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Hawaii Owners Turning To CBD Products For Their Pets' Medical, Behavioral Problems

David Zalubowski

Hawaii’s pet owners are increasingly turning to cannabidoil, a component of hemp, to help their beloved animals with physical and behaviorial problems, local veterinarians say. But several legislators and animal experts want to see the hemp-derived remedies regulated.

Cannabidiol, commonly known as CBD, is an ingredient of hemp that's drawing attention for its physical and mental health effects. While people commonly consume CBD in gummy candies and oils, newer products made specifically for pets have grown popular, according to Michael King, area medical director for the VCA Kaneohe Animal Hospital.

He said his clients frequently ask for medical advice on its use for pets.

“There’s definitely an interest in it,” said King. “We get more inquires than I ever did a few years ago.”

Bradley Kealoha Oana became a believer in CBD after his French bulldog Koda was born with holes in his heart and two sensitive heart valves. Koda's cardiovascular problems, coupled with growth problems, made him easily fatigued and anxious.

That all changed when Kealoha Oana said he began giving cannabidiol to Koda in his food. After a month and a half of feeding Koda CBD twice a day, Kealoha Oana believes his dog’s health has improved. Koda gained more energy and the dog's anxiety has disappeared, he said.

“So far, the results are good. I’m happy, and Koda’s happy,” said Kealoha Oana. 

Sean Riley, a canine behavior psychologist, said CBD oil gave his Dobermann pinscher, which suffered from serve spinal pain, more mobility and increased quality of life.

According to Riley, CBD alleviates pain through the network of chemical receptors found in the human, canine and feline bodies.

“I’ve used them with clients everywhere, from fearful, aggressive, anxious cases all the way down to ones with simple allergies that it helps as well,” Riley said. “It really is a unique medicine that is very broad.”

Credit Bradley Kealoha Oana
Bradley Kealoha Oana and his French bulldog, Koda

Across the nation, the CBD industry is rapidly expanding. According to TIME Magazine, it is expected to grow to $20 billion by 2022.

CBD production surged in 2018 when the lawmakers removed hemp from a list of controlled substances, such as marijuana. Products that contain less than 0.3% of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the component of marijuana that makes a person “high,” would no longer face strict federal regulations.

While supporters hail CBD as a miracle drug for pets, there is uncertainty about its long-term effects. Local and national critics say there is not enough information about the ingredient and which regulatons should apply. Because of this, veterinarians cannot legally prescribe the products.   

“In Hawaii, even though medical marijuana is legal, CBD is still not considered something we can legally use in pets,” said King.

“I think anecdotally there are individual cases where [CBD] seems like it’s doing something. It’s just with the legal ramifications, we can’t really advise people how much to use or encourage people to use it.”

According to the Food and Drug Branch of the State Health Department, the FDA has not approved cannabis-derived products, such as CBD, for animal use. Currently, the only form of CBD that is approved by the FDA is a drug called Epidiolex, which is meant to treat seizures in humans.

The DOH says because CBD is an active ingredient in an FDA-approved drug, it cannot be sold to someone without a valid prescription or over the counter. The state also says regardless of whether CBD is made from hemp or marijuana, all products are not considered safe and may pose potential health risks. 

Still, CBD stores selling products for humans and animals can be found throughout the island as well as online. Stores and kiosks carrying CBD products appear in Oahu's popular shopping malls, including Ala Moana Center and Pearlridge Center. 

The state is hoping to learn more about CBD and regulate it for both humans and animals, said John Mizuno, chair of the state House Committee on Health.

“We need to regulate CBD to ensure its quality,” said Mizuno. “It’s a safety thing and consumer protection thing. The most important thing for all of us to do, whether its CBD products for our pets or for us, is we really need to take a step back and look at what the experts are telling us.”

Although lawmakers have not been looking at the effects of CBD on animals specifically, Mizuno has met with experts in the CBD and medical marijuana industry. He is hoping to hold an official legislative briefing on CBD and its products later this year.  

Dr. Clifton Otto with Cannabis Healthcare Hawaii, a medical marijuana consulation clinic, has met with Mizuno and his colleagues earlier this year. Otto said the state needs to determine which drug category CBD falls into under Hawaii state laws.

“I think we need some clarification from our state agencies, like the Department of Public Safety and Department of Health, so that we know how to move forward with regulating this,” said Otto.

He said Hawaii could look to CBD laws in hemp-friendly states such as Oregon for regulatory examples. In these states, there are testing requirements for metals and pesticides to ensure consumers are buying safe products.

"We need to regulate CBD to ensure its quality. It's a safety thing and a consumer protection thing." - Rep. John Mizuno, House Health Committee chair

“We’re stuck,” Otto said. “We have hemp farmers that want to grow hemp for CBD but there are no regulations or rules that allow them to bring them to market. But, of course, that’s not stopping them.”

In July, Gov. David Ige vetoed a bill to regulate and facilitate the production of  industrial hemp. In his veto message, Ige’s said a “fine line between hemp and marijuana creates complexities.” He also said the bill would not meet U.S. Department of Agriculture requirements.

Ige's veto could result in more scrutiny of the CBD industry, Mizuno said. The state representative is planning to introduce a House bill next year that would broaden guidelines on growing and selling hemp products. 

Otto believes regulations covering use of CBD for pets should differ from that for humans. In both cases, he believes more research needs to be conducted in order to ensure its completely safe for pets. More research would also aid lawmakers in creating legislation around CBD products. 

Riley said he has not seen any negative effects on the animals from CBD that he has worked with over the past three years. However, he does warn owners that the quality and components of CBD products may affect the results they see in their pets.

King also says he has not seen negative effects in pets who are given CBD products without his medical recommendation. However, he advises pet owners to read drug labels carefully.

He said if a product contains more THC than is safe, a dog could suffer more consequences than benefits. Dogs can become unbalanced, urinate uncontrollably, and become extremely nervous. While only 0.3% of CBD  is allowed in the products, King hopes pet owners will be careful when medicating their animals on their own.

“I don’t really encourage [pet owners] to use it because there are a lot of unknowns,” said King.

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