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It’s A Miracle! Or Is It?

Be Cautious Of Modern Day Snake Oil

We’re all too young to remember the days of the roaming salesmen that touted a cure-all tincture that contained a mix of substances: alcohol, codeine, cocaine and more. Its nickname became commonly referred to as “snake oil.”

While legitimate medications were generally contained in the snake oil, it was not manufactured with care – rather in someone’s kitchen. Nor were there any studies or testing to determine exact dosing, safety and efficacy for specific diseases and conditions.

We’re in the same boat now with all things CBD and THC. Lots of products and promises are out there, with little science to ensure safety and efficacy and no government oversight for manufacturing and quality control. To define, CBD is the abbreviation for cannabidiols, the non-psychoactive active components found in all hemp (cannabis) plants. THC is tetrahydrocannabiol, which is the psychoactive substance (the “high” producer) that is also found in all hemp plants, but in higher quantities in marijuana.

Not helping the situation is the federal versus state regulatory issues. While marijuana is “legal” for medical and recreational use in Colorado, in the eyes of the federal government agencies, products made with THC are not legal. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA), which oversees foods, supplements, drugs and food/drug additives, does not approve the addition of CBD to foods, ingested products or topical products.

For veterinarians, it’s also a hazy horizon for what we can and cannot discuss. It’s also hazy whether we can or cannot dispense pet products that contain CBD, as the Drug Enforcement Agency has not determined the rules regarding veterinarians.

On the human side of medicine, there is a little research completed, much underway and some true-tested drugs approved. However, they are not cost-effective to be prescribed for veterinary patients. I don’t know of any owners that would feel comfortable spending $25,000 to $40,000 out-of-pocket for the two available human medications for their dogs.

In veterinary medicine, we are just starting to see some research results from small studies on pharmacokinetics, including safety and efficacy for epilepsy and osteoarthritis. New studies are beginning to look at pain management, inflammatory bowel disease, skin disease and more. That means we don’t have a lot of information in hand yet to guide us.

We do know from those initial studies that CBD does react in the liver, and that there are patients with conditions such as cardiac disease and glaucoma who should not get CBD.

Additionally, animal product comparison studies, along with large studies at universities on human products, show that more than 70 percent of CBD products are mislabeled (over- or under-labeled).

For example, when we buy a chocolate bar, we know, based on production and labeling requirements, the calorie content and serving size – the equivalent of the active medication and dosage. Right now, there is not the same oversight and regulation of CBD and THC-containing products. So we have little to no information on dosage, concentration, safety or efficacy for dogs and nearly none (one pharmacokinetic study has been done) in cats.

We also know from veterinary studies, along with similar human studies, that it is likely that 50 to 60 percent of pets may be trialed on CBD-containing products by their owners.

So, what should a pet owner do? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Get baseline lab work on your pet before starting on any product so that liver enzymes can be monitored.

2. Don’t give any THC products from human dispensaries.

3. Disclose all supplements, CBD products to your veterinarian so we can make sure that nothing in the mix is harmful to your pet. We also are trying to keep up on the studies as they are published to learn where CBD will fit into our best care of your pets.

4. Purchase from a reputable manufacturer that can provide a certificate of analysis performed by an outside third-party entity, as well as other information on quality control regarding manufacturing, protection against bacterial contamination, shelf life and more.

If the product is promising too much, remember “snake oil” and avoid it for your pet’s health and safety. Research will ultimately tell us what CBD can and cannot do for human and animal health. Right now, don’t drink the Kool-Aid without caution.

Dr. Margot Vahrenwald is the owner of Park Hill Veterinary Medical Center at 2255 Oneida St. For more information, visit

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