Vets and CBD: What Are They Allowed to Do?

photo of an old golden retriever sitting and smiling at the camera

For a long time, cannabis was a taboo topic, especially when it came to health care. And while advocacy, education, and science have helped pave the way for medical marijuana laws and programs, it’s been a bumpy and controversial journey.  

But here's what we, and so many others in the cannabis community, have come to understand: this herb has healing qualities, and can help with so many different conditions, illnesses, and ailments. CBD, you're a life-saver. Or, at the very least, you help make life a little easier. 

CBD's influence on modern medicine poses another question in the healthcare field: if it's so beneficial to humans, could cannabis also be beneficial to our pets? 

And if so, is it even legal? What's the deal, then, with vets and CBD? 

Refresher: What is CBD? photo of a small jar of CBD oil next to a hemp plant sitting on a piece of wood

Before getting to the hard-hitting questions, it's important to know what CBD is, and how it differs from THC 

When most people think of marijuana, they think of a recreational herb that gets them high. And while that can be true, they’re thinking of strains of cannabis filled with THC, the psychoactive agent in the plant. 

Alternatively, there is also CBD – a cannabinoid (like THC), that does not get users high. Instead, it has healing effects. 

Usually cannabis products have either one or the other – high CBD or high THC, which are used very differently. In the medical realm, CBD is the priority and what patients seek. When it comes to pets, they would only be associating with CBD, and not getting high.  

Is CBD Legal for Pets? photo of an old labrador retriever laying on the grass facing the camera, showing what kind of pets could benefit from CBD

Technically speaking, what you do with the cannabis that you purchase is fairly private. 

However, no, CBD is not considered a legal option for pets, since it’s not even considered legal for humans (marijuana is illegal on the federal level, despite state laws of legality). In fact, veterinarians can’t even talk about pets using CBD as treatment in some states, even though the minimal amount of research in existence has begun to suggest CBD as a helpful means of natural medicine for our furry friends.  

There are still products out there marketed toward pets, and they are used and relied on by many pet owners. These CBD products are made from hemp rather than cannabis, and are considered legal, though they are often sold in dispensaries.  

The Law  

Because the issue of vets and CBD is more relevant in some states more than others (like Colorado, where marijuana has become a common part of the culture), it has only been addressed in some areas. In places like Oregon and Colorado, vets are allowed to talk about CBD as a treatment. But California, for example, recently updated their veterinary medical board bylaws to say: 

"A veterinarian may not prescribe, administer, or recommend or approve the use of cannabis for treatment of any condition." 

The distinction comes down to the legality status. As previously mentioned, all cannabis -whether it's full of THC or CBD – is considered illegal on the federal level, and is classified as a Schedule 1 drug. 

While this ruling doesn't really affect normal doctors and physicians from discussing marijuana as a medical treatment, it's a little different with pets. Since weed is illegal, there's a serious lack of research on CBD – there's not a lot of research done for humans and probably even less on pets. That's why some states, like California, have taken a firm stance on vets and recommending CBD.   

Change is Coming image of older dog with graying hair around his eyes and mouth laying with his paws crossed and smiling up at the camera

There's good news for vets and CBD: many states are starting to look critically at their current laws and regulations. 

For example, Californians proposed AB 2215, which would make the California Medical Board create guidelines for vets to discuss CBD use for animals, and would also protect them from any federal-level trouble. Unfortunately, the bill failed in March 2018, because of its language. The bill will likely be amended and brought forward once again.  

Colorado has more open-ended language surrounding the issue. The Colorado Veterinary Medical Association only warns that, "similar to human medicine, there is extremely limited data on the medical benefits and side effects of marijuana products in companion animals." 

Similarly, Oregon's Veterinary Medical Examining Board allows the discussion of CBD use for pets, but warns about issues like toxicity in animals and a lack of scientific data on the methods. Their disclaimer is like most; vets are encouraged to give their honest opinions, while being honest about the limitations. 

In the veterinarian community, support is stirring as well. The American Veterinary Medical Association, in addition to lobbying for the reclassification of cannabis from a Schedule 1 drug to a Schedule 2, released an informational statement titled, "Cannabis: What Veterinarians Need to Know." This has facilitated the conversation of pets and the possibilities of treatment, and advocates for the possibility of more research for both humans and animals. 

Some vets are hopeful about the future of vets and CBD. Dr. Tim Shu said, "As veterinarians, we're advocates for pets. We are supposed to be looking out for their best interests."