The Importance of Regulating CBD Use on Companion Animals

While legislation to legalize marijuana for medicinal and recreational use continues spreading throughout North America, the cannabidiol (CBD) industry continues its rapid growth due to its accessibility without the need for a medical card or federal legalization. The U.S. states which have passed legislation permitting medicinal use of marijuana dictate its use in humans under strict guidelines. However, there are no laws in place to control marijuana or cannabis use in animals.

Marijuana remains federally classified as a schedule I controlled substance in the United States under the Controlled Substances Act – with the exception of "hemp" (Cannabis sativa L with tetrahydrocannabinol <0.3% dry weight), a type of cannabis that was descheduled through the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill. Due to this distinction, hemp-derived CBD products have become more available to consumers, and CBD products aimed for use in animals have emerged in the market.

"It is this difference between THC levels found in hemp and cannabis that has caused so many legal complications. Hence, there is currently no drug containing CBD that has been approved by the FDA for animal use," explained Dr. Timothy Graham, former Chair and current member of the AAVSB Regulatory Policy Task Force, in his presentation at the 2021 AAVSB Annual Meeting & Conference.

Since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, the AAVSB has been closely monitoring the development of marijuana legislation and its potential impact on the veterinary regulatory community. "Even before all this latest legislative activity, in 2018 to be exact, the AAVSB Regulatory Policy Task Force was asked to explore potential guidelines related to the use and/or recommendation of cannabidiol products in veterinary practice," said Dr. Graham.

In a 2021 survey on pet owners, 50% shared they had tried CBD for their pets. Another study in 2021 reported that the top question pet owners who discussed CBD products with their Veterinarian asked about was product safety. Because so many consumers are utilizing CBD products for their animals or asking Veterinarians about the efficacy and safety of CBD products, the AAVSB's Regulatory Policy Task Force developed the AAVSB Guidance Document for CBD Use on Companion Animals to provide key information and practical guidelines to assist Member Boards.

"Hemp CBD for use in pets and humans differs significantly," said Stacey Evans, VP General Counsel at ElleVet Sciences and past member of the USDA Secretary's Advisory Committee on Animal Health during her presentation at the 2021 AAVSB Annual Meeting & Conference. "For instance, some animals barely absorb CBD, only CBDA and other acidic cannabinoids. Also, you need to dose differently and use different cannabinoids to address different conditions."

Without regulation for these products, there is no assurance of safety or efficacy for use in animals, as well as no standards to determine dosage or ingredients to help with treatment. 

"One study from Cornell showed that many products tested had inaccurate labeling, some products had no cannabinoids, and some products had high products of heavy metals. Let's get efficacy and safety data before selling products," urged Stacey Evans.

Even with the uncertainty surrounding CBD products, pet owners are still using them for a number of ailments for their animals, such as pain and anxiety management, skin issues, epilepsy, and more. The unregulated nature of CBD and lack of knowledge of its origins contributes to the uncertainty and conclusions of the AAVSB Regulatory Policy Task Force, and the intent of the guidelines is to act as a resource for licensees and clients to refer to as a basis for the use of CBD products in a defined treatment plan.

After much research, and due to the Federal law prohibition and the inconsistent approaches by the states along with the criminality aspects of the topic, the Task Force elected to present this guidance document. At this time, the Task Force agrees recommending model statutory and/or regulatory language is premature and specifically notes that this topic remains fluid and will likely be ripe for model regulatory language in the future.