Cannabidiols in veterinary practice

We are hearing more and more about the benefits of cannabidiols (also known as CBD’s) on the news and in the papers. You will undoubtedly have come across news and promotions via Social Media about the life changing benefits of these chemicals for you and your pets. Because of this we need to be able to discuss and advise our clients if they are contemplating using them on their own animals. Be aware and start the conversation!

Posted: 19 March 2020

Cannabidiols in veterinary practice


What are cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids are a class of chemicals that acts on the cannabinoid receptors in the brain. The cannabis plant contains over 100 cannabinoids, with Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) being a psychoactive cannabinoid which effects emotions, mood and mental state. Many other cannabinoids such as the cannabidiol CBD, have been found to have useful medicinal therapeutic effects.

The endocannabinoid system

All mammals have a system of cannabinoid neurotransmitters and receptors in both the central and peripheral nervous system. This system is known as the “endocannabionoid system”. Much research is being carried out on this system, and it seems important in many normal functions of the body, including;

  • Mental and cognitive processes
  • Growth and development
  • Fertility and pregnancy
  • Appetite

What are the benefits of cannabidiols?

There are all sorts of claims for CBD’s, many of which are unsubstantiated and need much more research. Much of the evidence is weak for these claims so it’s not surprising that we vets are reluctant to promote and use them at the moment. However, there do seem to be some significant benefits for some human patients, particularly those with uncontrolled seizures, so we will have to wait and see. Some of the other claims your clients may raise include;

  • Pain relief
  • Controlling immune responses
  • Treating cancer
  • Reducing anxiety
  • Improvement of mobility in animals with osteoarthritis
  • Reduction in tumour size
  • Improved appetite
  • Improved control of type 2 diabetes
  • Improved control of inflammatory conditions
  • Improved control of digestive issues
  • Improved control of epileptic seizures

What is the law regarding cannabinoids?

In September 2018, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate stated: “The VMD considers that veterinary products containing Cannabidiols are veterinary medicines,” and are only available on prescription from a Veterinary Surgeon.

Those that are available on prescriptions usually only contain one or two cannaboids and have little psychoactive effect and are typically made from hemp. Marijuana and THC containing products however are illegal.

CBD products for use in animals thus now require a marketing authorisation before they can be sold or supplied in the UK. They cannot legally be marketed or sold as a food supplement to animals and must be prescribed by a vet. Did you know;

  • There are currently no CBD based products that have been granted a UK veterinary marketing authorisation.
  • Hemp and CBD oil are not illegal.
  • THC is illegal, but importantly is not found in CBD oil. 

Are cannabidiols safe?

a. Marijuana

Marijuana can be toxic to animals, and we are increasingly seeing some animals accidentally or purposefully being given the drug. Signs of toxicity include;

  • Seizures
  • Agitation
  • Pneumonia

These signs can be seen at quite low levels, though fortunately the fatal dose is high.

Have you read our article on Marijuana poisoning? >

b. CBD oil

The typical medicinal cannabidiol oil has very low toxicity and can generally be used quite safely in people. It’s also importantly non-addictive.

Using human CBD products to treat animals

  • As there are currently no CBD products authorised in the UK for veterinary use, a veterinary surgeon may only prescribe a legally obtained human CBD product under the provisions of the prescribing cascade.
  • Administration of an unauthorised product containing CBD without a veterinary prescription is an offence under Regulation 8 of the VMR.
  • Companies supplying CBD products for human use in line with the requirements of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency must not indicate or recommend their products for use on animals.

What does this mean for your clients?

  • Start a conversation - if your clients are self-medicating their pets, urge them to talk to you about getting a prescription.
  • Prescription only - with a prescription, owners can legally purchase human CBD products (there aren’t yet any licensed veterinary forms); without one, they are breaking the law.
  • Keep talking - if they think their pet has a condition that might benefit from CBD, talk to them about it.