I get asked about CBD products almost every day. There’s a lot of claims being made online about the myriad diseases it can treat, and every website claims their product is the best. How do you pick the right one? How do you avoid getting scammed?
Unfortunately…. it’s hard. Shopping for a CBD oil, treats, etc for your pet will make you want to pull your hair out! Yes, there are decent products out there, and yes, I LOVE the potential cannabis products have to help improve our pets’ qualities of life. But the world of cannabis products is like the wild west – there is ZERO regulation. Because it is quasi-legal depending on your state, the government can’t regulate something it’s not officially allowing.
I am not recommending brands, but giving you the tools you need to pick a CBD product for your pet… and to decide what is crap and avoid. To be honest, I am not in love with any product yet. I love the concept, and CBD has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects, as well as anti-anxiety and anti-convulsant. It is not sedating, and actually alerting (The sedating is the other stuff, you’ll see). It also has anti-oxidant activity, and it activates receptors that may help treat nerve-based pain. Some studies show CBD can even target and kill cancer cells while preserving normal cells – lots of great potential in this drug! It has over 25 mechanisms of action that are known, and more are being studied.
You might have heard of the FDA coming down on manufacturers of CBD products, sending cease and desist letters. Fun fact – these orders have nothing to do with the contents or quality of the product! What gets the FDA all bent out of shape is claims on the label or the website stating the product can treat or cure a disease. That’s why you’ll notice many supplements have fine print somewhere saying their product is not intended to diagnose, treat, blah blah blah… That’s how companies make the FDA happy. The actual product? FDA doesn’t care.
It’s a crazy world, what can I say.
When it comes to picking a product, I could write a book explaining the details of how everything works, so forgive me for oversimplification here. There are three big things to consider. First, the claims on the label as to what the product contains. Fun fact – the odds of the product actually containing what they say it does is less than 50%. More about that later. Second consider the terpenoids and other cannabinoids (yes, there’s sooo many more!). We’ll go into detail on all of these. And third, the Certificate of Analysis is key, helps a little, but not all the way.
1 – The label
You’d think in 2020 you’d be able to buy a product and have confidence that you are getting what you are paying for. Nope! A couple studies have been done where the researchers buy several CBD products online and have a third party lab test them. Then they compare what’s actually in the product to what the label claims. One study was human CBD products and the more recent one was veterinary CBD products. Both showed that less than 50% of products contained what they said they did. Some products contained NO CBD at all!! Here’s the study on veterinary products and here’s the study on human products. It makes you just want to give up, honestly.
Granted, we are dealing with plants, and the extracts from them, so variability is expected, and accepted. It’s not like a factory that manufactures antibiotics. When you’re taking extracts from plants, no matter how strict your growing conditions, there’s going to be variability. But still, saying a product contains 100 mg of CBD and it contains 20 is not acceptable variability. Saying it contains 100mg CBD and it contains 96mg is fine.
My point? Look at the label with skepticism. But don’t give up…
2- Terpenes and terpenoids… and the other cannabinoids no one talks about
You’re shopping for a CBD product, so all you care about is CBD, right? Not so fast! You may have heard of the entourage effect. This basically describes the many benefits of other chemicals in the plant besides the CBD. Some products claim to extract ONLY CBD and leave everything else out – I think they are missing the boat.
The “others” are cannabinoids other than cannabidiol (CBD) and terpenes/terpenoids. Sure, CBD the most common and abundant cannabinoid, but there are many other cannabinoids that deserve your attention! Among them are CBG, CBN, CBDA, and CBC. Knowing what effect these have can help you decide on a product.
- Looking to help with pain? CBG and even THCA (if allowed in your state) can help.
- Want to help relieve anxiety? CBC has a relaxing, even sedating effect.
- Pet with seizures? CBN might be good to include.
OK, that’s cool, but what are terpenes and terpenoids? These are two words for the aromatic chemicals responsible for the unique flavor and odor of each product. Each terpenoid exerts is own medicinal effect… and you don’t need very much! A little goes a long way! Here’s examples of the more common terpenoids you might want to look for or avoid:
- Myrcene is the terpene that gives cannabis its characteristic smell. It’s also the most common terpenoid, meaning it’s in the majority of products. It can cause sedation, so you might want to try to avoid it if you’re looking to solely treat pain. For anxiety or insomnia, myrcene is a great choice.
- Pinene can increase alertness, and may help with pain. If the product you are looking at has myrcene, and you’re not wanting sedation because your focus is pain, the pinene may counteract that aspect.
