Cannabis-based clinical trial could help dogs deal with pain

A new clinical trial in Essex is showing 'positive' results for dogs with arthritis manage pain, according to the lead veterinarian.

The clinical trial explores the impact cannabidiol has on dogs with arthritis

A serious warning about THC and your dog

6 years ago
Duration 0:52
This doctor is doing a clinical trial on cannabidoil.

Buffy, the seven-year-old golden retriever/border collie mix rescue dog, just didn't seem like herself.

Her owner, Marge Holman, remembers Buffy being stiff, lethargic, and walking with little 'hiccups,'

"It wasn't bothering her but it started bothering me," said Holman, hugging her puppy at the Essex Animal Clinic. 

"I wanted to jump on top of it and see if we could do something preventative to add to her quality of life."

So Buffy started a cannabis-based clinic trial out of Essex. 

Cannabis, CBD or Marijuana?

Holman and Buffy connected with Dr. Janice Huntingford, a veterinarian at the Essex Animal Clinic who is working on a study to find out how cannabidiol (CBD) can help canines. 

If the clinic trial continues to show positive results and is approved by Health Canada, Dr. Huntingford said it could be the first cannabis-based product that veterinarians can prescribe for pets.

But that doesn't mean Buffy is getting high to escape her arthritis pain.

In fact, the wrong kind of high could kill her.

Buffy came into the trial lethargic with 'hiccups' in her steps and finished with a new found energy. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

"Tiny amounts of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) can be toxic to (dogs). That's why if you're giving a cannabidiol product to a pet, it needs to be a pure product," she said.

Dr. Huntingford said because this clinic trial uses pure CBD from hemp, it's safe for Buffy. 

Qualifying for trials

Buffy was perfect for the study because she met the following requirements:

  • Has osteoarthritis in one limb
  • Was verified by an x-ray
  • Weighs between 20 and 80 pounds
  • Has no other health problems

After qualifying for the clinical trail, Buffy was measured and walked through various tests to create a base for future comparison.

CBD or placebo?

Holman was then anded a bottle — either Test A or Test B — as part of the double blind study. 

"We don't know which is the real thing and which is the placebo," said Dr. Huntingford, who adds they take blood and urine tests from the pet. 

Dr. Janice Huntingford said if dogs consume marijuana, the THC could kill them. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

After four weeks of ingesting either CBD or the placebo, Buffy was re-evaluated. 

"If they are doing well, we say continue. If not, we may double the dose [or] adjust something," said Dr. Huntingford. 

They did it once more after eight weeks. Finally, the clinic checked if the animal was on the placebo or the real product.

Buffy was on the CBD

"I knew before she even told me," said Holman, who encourages anyone with a dog that fits the requirements apply for the study. 

"She takes a greater interest in being out, engaged in her environment so I knew that we had the real thing at that point."

Marge Holman said that the hardest part about knowing Buffy responded well to the clinical trial is waiting for Health Canada to approve a CBD product. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Buffy isn't the only dog noticing the positive side effects of CBD.

"I would say from anecdotal evidence or looking at (other) dogs that we know have come through the study, the results are positive," said Dr. Huntingford.

Huntingford had previously treated animals with CBD out of her clinic after consulting with the College of Veterinarians, but she had to stop after the college received new information from Health Canada about who can and can not prescribe cannabis.

"The Office of Medical Cannabis has confirmed that the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations do not apply to veterinarians or animals," said the College of Veterinarians of Ontario in a May 2017 statement.

"The regulations pertain to human healthcare practitioners and access for human patients only."

Dogs needed for study

This sponsored study started by Dr. Huntingford in February needs 64 clinical trials before it can be sent off to Health Canada. 

Dr. Huntingford said she's completed about a third of those trials and is hopeful more animal owners apply if their dog fits the requirements. 

Dr. Janice Huntingford is running a clinical trial for CBD in Essex. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

"My only disappointment is that we have to wait," said Holman, who said she would never risk treating her dog with CBD on her own. 

"Now that the study's over we have to sit and wait until it's been approved and I'm concerned that it's going to regress."

But despite knowing there's a product that helps Buffy, Holman has no plans of trying to obtain the product until there's one approved by Health Canada. 

Dr. Huntingford said waiting is a wise move because of the possible side effects an unregulated CBD could have on dogs.