Despite almost no research, the pet CBD industry will grow to $1 billion

Veterinarians are concerned. Consumers appear not to be.

Despite almost no research, the pet CBD industry will grow to $1 billion

Charlie Gallacher, 35, gives a daily cannabis tincture to Dixie, his Catahoula, to treat her hip pain, in the Feeding Hills section of Agawam, MA on March 26, 2019.

Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
  • The pet CBD industry, valued at $8 million in 2017, is expected to grow to $1.16 billion by 2022.
  • Despite the hype, there have been few clinical studies conducted on pets.
  • While there is evidence of its potential therapeutic value, all evidence points to much higher dosages than offered on the consumer market.

In 1988, three researchers from the School of Pharmacy at Hebrew University in Jerusalem published a study investigating the effect of CBD on dogs. While the popular cannabinoid had shown efficacy in mice and rats through IV infusion, they wanted to know if oral administration would affect canine health. The dogs were given 180 mg of CBD orally. It turns out that CBD has low bioavailability when taken in this manner.

The researchers note that when ingested, CBD bioavailability is also low in humans—around 6 percent. Over three decades later and that still appears to be the case, though some studies have found bioavailability up to 15 percent. Your body (and your dog's body) wants to store the CBD as fat. Unfortunately that's where most of it stays, never passing the blood-brain barrier. NYU professor Esther Blessing, who researches clinical trials on CBD, puts it this way:

"There's no evidence that doses below 300 mg of CBD have any effect in any psychiatric measure. And in fact, dose-finding studies show that the lowest clinically effective dose of CBD for reducing anxiety is 300 mg."

Mayo Clinic Minute: Is CBD safe to use?

If taken orally, the most CBD you (or your dog) would get if ingesting such a high dose would be 45 mg. (Taking it intravenously or smoking it is another story, though it is not clear how much that story changes; a 2014 study on inhalation found 25 percent bioavailability.) To put that into perspective, consider Charlotte's Web Hemp Extract Drops 17 mg for Dogs. Retailing at $64.99, each prescribed dose contains 17 mg of CBD per mL. The dropper bottle is 30 mL, meaning it contains 510 mg of CBD. If you were to give your dog the entire bottle in one serving (which I don't advise), they would retain roughly 30.6 mg.

None of this is stopping the sales of pet (or human) CBD products, however. In 2017, the pet CBD industry was valued at $8 million. A year later it quadrupled to $32 million. By 2022, it is predicted to reach $1.16 billion.

None of this is to deny the potential therapeutic applications of CBD or any of the other hundred-plus cannabinoids found in cannabis. As a consumer since 1993, it's taken decades (and a move to California) for me to stop worrying about being caught—as ridiculous as this sounds, it's true—with a plant. I also know, anecdotally, what that plant has done for me.

The problem is that most evidence on the efficacy of THC and CBD has been anecdotal. Not all, mind you. Plenty of research has shown how effective CBD is in treating epilepsy, which is why the FDA scheduled Epidiolex for therapeutic use—the first cannabis-based medicine to be given a thumb's up by the agency. On top of this, the cannabis research field is vibrant, growing by the month. We should support that, as cannabis has many potential usages that are desperately needed.

CBD oil for pets on display at the Southern Hemp Expo at the Williamson County Agricultural Exposition Park in Franklin, TN on Friday, Sept. 6, 2019.

Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Whether or not the current products on the market are efficacious is another story. First off, CBD is more effective when used in conjunction with THC. That makes sense given that nature doesn't separate out lipids when constructing plants. It's the reason why golden rice was initially such a failure: you can't remove beta-carotene from carrots and expect it to work in a new context. Researchers had to create a second version with 23 more times beta-carotene for it to become effective at fighting childhood blindness.

Suggested doses of CBD are mostly guesswork. Sometimes those guesses prove to be pertinent. In fact—and again, this is only anecdote—when I posted my skepticism of the booming pet CBD industry on social media, a number of people reached out with examples of it working for their dogs. When I asked if it was full spectrum (including THC), all responded that it was. A few replied that they didn't like the psychological effects (sluggishness, "out of it"), but it seemed to do the trick.

At least now the FDA appears to be taking these supplements a little more seriously. The agency sent out warning letters to 15 CBD companies for illegally selling their products. The agency also notes that CBD has not achieved GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status. Apparently a regulatory framework for addressing the quickly-growing field of cannabis products is in the works. This is important given that numerous products turn out to have questionable ingredients (or no CBD at all).

Unfortunately, our pets cannot speak to us. Most observations of the efficacy of CBD will continue to be anecdotal, and we well know that the placebo effect shapes how we view reality. That this could extend to our furry friends should not be surprising; nor should the fact that companies are exploiting this questionable science.

In five years, or two, another magic bullet will be all the rage. Right now it's CBD and we're paying a premium for dropper bottles filled with questions.

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Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His next book is Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy.

A landslide is imminent and so is its tsunami

An open letter predicts that a massive wall of rock is about to plunge into Barry Arm Fjord in Alaska.

Image source: Christian Zimmerman/USGS/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • A remote area visited by tourists and cruises, and home to fishing villages, is about to be visited by a devastating tsunami.
  • A wall of rock exposed by a receding glacier is about crash into the waters below.
  • Glaciers hold such areas together — and when they're gone, bad stuff can be left behind.

The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.

Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

"It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

The Barry Arm Fjord

Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

Image source: Matt Zimmerman

The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

Image source: whrc.org

There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

"This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

Moving slowly at first...

Image source: whrc.org

"The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

How do you prepare for something like this?

Image source: whrc.org

The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

"To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

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Credit: Pixabay
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