- Caryophyllene has anti-inflammatory properties, making it very good to treat pain. It also can help make the tummy happy, and has some anti-anxiety properties.
- Limonene can help with anxiety/depression. It may help with pain as well.
- Linalool can have a sedation effect, so avoid it unless you’re looking for an anti-anxiety product that may take the edge off.
- Humulene has mild anti-inflammatory effects.
There’s no product I have found that contains the ratio of cannabinoids and terpenoids that I want, so it’s frustrating.
3 – The Certificate of Analysis (CoA) – a MUST HAVE!
This is key. With the variability of extracting chemicals from plants, every batch is going to be different. Last I heard, the state of Colorado required every batch of a cannabis product to be third party tested prior to sale in the state. I wish every state did that. This third-party testing produces a certificate of analysis, stating what was tested and the results. So all we do is look at that and we know what we’re getting, right? I wish! Still, if the company will not provide a CoA, run fast.
Testing costs money, and people start companies to make money. They don’t want to spend a bunch on testing. There are several categories of testing that are recommended, but only one is required. Several companies only do the minimum testing – avoid those! Here’s what the CoA should have:
- CBD level – this is the one everybody does, and the one required by CO (and maybe other states). Does the amount match what it says on the bottle? It won’t be an exact match, but should be reasonably close.
- THC level – with the legal requirement set at an arbitrary 0.3% limit, I’ve never seen any company exceed it. Too risky on their part. But it’s the one thing that’s always on there, because of the law.
- Terpenes/ terpenoids – now that’s you’ve read how important these are, if a company doesn’t show these on their CoA, don’t buy it. You need to know what is in there affecting your pet! Does it have myrcene that can make your dog sleepy? No way to know without this being tested.
- Cannabinoids – like the terpenes and terpenoids, knowing what “lesser” cannabinoids are in the product is key. These include CBDA, THCV, CBC, CGN, etc.
- Toxins/heavy metals – this might seem a little out of left field, but it’s HUGE. If a company doesn’t have this on their CoA, keep walking. Why? It turns out cannabis plants are really good at extracting toxins and heavy metals (like mercury and lead) from the soil. It will also soak up any pesticides in the vicinity! If you want to clean up the land, plant some cannabis! But you sure don’t want to consume any plants that are doing the dirty work! These plants will have the toxins concentrated in them, so you’ll be consuming the concentrated form of a variety of toxins and metals. Thankfully, this is rarely an issue in commercial lines, as the growing conditions are highly regulated, but you still want to test for it.
Before you even look at a CBD product, ask for the CoA. If they cannot provide it, run! If they provide the CoA, it’s a start, but you aren’t free and clear. Here’s what else to look for:
- Check the date. I’ve had companies give me CoA’s that are a couple years old. The date needs to be recent enough to match the product on the shelf. An old CoA means shady company.
- Lot or batch number. Ideally the lot or batch number matches the product you are looking at. If it doesn’t, it’s a CoA that may be a representative sample, but does not reflect your product, so what’s the point?
So before you go start picking a product, a few very key things to know about CBD for pets:
Talk to your veterinarian about picking a product. Sadly, I’ve learned few veterinarians feel comfortable discussing this, but at least it’s a place to start.
There is very little research on these products for pets, because their legal status was tenuous for years. Fortunately, many studies are in the works! Still, the lack of data is frustrating for all of us.
Most research is on dogs. Cats seem to be second fiddle in veterinary medicine, which is frustrating! They are so different from dogs, and it rarely is acknowledged.
One study showed CBD can help alleviate arthritis pain in dogs, but it also can cause an elevation of a liver enzyme called Alkaline Phosphatase, or Alk-P. No one knows what to do with that yet. Here’s the study, and here’s my article on high Alk-P in dogs.
Other side effects are yet to be discovered, but keep an open mind, and always tell your veterinarian what you give your pet!
There is a VERY wide range of dosing with these products, but the mantra is “start low, go slow.” Tinctures tend to be dosed more accurately than edibles, like treats. However, many tinctures tastes terrible, so you may need to get creative. In my experience, many pets I see are UNDER dosed, and not overdosed, FWIW.
Like everything in life, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. So take your time, do your homework, and don’t trust the website or the salesperson without doing your own independent thinking!
Thank you for the break-down. With so many products out there, picking one is pretty daunting; particularly if it is something relatively new.
I like to keep the CBD option for my dog open; I tried a couple of brands on myself but couldn’t say I felt any difference. Our PT, though used it with amazing results. Strangely, she was also unsure whether it was helping until one day she accidentally ran out.