Cannabidiol - is it really the greatest thing since sliced bread?

We are frequently asked about CBD, or cannabidiol, particularly in the form of CBD oil, and its various benefits.  As this is still a fairly new product to the veterinary field there is much we do not know, though anecdotally it has been reported to aid in the management or treatment of numerous medical conditions.  

Before we address its potential medical uses, a bit of background:

  • CBD is a cannabinoid, which is a class of chemical compounds that act on cannabinoid receptors in the brain to cause a variety of drug-like effects. The most well-known cannabinoid is THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), which is responsible for the psychotropic effects of the cannabis plant.  

  • CBD shares the same chemical formula as THC, but its molecules are arranged slightly differently.

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  • While the cannabis plant has a higher percentage of THC, the hemp plant has a higher concentration of CBD - which is why hemp plants are the main source of most CBD products. - https://www.healthline.com/health/cbd-vs-thc#further-clarification

  • It’s thought that some of the potential psychological benefits of CBD may due to its action on serotonin and GABA receptors, which are well-known to be associated with behavioral modifying effects.

On the medical front, claims have been made that CBD can aid in the treatment of conditions such as epilepsy and anxiety, and can help manage pain associated with arthritis or other orthopedic or neurologic injuries, purportedly without the risk of the side effects or “high” associated with THC.  The FDA just recently approved a drug called Epidiolex, whose main ingredient is CBD, for aid in control of severe seizures.  Many more studies are undoubtedly in progress.

While theoretically low-risk, potential side effects can include extreme lethargy or agitation, ataxia (stumbling, difficultly walking), increased anxiety, aggression, incontinence, and lowered blood pressure.  

An important factor to take into consideration is the legality of CBD.  According to the DEA any cannabinoid-related product is classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substance Act.  Even among experts there seems to be some ambiguity about the legality of possessing, selling, or prescribing CBD. Virginia did recently pass HB 1251 that allows physicians to issue a written certificate for the use of cannabidiol and THC-A; however, at this time this does not apply to veterinarians.  At the federal level, CBD is still considered illegal.

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Photo courtesy of Vaping360