As the popularity of the non-psychoactive component of cannabis, Cannabidiol (CBD), has grown, so has the body of research to explore its many potential health benefits. From treating cancer patients to easing symptoms of anxiety, tempering inflammation, and even symptoms of depression, there is a long list of uses for CBD, as it interacts with the body through the endocannabinoid system, or ECS. The ECS is a biological system found in all mammals, responsible for managing a range of biological processes from memory function to immune responses and even sleep. Because humans and their canine pets share this same system, it can be used for many of the same benefits in treatment for both canines and humans.
A recent study conducted by researchers at the Yamazaki University of Animal Health in Japan dove into the efficacy of CBD treatment for seizures, finding that canines react to CBD in the same way humans do. The results were published in the open access journal Pet Behavior Science concerning the treatment of two specific, rare, and severe forms of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, and Dravet syndrome using a CBD-infused oral drug, Epidiolex.
Epidiolex (cannabidiol) Oral Solution became the first FDA-approved plant-derived cannabinoid medicine made available in the United States last year, used for the treatment of seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS) or Dravet syndrome in patients two years of age or older.
“Because these patients have historically not responded well to available seizure medications, there has been a dire need for new therapies that aim to reduce the frequency and impact of seizures,” said Justin Gover, Chief Executive Officer of GW Pharmaceuticals when the drug’s FDA approval was first made public. “We are committed to ensuring that these patients can access this novel cannabinoid medicine that has been thoroughly studied in clinical trials, manufactured to assure quality and consistency, and is eligible to be covered by insurance for appropriate patients.”
“EPIDIOLEX is a much-needed new treatment option for patients with LGS, a rare and severe form of childhood-onset epilepsy that typically persists into adulthood,” added Christina SanInocencio, Executive Director of the Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome Foundation. “Despite the use of multiple epilepsy treatments, the majority of LGS patients continue to have life-long, debilitating seizures and our community welcomes the availability of a new, first-in-class treatment option.”
This particular study was conducted to “investigate the efficacy, tolerability, and safety of CBD” as a treatment for dogs in the same way that Epidiolex was found to help children, with researchers giving the drug to three different canines over an eight-week period. Each of the three dogs had regularly suffered from epileptic seizures, the “most common chronic neurological disorder” in dogs. One dog was a three-year-old Labrador Retriever who had been suffering seizures since he was about six months old. Another was an 11-year-old Papillon who had first started having seizures when he was almost four years old. And the third and final male dog in the study was a 10-year-old Chihuahua who first started having seizures when he was three years old.
In the study, each dog was given the “plant-derived formulation” of CBD-containing hemp extract in organic coconut oil, two times a day, on an empty stomach, with assessments throughout the study period every two weeks. The three-year-old Labrador retriever had just two seizures during the eight-week test period and another just five days after the treatment stopped. Aside from that, he was found to have slept more and barked less throughout the treatment, “even when other dogs were excited,” the owner told researchers. The 10-year-old Chihuahua had just one seizure during the eight-week test period, with his owner pointing out that he’ exhibited less “seizure-like behavior” during the attack and less aggression toward other people during that test period as well. And finally, the owner of the 11-year-old Papillon who had first started having seizures when he was almost four years old reported that his dog had no change or improvement during the treatment period. In fact, the dog had eight seizures throughout the eight weeks of treatment, however, just like the other two dogs, the Papillon was found to have been eating more willingly and “settled down and slept longer during the day,” according to his owner. So while one dog experienced no changes in symptoms over the eight-week treatment and test period, the other two saw a reduction in seizure intervals.
“In this study, the seizure frequency improved considerably, and owners reported a positive impression,” the researchers wrote, noting that the small sample size and only 66 percent effectiveness in this particular study still leaves room for more research. However, the noticeable reduction in anxiety symptoms from all dogs was just as important, if not more, than the effectiveness against seizures themselves. This is because anxiety and stress are often significant triggers in seizures for those with epilepsy.
So how and/or why CBD for treating anxiety and seizures as opposed to some of the status quo prescription drug treatments? Research has shown that CBD can reduce anxiety in both healthy people and people with anxiety disorders, reduce stress or anxiety associated with public speaking (aka a very common fight or flight situation), and even calm PTSD symptoms. While dogs don’t have to face public speaking roles, they do experience stressful situations and anxiety just like us. The drugs they can be given to reduce seizures specifically, like phenobarbital and potassium bromide, are also not 100 percent effective as well as being potentially dangerous to a dog’s liver and other drugs. In the case of drug-resistant epilepsy — where there’s been a failure of adequate trials of two tolerated and appropriately chosen and used antiepileptic drugs to achieve sustained seizure freedom — CBD has been found to work well. Much of the same has been found in children with drug-resistant epilepsy who then experienced a reduction in seizures with CBD, suggesting that CBD is often a viable alternative to prescribed drugs, especially when prescribed drugs are ineffective.