Skip to Main Content

Health Canada Approves Pet Trials

One of the largest companies in Canada’s cannabis industry has received the go-ahead from a division of Health Canada to start clinical trials and investigate the efficacy of cannabidiol on household pets.

Canopy Animal Health, a division of Canopy Growth Corporation that focuses on healthcare products for companion animals, received approval from the Veterinary Drug Directorate to research the possible therapeutic effects of cannabidiol on anxiety.

Better known as CBD, cannabidiol is a naturally occurring component of cannabis. It’s one of at least 113 cannabinoids so far identified, and accounts for around 40% of the plant’s extract.

The approval came in the form of a No Objection Letter for the use of its in-house CBD oil formula, which was previously used in preclinical dosing and safety studies. The oil will be produced in Canopy’s GMP-certified facility located in Smiths Falls, Ontario.

Was Anecdotal Evidence an Influence?

Although cannabis is newly legalized in Canada, there is no federal regulatory endorsement for using CBD on animals. However, there is an abundance of anecdotal evidence, which has prompted producers to investigate the possibility of this emerging market. As explored in our last issue, many pet owners have factored the substance into their pets’ daily routines on word-of-mouth recommendations.

It has long been suspected that CBD-based veterinary medicine was on the table during the formulation of recreational cannabis regulations, and companies have gambled on legislation further down the line. A spokesperson for Health Canada confirmed these suspicions, along with the fact that no drugs containing cannabis have been authorized for veterinary use to date.

Dana M. Vaughan, executive vice-president and chief scientific officer for Canopy Animal Health says that very few anti-anxiety remedies exist for pets, but that CBD, a substance proven to “bind to specific serotonin receptors and ion channels in nervous tissues that collectively lessen anxiety”, can fill this niche in the market.

A Surge of Research

Before legalization, researchers were hamstrung by regulations that dictated the need for a “Schedule 56” exemption, which is authority to possess Schedule 1 substances such as cocaine and heroin for scientific research.

Dr. Shane Renwick of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association says there’s been a surge of research on cannabis-related pet health in the run up to legalization. The association expects that there will be many more clinical trials going forward in the wake of legalization. Renwick says, “We hope that there will be the research required to allow safe registered products on the market in the not-too-distant future. It will offer alternatives in a lot of cases to medications we’re currently using for a variety of conditions, so it’s an exciting potential that we see.”

Currently, there is no legal path that veterinarians can take to prescribe cannabis for pets due to the lack of clinical evidence. However, each clinical trial carried out brings that possibility a step closer.

A Plea for Awareness

The news comes in the face of a warning issued by a veterinarian in Bedford, Nova Scotia, who has seen growing numbers of sick dogs due to cannabis toxicity. Dr. Jeff Goodall reported that he saw five cases in 2017, up from three in 2016 and none in 2015. He said that the THC component of cannabis does not produce a euphoric effect in dogs, but instead makes them sick.

According to Dr. Goodall, THC causes the pet to enter a profound state of confusion, which precipitates hyperactivity and vocalizing, or crying. They soon become unable to walk and begin to drool. Later stages bring the onset of uncontrolled urination, and in rare cases, it can lead to death.

The statistics mirror those in Colorado, where there was a four-fold increase of reports of toxicity in dogs between 2010 and 2015.

It’s obvious that more research is needed so pet owners can safely provide cannabis to their pets.