CBD for pets – what’s happening in Canada?

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CBD for pets – what’s happening in Canada?
Photo courtesy of Pet Releaf.

The laws surrounding the use of CBD for pets in Canada are constantly evolving. This update will help you make sense of the current landscape so you can make the best decisions for your animal companions.

The current situation involving CBD (cannabidiol) in Canada is nothing short of confusing for most consumers. With very little true information being circulated, many retailers are being kept in the dark, and are neither researching the validity, legality and safety of products nor being informed by suppliers. As a result, they misinform pet parents, creating even more uncertainty.

A few years ago, Health Canada was letting Hemp Oil through the border, as initially the classification of Hemp Oil actually meant Hemp Seed Oil. But this little four letter word had many connotations that didn’t come to light until the dawning of the Cannabis Act.1

Before the CBD market exploded, Health Canada confirmed that distributing CBD products for pets was legal because:

  1. It’s from industrial hemp (not marijuana) and has less than 0.3% THC;
  2. It wasn’t being sold for human use.

So in it came in droves. It flooded the Canadian pet market until Health Canada recognized that there was also CBD in hemp oil. Before that time, they had never differentiated between hemp SEED oil and hemp oil – an important distinction that could have prevented the current confusion in the market.

Hemp oil is made from the complete plant (“full-spectrum”) which includes the flowers, branches and leaves. This DOES contain CBD.

Hemp SEED oil is oil created from pressing the seed only. It’s been available readily for years even at the supermarket but it contains no CBD (or so little that it’s ineffective).

To add to the confusion, the Cannabis Act has never classified non-viable hemp seed as “Cannabis” yet the common nomenclature (name shown on the label) for hemp seed is Cannabis Sativa.

As the classification was so hazy, many CBD companies were able to ship into Canada and many retailers were happy to sell the products in their stores. However, once the Cannabis Act came into force on October 17, 2018, the agencies involved in “policing” the regulations started to become more educated on what was allowed and what wasn’t. CBD started to raise flags at the border with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and shipments were refused or seized.

Cannabis/CBD is legal… right?

Now… “cannabis is legal” I hear you say. Well, it is and it isn’t. It’s a bit like driving a car. Driving is legal, but you need a licence to do it! The same goes for selling cannabis (or CBD). Although the substance itself is now legalized, you can’t sell it unless you hold a provincial licence.2 And of course, every province has different stipulations.

It is interesting to note that hemp farmers, until August 2018, had always destroyed their biomass (leaves, branches and flowers) as part of their licensing regulations. Therefore there are no strains of hemp with a significant CBD content being grown in Canada, as CBD was never being utilised. Only the seeds and stalks were allowed to be processed.

So where is all this so-called “CBD from hemp” coming from, especially as many companies are touting it as Canadian? Much is coming in from China and Russia under various incorrect classifications. Typically it’s not tested, and may be contaminated with heavy metals and/or radiation.

The problem with misleading marketing claims

Many companies have become very well informed as to the current legal standpoint surrounding CBD – but they’ve also become clever; mislabelling products and importing substances as other oils or supplements for pets.  Many will simply tell consumers that products do in fact contain CBD but have no evidence as to the truth in the statement or the safety of the source. They leave “CBD” off the label and only put “hemp seed oil” in order to dupe Health Canada.

Others list PCR or phytocannabinoid instead of CBD on their packaging – which won’t protect them for long, since Health Canada added phytocannabinoids to the restricted substances list. Interesting, since dozens of readily available substances (such as carrots and black pepper) contain phytocannabinoids!

Tips for pet parents

Unfortunately, it will take time for Health Canada to get everything sorted. In the meantime, it’s important for pet parents to be aware of what’s out there.

We’re almost at a point where you could put bleach in a bottle, slap a label that says CBD on it and people will buy it. Unless every pet parent can get a third party lab test, there’s no way to know if the product they’re buying is safe – and contaminated hemp/CBD can worsen an animal’s condition rather than improve it!

Many veterinary associates are also concerned about the high rate of visits from pets that have consumed THC. To quote Gabriella Gobbi, MD, PhD, “70 percent of cannabidiol sold online has a fake content of cannabidiol (CBD) or has a lot of THC.”3 These were not just products marketed for pets, but people too.

The bottom line? There are still a lot of problems that need to be addressed.

CBD from Hemp needs to be re-categorised – it’s that simple! The Farm Bill4 in the US, which came into force December 2018, finally categorised CBD based on its source (hemp which has less than 0.3% THC, or marijuana which has over 0.3% THC). This has allowed many US companies to freely sell and distribute a wide variety of CBD products created from the complete hemp plant. The same needs to happen in Canada.

In the meantime, do your research. Contact companies directly and ask questions about their products before buying them, and don’t accept label claims at face value. If suppliers are comfortable with deceiving you to make sales, what does that say about their ethics? To validate a product and ensure the safety of your pets, you can file a report with the Cannabis Compliance Office so they can investigate whether there even is CBD present in that product and/or stop it being sold.5

1https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/C-24.5/fulltext.html

2https://www.canadianveterinarians.net/documents/hc-fact-sheet-cbd-cannabis-hemp-products-new-cannabis-act

3https://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-august-23-2019-1.5257294/aug-23-2019-episode-transcript-1.5258098

4https://www.analyticalcannabis.com/articles/the-2018-farm-bill-what-this-means-for-hemp-311394

5http://www.healthycanadians.gc.ca/en/health-canada/services/drugs-medication/cannabis/recalls-adverse-reactions-reporting/reporting-form.html

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