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Daily doses of CBD could help dogs suffering from osteoarthritis, according to a new study published in the Journal of Immunology

Osteoarthritis is an inflammatory condition that can cause pain, loss of mobility, and stiffness. The condition, which also affects humans, is fairly prevalent in dogs. Around 20 percent of dogs older than 1 year of age suffer from this condition, and the risk increases as dogs get older. This illness can cause dogs to become irritable, lethargic, or reluctant to run or play.

Researchers from the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas recruited 20 large dogs that were previously diagnosed with canine osteoarthritis for this double-blind clinical study. Over the course of four weeks, each dog was randomly assigned to one of four groups. One of these groups received a placebo, while the other three groups each received a different preparation of CBD.

One group of dogs was given a dose of 50mg pure CBD oil every day for the course of the trial, another group was given 20mg of pure CBD, and a third group received 20mg of liposomal CBD. Liposomal medicines use nanotechnology to encase medicinal compounds in tiny lipid bubbles, which can be more easily absorbed by the body than traditional medications. 

Veterinarians evaluated the dogs’ mobility and pain before, during, and after the study, and the dogs’ owners were also asked to report on their pets’ quality of life. The researchers found that the dogs in the placebo group and the low-dose/ 20mg CBD group showed no signs of improvement during the study. Both the high-CBD group and the liposomal CBD group saw a significant improvement in their quality of life, however.

“I openly admit that I was surprised at how quickly we saw such large results” said lead researcher Matthew Halpert PhD, faculty member at the Department of Pathology and Immunology at Baylor College of Medicine, to Forbes. “I would not have expected to see too much of anything in just one month.”

Halpert said the dogs in the placebo and low-CBD groups were “just as miserable as before” the study. But in regards to reduced pain and increased mobility, “almost every dog [in the other two CBD groups] saw significant improvement in their conditions… And the dogs seemed happier and were able to do more.”

The researchers also found that the benefits of CBD even persisted after the trial ended. Two weeks after ceasing to take the medicine, dogs in the two higher-CBD groups still showed signs of improvement. “This would tell us that the CBD was in fact addressing the underlying inflammatory issues,” Halpert explained. “It wasn’t just masking the pain.”

Halpert was particularly surprised by the success of the liposomal treatment. The dosage of 20mg of liposomal CBD was effective, while 20mg of pure CBD was not. Other researchers remain skeptical of these findings, though. Veterinary anesthesia and pain management specialist Stephen Cital told Forbes that because the researchers did not measure the CBD levels in the dogs’ blood, they could not conclude that the liposomal delivery method actually made a difference.

So far, most CBD research has focused on humans, and studies have found that this non-psychoactive cannabinoid can help treat epilepsy, depression, chronic pain, and possibly even psychosis. Comparatively little research has been done on animals, but the lack of evidence hasn’t stopped companies from creating CBD products specifically for pets.

Between 2018 and 2019, the US pet CBD market grew tenfold, reaching $321 million in sales by the end of last year, according to the Brightfield Group. This year, the market is expected to grow to $563 million. One study found that CBD could help fight brain cancer in dogs (and humans, too), but overall, the benefits of CBD for pets is largely anecdotal.

Many veterinarians report that CBD is largely effective and safe for dogs, though. Cital himself used CBD to help treat his own dog that was suffering from mobility issues. California veterinarian Gary Richter told Forbes that he’s also seen a number of dogs respond well to CBD, but has noticed some minor side effects, including elevated liver values and occasional vomiting.

Since there is no scientific consensus supporting the usage of CBD for pets, Richter, Cital, and other veterinarians all urge pet owners to talk to their own vet before deciding to use CBD products on their pets. “There are a lot of products out there and not everything is made properly, not everything is labeled accurately, not everything has in the bottle what it says on the label,” Richter warned.