CSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital researches cannabinoid use to treat canine diseases

Ty Betts

New research from the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital is exploring the use of cannabinoids to treat canine diseases — but that does not mean your dog should start smoking weed.

Research technician Kelsie Condon walks Farina, a Galgo Español, across a mat designed to measure how much weight each paw receives. This process is part of Dr. Felix Duerr’s research into the effects of CBDs in treating arthritis. (Davis Bonner | Collegian)

Researchers at the Department of Clinical Science at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital are focused on determining the effect cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive chemical found in cannabis, can have on dogs. Two major areas of focus for this study are the effects of CBD on arthritis and if it can help canines with epileptic seizures.

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Felix Duerr, a doctor of veterinary medicine and assistant professor at CSU, has lead the portion of this study focused on canine arthritis. Dr. Duerr said CBD will not have the ability to act as a cure for arthritis but may be able to alleviate some symptoms and pain that come with it.

“Arthritis is a disease that you can’t really cure: It is degeneration of the cartilage and all of the structures surrounding the joint,” Dr. Duerr said. “Cartilage is really an interesting part of the body because it doesn’t have a great capability of regenerating.”

There is not a complete understanding of what CBD does chemically within the body, Dr. Duerr said.

“It’s an interesting drug because it has so many effects,” Dr. Duerr said. “There are just so many receptors that are not researched to a degree where we know why (CBD) is doing this.”

The trials underway that could provide insight into the effects of CBD start with a walk for the dogs selected for treatment. A pressure sensitive walkway tracks the amount of weight a dog places on each paw as they walk along a mat to track how much weight a dog places on its legs.

The dogs also get collars that track the activity levels throughout the trials, which indicate if the CBD is helping with the arthritis.

Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Stephen McGrath, an assistant professor at CSU in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, is also exploring the uses of CBD but for dogs that have uncontrolled epileptic seizures.

“My hope is that CBD acts as a replacement for our conventional drugs that we have available,” Dr. McGrath said. “And the reason being is that often times the drugs that we have out there to use for dogs with epilepsy, either don’t work … or they cause side-effects that are often times very difficulty for owners to manage.”

Kelsie Condon, left, and Dr. Felix Duerr are currently researching the effects of CBDs in treating dogs with arthritis at the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital.(Davis Bonner | Collegian)

Side-effects include changes in personality or dogs becoming lethargic, according to Dr. McGrath. Unfortunately, these difficulties can sometimes lead to euthanization for the dogs.

Although there are currently CBD products on the market that can be given to dogs, Dr. McGrath warns pet owners to be careful if they decide to medicate their dog on their own. Dr. McGrath said it is important that products you give to your dog contain high concentrations of CBD and below 0.3 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

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“None of the other drugs on the market currently have been tested,” Dr. McGrath said. “So we don’t even know if those strains of cannabis and CBD that companies are using are safe to use in dogs.”

The same CBD oil being used in this study can be purchased from Applied Basic Science, who is funding this research, and whose product has at least been tested to contain low amounts of THC, according to Dr. McGrath. As of now, however, there can be no guarantee if it will work to treat canine diseases.

“At this point, it’s likely that CBD is safe, (but) there is no guarantee if it is effective for the diseases we are studying,” Dr. McGrath said.

Studies like these also accelerate the development of new drugs that have the potential to help humans too. According to Dr. Duerr, a well-done clinical trial of around 40 dogs would cost somewhere from $250 to $500 thousand.

“In people, that’s easily $6 million or $10 million,” Dr. Duerr said. “So for the (CBD) companies, it’s actually cheap to do this in dogs. You can then use the dog as a model to show what might be helpful in people.” 

Collegian news reporter Ty Betts can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @TyBetts9. 

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to Dr. Felix Duerr as a Ph.D. candidate. The article has been amended with the correct information that Duerr is a doctor of veterinary medicine.