Cannabis isn’t just for humans. The active compounds in the plant are also showing promise in the lab when it comes to treating the pain associated with certain types of canine arthritis.
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Although typically referred to as a single condition, arthritis is actually a category of over 100 diseases and conditions that affect joints and their surrounding tissue. Pain, stiffness and swelling, and aching joints are common symptoms. There is no known cure, and it is not just something that affects humans.
Over 70 million dogs in America are currently diagnosed with osteoarthritis, OA. OA refers to a chronic form of joint inflammation that is the result of joint cartilage deterioration. It is a painful condition experienced by dogs, especially those in their senior years.
Because there is no known cure for arthritis, mitigation of symptoms is often what veterinarians and pet owners aim to assist with. Treatment options for dogs, similar to those available to humans, include a variety of NSAIDs, steroids and opiates at a doctor’s discretion to reduce pain.
Each of these standard treatments carries its own risks including increased risk of heart attack, stroke, weakening of bones and even addiction.
And the pain is real. Dogs with OA can lose the ability to jump on beds, couches and other familiar sleeping spots. They can lose the ability to enjoy the long walks they once did and even have difficulty getting off of the floor in some cases. Pain and inflammation from OA can also affect their once restful sleep.
A study published by BMC Veterinary Research investigated the presence of cannabis-like compounds in the arthritic knees of dogs undergoing surgery. Fluid was drawn from the arthritic knee and the opposing, unaffected knee and analyzed for compounds including AE (Anandamide) and 2-AG, two naturally occurring cannabinoids chemically similar to the compounds found in cannabis.
They found that the fluid collected from joints affected by OA “had significantly higher levels” of AEA and 2-AG. The body seemed to ramp up production of these and other chemicals in the affected joints, likely for therapeutic effect.
The importance of this finding is not lost on veterinarians like Dr. JoAnna Pendergrass, who writes for American Veterinarian and has written about this study.
“Studies like this provide more scientific insight into how cannabis works in the body,” she reminded us in a call. “This study lends support to do more research.” Dr. Pendergrass said that, in time, she would like to see, “how cannabis can help with seizures for dogs with epilepsy as well as other conditions experienced by horses, cats and other companion animals.”
It’s a fair question and worth looking into since mammals and all vertebrate animals have an endocannabinoid system, ECS, that produces and utilizes cannabis-like compounds naturally. In fact, the authors of this research have already proposed larger studies to investigate the role of the endocannabinoid system for diseases in canines to discover more information that could help the whole of veterinary medicine.
Veterinarians are quick to warn pet owners to not be too quick to take matters into their own hands. While safe, whole plant extracts like VET CBD are available for pets in markets like California, giving your animal a cannabis preparation without veterinary guidance is not a good idea. Cannabis intoxication of your animal, while not likely to be fatal, can create a scary, anxiety-laden experience for an animal that didn’t ask to be high.
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As Dr. Pendergrass reminded us, “while these compounds may be helpful, we need much more veterinary research before we can fully implement” cannabis into standard animal therapies.