present for at least four weeks. The purpose of the study is to assess the effectiveness of a component of CBD in treating canine osteoarthritis. The CBD product is very low in THC (always less than .3 percent), so that there are no psychoactive effects, making it safe for dogs to use, she said.
Each dog is randomly assigned to receive either a placebo or CBD oil for six weeks, and then given the opposite medication for a subsequent six-week period. During treatment, each dog receives X-rays, daily pain assessment, fifteen minutes of walking per day, bloodwork and more. “I’m so fortunate to be at an institution that allows," McGrah said of her study. "I felt like there was only one possibility, and that was to start doing the research."
With 27 dogs currently participating, the studies are cataloguing dosage, oil application, side effects and how to counteract those side effects. The trials will provide veterinarians and dog owners around the world with factual research.
CBD dog treats and oils are sold by companies all around Colorado and online. Regardless of how much these businesses believe in their product, however, what they are selling is mostly based on marketing statistics and anecdotal evidence rather than hard facts, because the products cannot be tested by the United States Food and Drug Administration. But if dog owners are set on using CBD for pain treatment or arthritis, what is the best option available now?
“One option is to go to Applied Basic Science Corporation and get their products," McGrath recommended. "I’ve tested the product at CSU. I know what’s in it, and I know it’s safe.”
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If you want to buy another product or are already set on one that you feel works for your dog, check to see if you can get a “Certificate of Analysis,” which will at least show you how much THC is in the product (it should never be over .3 percent), as well as how it's made. That way, you can keep your own notes to monitor side effects, and you'll know whether the product is organic and free of pesticides or any other harmful impurities.
If there is one phrase repeated over and over by politicians, public health officials and those in the cannabis industry, it’s “we need more research.” But finding funding for these trials is extremely tough and time-consuming because of cannabis's Schedule I status under the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, especially at federally funded universities like CSU.
“[Groups] like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is dabbling in CBD and cannabis. These kind of private companies and sponsors are the only way left at this point to get funding," McGrath noted.