CBD has infiltrated wellness products of all kinds for humans. Pets were probably the inevitable next frontier.
Jill Douglas, a 52-year-old gift-basket maker, first heard about CBD for pets when her friend’s cat’s tumor fell off. “He was [topically] putting CBD oil on his cat that had a tumor-like thing on his tail,” she said. “And it literally just fell off. It was amazing.”
She was inspired to try out CBD for her own cat, Klinger, whom she had diagnosed with a serious case of “cattitude.” “Within literally a week or so of taking the CBD, I was able to pet her,” she said. Klinger also lost weight, which Douglas also credits to CBD treatments.
CBD—the non-psychoactive derivative of the marijuana and hemp plants—has taken off among humans, marketed as a solution for everything from pain and anxiety to skin care and diet. So it should come as no surprise that pets—on whom Americans spend $72 billion annually—may reap the supposed benefits. CBD oil has made its way into pet treats and oils sprinkled carefully over the food bowl, making up nearly $7 million of the almost $6 billion in weed dispensary sales in California, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington last year. It’s marketed as a remedy for animal’s seizures, arthritis, pain, and anxiety.
Unlike most edibles, CBD pet treats are legal nearly everywhere, available online, in pet and hardware stores, Instagram ads, and everywhere else. Small businesses that sell them are cropping up across the country; Ashley Tisdale is shilling for one of them that sells full-spectrum hemp oil products. Pet empires also now carry them; BarkShop, the sister company to subscription service BarkBox, markets their new CBD dog treats to their subscribers via e-mail newsletters, at veterinarian-community conferences, and social-media feeds that are filled with pictures of adorably chilled-out dogs, as well as crash courses on what CBD is and how to use it for pets.
Greg Shoenfeld, the vice president of operations at the Boulder, Colorado-based cannabis market-research company BDS Analytics, noticed medicinal pet treats popping up in dispensary sales data starting in 2015. When Shoenfeld started seeing the treats everywhere else, too, he decided to pick some up for Bear, his Newfoundland-Labrador retriever mix.
Shoenfeld’s aim was never to get Bear high, and the science of the pet products means he actually can’t. Cannabis and hemp plants contain both tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and CBD, but only THC gets the consumer stoned.
His veterinarian had recommended the more traditional Rimadyl for Bear’s arthritis pain, but for Shoenfeld, CBD was the obvious holistic choice. Shoenfeld is most loyal to a Colorado-based brand called Pet.Releaf, which sells CBD and hemp “edibites”—fruit-flavored dog treats made with CBD from hemp grown in eastern Colorado—for $23.99 to $34.99 per standard bag, and oils that start at $28.99 per bottle and go up to $99.99. He says the treats worked so well for Bear that he now spends as much per month on CBD for his Lab mix—$100—as he does for food.
But though CBD pet products have taken off, the evidence about their effects on animals is largely only anecdotal—and the true risks and benefits inconclusive. Not just because the popularity of CBD is far outpacing both research and regulation, but because these new four-legged CBD evangelists can’t actually tell us how they feel about it. Which makes their miraculous potential all the easier to market.
Julianna Carella founded Treatibles, the first business to sell CBD pet chews back in 2013. “Patients that were using our THC products would actually give them to their animals,” Carella said.
Carella’s first company, Auntie Dolores, had been selling medical marijuana edibles for people since 2008. Though the devoted customers feeding their edibles to their pets had good intentions, it wasn’t a good idea—edible marijuana products for humans contain THC, which can be harmful to animals. According to the A.S.P.C.A. poison center, dogs account for about 95 percent of pet marijuana poisonings. Recognizing an untapped market, Carella decided to spend the next two years developing, and extensively testing, safe, nontoxic cannabinoid chews for pets.
“There’s not a lot of choices that pet guardians have, and we want to just provide something that is natural,” Carella said.
According to its Web site, Treatibles tests its chews, but it’s an outlier in a market that’s loosely regulated. It’s mostly a “mom-and-pop” thing says Alan Brochstein,founder of 420 Investor, an online community that monitors stocks in the cannabis industry. And scams. “The ones that I’ve seen tend to be scam companies . . . or let’s just say they don’t have the best reputations,” Brochstein said
But this summer’s passage of the Farm Bill, which legalized the sale of industrial hemp, has made the products increasingly easier to make and market. There are countless companies and rogue social-media pages selling CBD products on and offline, offering free trials before a monthly subscription, for example. Some of these businesses also make homemade CBD edibles for humans, and then re-market those same products for pets.
One of the only true remedies for finding reliable pet products is word of mouth through Facebook groups like CBD Oil for Pets, where members swap tips and favorite brands. The group, created by 47-year-old technical business analyst Krys Batts, has more than 2,000 members, and adds about 60–100 new members per week.
Batts fell in love with CBD oil for her arthritic dog after trying it on a whim. “I got on the Internet and started doing searches for natural arthritis remedies,” she said. “CBD oil came up as one of the options and I had never heard of it so I started exploring it. . . . I had no expectations whatsoever, it was just ‘I hope this works.’ And it did, it sure did.” She credits CBD oil for treating one dog’s arthritis, and another’s “extreme degree of anxiety.”
The Internet is full of happy anecdotal stories like Batts’s about the wonders of CBD oil. But California is the only state that’s legally cleared the way for veterinarians to discuss CBD treatment, passing Assembly Bill 2215 earlier this year. The bill was signed by California Governor Jerry Brown in late September, allowing veterinarians to officially discuss CBD medicine with pet owners—but not actually dispense them.
“This bill is a huge step in the right direction,” said Dr. Gary Richter, a veterinarian based out of Oakland, California. “If you look at what we know about the use of medical cannabis in humans, the effects are indisputable. . . . And the truth of the matter is, in veterinary medicine, a large majority of the medications and treatments that we use on animals are extremely similar. . . . There’s an enormous amount of overlap.”
For now, marijuana remains unapproved by the Food and Drug Administration, for pets and humans alike. But being on the fringes of the law has never stopped a wellness trend from taking off before, from the yoni egg to the expensive crystals whose healing effects may be entirely psychosomatic. Sliding in comfortably at the intersection of three multi-billion-dollar industries—weed, wellness, and pets—CBD products may be nothing, or may be the cure-all for our fraught times. What could a country on edge need more than a bunch of perpetually chilled-out pets?
This article has been updated.