CBD, short for cannabidiol, is one of the hundreds of chemical compounds naturally found in marijuana. Unlike THC, however, CBD is non-psychoactive, meaning it doesn’t produce a high — which makes it much more appealing for medical purposes.
Research suggests CBD may help reduce pain and anxiety, as well as prevent some types of seizures, including Lennox-Gastaut, Dravet syndrome, or tuberous sclerosis complex. But it’s not only humans that can benefit from the anti-seizure properties of CBD; recent research is suggesting that cannabinoids may also be effective at reducing the frequency of seizures in dogs.
Canine idiopathic epilepsy, which occurs with no known cause, affects up to 6% of the pet dog population worldwide, making it the most common canine neurologic condition. This condition is much more common among purebred dogs versus mixed breed dogs and affects males more frequently than females.
Just like humans, seizures in dogs manifest themselves through stiffening and paddling movements, along with the loss of consciousness. In between the seizure episodes, the dog is perfectly normal from a neurological point of view.
Typically, drugs like phenobarbital and potassium bromide are used to treat epileptic dogs, with about 60-70% achieving good seizure control. However, many dogs still don’t respond well to treatment, risking euthanasia due to the poor quality of life for the dogs and their owners.
Researchers led by Dr. Stephanie McGrath at Colorado State University wanted to investigate alternatives to conventional treatments. Inspired by promising research on humans with epilepsy treated with CBD, the researchers embarked on a small trial with 16 pet dogs with epilepsy.
The dogs were assigned randomly to either the treatment or placebo group, with those in the former group receiving CBD oil for 12 weeks. All of the dogs were required to stay on the standard anticonvulsant drugs, including phenobarbital and potassium bromide, as denying them their treatment would have been unethical. The dog owners themselves did not know whether their dogs received CBD or a placebo.
According to the results, about 90% of dogs who received CBD experienced a reduction in the frequency of seizures, the researchers reported in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. The degree of seizure reduction was linked to the CBD concentration in the canines’ blood.
“We saw a correlation between how high the levels of CBD were in these dogs with how great the seizure reduction was,” McGrath said in a statement.
But despite the promising results, McGrath is cautious as the study’s sample size is so small. She is planning to conduct more research with a lot more dogs and hopes that CBD could be shown to be a good alternative to anticonvulsant drugs. In the meantime, when asked whether pet owners and veterinarians should give CBD to epileptic dogs, McGrath said:
“If you want to try it, it probably won’t hurt,” McGrath says. “But do we know it will help? We don’t.”
The market is already pretty rich with CBD products marketed for pets, including CBD oil for cats. However, pet owners should not medicate their epileptic dogs solely with CBD. Until further research proves its anti-convulsive effects, you should use the marijuana extract in conjunction with standard treatment. Hopefully, new research will come out more conclusive as some dogs desperately need treatment.
“I see a lot of epileptic patients,” McGrath. “It’s a very heart-wrenching disease. It’s very hard to watch dogs have seizures. It’s very hard to coach owners through the process. It’s very traumatic.”
Tibi is a science journalist and co-founder of ZME Science. He writes mainly about emerging tech, physics, climate, and space. In his spare time, Tibi likes to make weird music on his computer and groom felines.