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CBD & Dogs: A Primer (Part 2)

Are CBD products legal for pet owners?
By The Bark Editors, November 2018, Updated June 2021

Are CBD and products incorporating it legal? It depends.

Products containing CBD extracted from, as the DEA says, “a variety of Cannabis sativa L. which contains less than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)”—known as industrial hemp to distinguish it from marijuana—can be sold in all 50 states.

However, if the CBD has been extracted from varieties with more than 0.3% THC, or includes low levels of the psychoactive cannabinoid, the products can only be sold in states in which marijuana is legal for medical use, and cannot be shipped across state lines. Most, if not all, of these products are sold in marijuana dispensaries.

It’s a fluid situation, one that companies and their attorneys are working hard to clarify. Currently, the legal safety net relies on the Agricultural Act of 2014 (known as the “Farm Bill”), which legitimatized research and pilot programs in states where hemp was already legal. More recently, in an internal memo dated May 22, 2018, the DEA acknowledged that products excluded from the definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act (i.e., hemp) “may be sold and distributed throughout the United States without restriction.”


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Adding to the puzzle, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration also has a say in CBD-related matters, including the language used on product labels. For example—although animal supplements are not legally defined—the FDA says that CBD cannot be sold as a supplement, and that products containing it can’t be called food. However, in a landmark federal-level shift, it recently approved the drug Epidiolex, with naturally derived CBD as its active ingredient, for treatment of two types of epilepsy in humans. Although it hasn’t been tested with dogs, it may have potential off-label veterinary applica-tion. Epidiolex cleared its last hurdle on September 27, 2018, when the DEA announced that it had been categorized as a Schedule V drug, the least restrictive of the Controlled Substances Act categories.

The Veterinarian’s Role in CBD Treatment

Even in states where medical marijuana is legal for human use, veterinarians are prohibited from administering, prescribing, dispensing or, in some cases, even discussing hemp-based CBD with their patients.

For example, in both California and Colorado, medical and recreational use of marijuana is legal. But the California Veterinary Medical Association takes the position that, unless the state explicitly allows the use of CBD or medical marijuana for animals, veterinarians must follow federal law. Vets who ignore this put themselves at risk of losing their license. Colorado veterinarians are not allowed to prescribe these products, but can discuss them and their use with their clients “as part of a companion animal’s therapeutic regimen … consistent with a valid Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship.”

When legalization of marijuana for medical applications was initially under discussion, medical doctors and doctors of osteopathy were at the table, but the input of doctors of veterinary medicine wasn’t solicited; perhaps those involved didn’t anticipate that cannabis could benefit animals. So, as state legislatures developed and passed laws legalizing medical marijuana, they applied to human use only.

By early 2018, bills addressing this issue were on the docket in California and New York. California’s AB-2215 was passed by the State Assembly in August and signed by Governor Jerry Brown in September. Now, veterinarians may discuss the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes with their clients without the threat of being disciplined or losing their licenses. In New York, A10104, which would allow veterinarians to provide their patients with access to medical marijuana, is currently in limbo, with no vote scheduled.

While veterinarians can’t confidently discuss cannabis products with their clients, many are called upon to treat dogs who have overdosed on it, usually by getting into their person’s stash of THC-rich edibles. In most cases, the risk comes from the food, not the cannabis, although too much THC can produce a condition called static ataxia, as well as have other consequences.

It’s more than a little ironic that the only people who can’t dispense CBD products to their clients are those who have the most informed capacity to do so. However, an increasing number of veterinarians are actively educating themselves on CBD’s therapeutic possibilities, as well as talking to and learning from clients who are already experimenting with it.

What Can CBD Be Used For in Dogs?

Research is confirming CBD’s effectiveness in reducing or eliminating epileptic seizures, but until more work is done to support the growing body of anecdotal evidence, it’s difficult to say exactly what CBD can be effectively used to treat. Based on what has been reported, however, it can be helpful in relieving both acute and chronic canine pain and inflammation, anxiety, stress, noise phobia, vomiting, and chronic skin and gastrointestinal problems. There are suggestions that it may also have an anticancer property. CBD’s side effects, which are few, include sleepiness and an overactive appetite.

CBD Products and Pet Insurance

Some pet insurance companies will reimburse for the cost of CBD products, although timing, terms, conditions and the amount varies. Check with your company for details.


Cannabinoids: Active chemicals responsible for, among other things, the medicinal effects of cannabis; found primarily in the plants’ flowering tops, they are a class of chemical compounds that act on the brain and body’s many cannabinoid receptors. They may be naturally derived from the cannabis plant or a manufactured synthetic.

CBD: Cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive constituent of cannabis; considered to have a wider range of medical benefits than THC.

Cultivar: Plant variety that has been produced by selective breeding.

DEA: Drug Enforcement Agency

Dose: Quantity used at one time or in fractional amounts given over a period of time. Dose-response curve: Diminished response at higher doses.

Edibles: Treat-like products with various levels of CBD that are designed to be consumed by the dog; usually slower-acting.

Endocannabinoid system: Series of receptors in the brain and body configured to accept cannabinoids, especially THC and CBD.

Entourage effect: Synergy between cannabis’s many chemical compounds (including cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids); aka “whole plant” medicine.

FDA: Food and Drug Administration

Hemp: Strains of cannabis cultivated to have 0.3 percent or less THC on a dry-weight basis. Some varieties are grown for fiber, others for medicinal use. The former tend to be tall and bamboo-like, with few leaves; the latter look much like THCrich cannabis varieties.

Isolate: Purified CBD that has been separated (isolated) from other cannabinoids.

Marijuana: A product of all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L. with a THC content greater than 0.3 percent on a dry-weight basis.

Phytocannabinoid: Cannabinoids that occur naturally in the cannabis plant.

Potency: Amount required to produce a specific effect.

Receptor: A structure on the surface or inside of a cell that selectively receives and binds a specific substance to it.

THC: Tetrahydrocannabinol; one of dozens of chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant, and its main psychoactive constituent. Some veterinary CBD products incorporate modest levels of THC for its pain-relieving effect.

Tincture: Though typically, tinctures are made by dissolving a medicinal in alcohol, CBD tinctures are generally infusions in an olive- or coconut-oil base, which is more palatable. CBD delivered this way tends to work more quickly.

Topicals: CBD-infused creams intended to be applied to the skin.

In our upcoming and final examination of CBD and dogs, we’ll take a look at the available options and delivery systems, plus note key points to look for on labeling. For now, check out The Bark’s informative CBD & Dogs Primer.

 Imagery: iStock