Cannabis-based health and wellbeing products have become big business in recent years, as consumers seek to manage various conditions and boost their fitness with CBD.

And now our furry friends are getting in on the act, led by change-makers in the US pet products industry. 

According to research body Brightfield Group, America’s CBD market will be worth almost US$24bn by 2023 – and seven per cent of sales will come from the pet market. 

Evidence of the benefits of CBD products for animals is also growing, and many pet owners – like Joey DiFrancesco of New York – are duly responding.

Joey runs online retailer LolaHemp, which sells CBD oils for pets. He was inspired to set up the business after witnessing the impact of CBD on his own dog, Lola.

He says: “Our Chihuahua had a horrific phobia of noise. Every time it thundered she would run under my mother’s bed and repeatedly shake.

“So she was one of the first dogs we tested our CBD oils on, and it completely takes the edge off for her. During harsh thunder storms, she can actually hang on the couch with us and she’s not nearly as scared.”

Anxiety is one of many doggy problems CBD products can reportedly help. Another is arthritis, with studies suggesting that CBD can relieve pain, thus dramatically improving life quality for older pets.

In a 2018 study by Frontiers of Veterinary Science, 80 per cent of the dogs experienced “significant” pain relief and increased mobility when given CBD medication.

Joey says: “The best application we’re seeing to CBD is for older and disabled dogs and those with joint pain and arthritis. Thousands of older dogs are benefitting from better management of that pain.

“Dogs that could not get up and down stairs previously seem to have a whole new burst of energy. They’re acting like their young selves again.”

Joey says he also has anecdotal evidence – from many happy customers – of the impact of CBD on animals with epilepsy who suffer seizures.

“We’re seeing dogs that used to have seizures every day, week or month having a lower frequency of seizures. Since they started using our products, some dogs have stopped having them altogether.

“We have a great success story about a working dog who was having severe seizures while keeping out different types of predators from its owner’s crops. Since she was on our products, she stopped having seizures and was able to go back to work.”

Joey believes CBD can also help to manage allergies in dogs and to calm aggressive dogs down, making interaction with humans and other dogs much easier for them.

Joey stresses that CBD is not a definitive treatment for epilepsy, with his findings based only  on customer feedback rather than clinical research.

But there is some evidence to back this up, with one small study finding encouraging results when using CBD oils to treat dogs with epilepsy.

Dr Stephanie McGrath of Colorado State University gave 14 dogs two daily doses of CBD oil for 12 weeks. The results showed a significant decrease in the number of seizures over this period.

Because CBD products are cannabis-based, many pet owners are reluctant to use them, partly in fear of side effects to their animal; and also perhaps because of the general taboo that can cloud anything connected to the c-word.  

Owners may understandably be hesitant to give their pets something that, in many countries, is considered toxic to animals.

Research into this issue, however, suggests a low chance of side effects for animals. A study published by the Veterinary Information Network, for example, showed that 80 per cent of dogs that were given CBD to help relive pain and anxiety experienced no adverse effects.

Dr. McGrath’s aforementioned study also notes that owners observed no major changes in their dogs behaviour.

While research into the benefits and possible dangers of cannabis-derived pet products remains limited, there is no shortage of demand for them. 

In a 2019 survey, 11 per cent of dog owners and eight per cent of cat owners revealed they had given their animal either CBD or Hemp supplements in the past.

The findings, by market research group Packaged Facts, coincides with the reported 63 per cent of vets in the US who say they are asked about the availability of these products at least once a month, according to the Veterinary Information Network.

It is not only household pets that are seeing the benefits of CBD-based animal products.

Californian company Phyto Farmacy, for example, is marketing CBD oils for pain relief in farm animals, particularly horses.

In the UK, there are currently no CBD products authorised for veterinary use. According to the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD), however, a veterinary surgeon may prescribe a legally obtained human CBD product “under the provisions of the prescribing cascade”.

Until September 2018, CBD shops in the UK were able to supply pet owners with products for their animals.

But the VMD then announced its firm stance on the issue and trade was halted. The VMD believes veterinary products containing (CBD) are veterinary medicines and should be regulated as such.

Nevertheless, Joey says he continues to attract lots of interest in his products from the UK.

“I’m probably asked every day if we can ship our product to the UK. Unfortunately, we have to abide by country-specific, state-specific and local laws. We can’t ship the areas where it is not legal.

“As the regulatory environment, the policy and the regulations of this specific market does progress we will 100 per cent service these people. But yes, there’s tremendous interest all throughout the UK for these products.”

The law in the US varies from state to state. Last year California passed a groundbreaking bill allowing vets to discuss and recommend CBD-based products for pets if they see fit. This is the first state to pass such a law and, if successfully implemented, a domino effect in other states could occur, Joey hopes.

Like the VMD, the British Veterinary Association is reluctant to support CBD use in animals until more evidence about its impact emerges. 

Daniella Do Santos, president of the association, told Cannabis Health: “The veterinary medicines regulator has stated that any products containing CBD must be regulated as a medicine, supported by scientific evidence and rigorously tested. At present no CBD-based products have been granted veterinary marketing authorisation in the UK.

“We’d strongly advice pet owners against using any human medications or treatments for their animals without first seeking veterinary advice. While research is ongoing to look into the efficacy and risks of CBD, there is currently a lack of sufficient robust evidence to demonstrate its health benefits and safety in pets.

“We’d encourage owners who have any concerns about their pet’s health to speak to their local vet for professional advice on safe and effective treatments.”

For now the CBD pet products industry is in its infancy, with little evidence-based scientific backing. But Joey sees a bright future for the sector as CBD products become as normal as dog chews and cat litter on pet owner shopping lists.

“It’s going to be a tough thing to shift to this holistic, natural form of medicine. But I do think the cannabis reform movement is very strong, and I do think it’s getting stronger by the day.

“As more owners, specifically in the pet industry, witness and experience these results for their pets, it’s only going to grow more momentum. The pressure and the weight from the public combined with these cannabis lobbying groups, and these organisations that are behind this movement, it should tip the scale.

“I think a large number of states have decriminalised cannabis and have medical marijuana programmes. So I think with momentum in five to 10 years, we’ll get there. But right now. It’s still in a grey area.”