Cannabis for canines

New research shows CBD may be dog’s best friend in the fight against epilepsy


Epilepsy is the fourth most common neurological disorder affecting humans, and in recent years, CBD has become a popular treatment option for it. In 2020 the FDA even approved a CBD-based medication called Epidiolex for two rare forms of epilepsy. For those suffering from this disorder, CBD is showing a lot of promise and offering a lot of hope.

But could it also work for dogs? After all, epilepsy is the most common neurological disorder affecting our canine companions. And, according to Stephanie McGrath, an associate professor of neurology at Colorado State University (CSU), about a quarter to a third of all dogs using pharmaceutical epilepsy medication continue to experience frequent seizures and negative side-effects. 

That can often lead to their owners choosing euthanasia over a perceived poor-quality-of-life. 

Having witnessed many such cases and having seen first-hand how inadequate current epilepsy medications are, McGrath designed a double-blind study to test if CBD could help dogs too.  

That pilot CBD study started at CSU back in 2016. In it, McGrath assessed 16 client-owned epileptic dogs and how CBD treatment worked to reduce the frequency of their seizures. The dogs were randomly assigned a placebo or medicated regimen, which was administered twice daily for 12 weeks while the dogs’ owners recorded seizure activity and any adverse effects. 

When the research was finally published in 2019, McGrath called the results “promising” and “exciting” for both dogs and their owners. The study found that around 89% of the dogs that received CBD had a significant reduction in the frequency of their seizures. 

“More of the dogs receiving the CBD had a decline in seizure activity compared with the control group,” McGrath says. Which is undoubtedly encouraging. But, she adds, “since this was a small proof-of-concept study, that data has to be taken with a grain of salt.” 

Researchers needed more data. So, they launched another, larger follow-up study assessing more than 60 dogs instead of just a handful. This most recent trial will be unblinded and analyzed sometime this month, McGrath says. For the first time, she, her team and the patients will get to know which dogs were getting real CBD and which were receiving the placebo. 

McGrath is excited to review these results. With a much broader sample size, the data that comes back will be even more telling than what came out of her original pilot study. And if the results are similarly promising it could open up myriad avenues for her to pursue research. 

“I hope these studies lead to other larger studies in both these areas, as well as other diseases. I would love to continue to explore the [veterinary] medical potential of CBD in other ailments, including cancer, appetite, anxiety and neuropathic pain,” she says. 

Limited scientific research on CBD, in combination with its federally ambiguous legal status and the stigma surrounding it, have made CBD’s adoption in vet clinics a serious challenge. 

Nevertheless, this research needs to be done, according to McGrath. This could be a highly effective, natural, alternative treatment option that could ease the suffering of epileptic dogs. And it’s right there in front of us. 

“These studies are vital to the veterinary industry,” McGrath says. “Veterinarians and pet owners are looking for a drug with minimal side effects that can help a variety of canine ailments … If CBD can help, we need to find out.  We need the science to show whether this drug can work and CSU is allowing this long overdue research to happen.”  

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