Dogs, Cats, and the Endocannabinoid System

If you’ve ever thought that you and your furry friend have an indescribable connection, you’re not alone. In fact, humans and animals have a lot more in common than many people think. While we may look and sound different on the outside, we share quite a few similarities on the inside:

  • We share the same organs –– heart, kidneys, brain, lungs, liver, etc.
  • We share the same systems –– immune, respiratory, cardiovascular, and nervous systems.

But there’s one other system that’s been deemed “one of the most important physiological systems” found in mammals: The Endocannabinoid System.

What is the Endocannabinoid System?

The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is an internal signaling system comprised of three essential components:

  • Endocannabinoid receptors – receptor cells (CB1 and CB2) mediate the response of endogenous cannabinoids. These cells are found all throughout the body. CB1 receptor cells are found primarily in the central nervous system (spinal cord and brain), while CB2 receptors cells are more abundant in the peripheral nervous system (immune system). These cells send signals from our brain to the rest of our body.
  • Endocannabinoids – endogenous cannabinoids are molecules that help activate cannabinoid receptors. They are created throughout the body and are the key messengers of the ECS.
  • Enzymes – biological molecules that help break down endogenous cannabinoids. They help stimulate chemical reactions in the body.

As complex as this system may sound, you may be even more surprised to know that the ECS was only just recently discovered.

Initially, the journey to discovering the ECS started in the late 1800s. However, it wasn’t until the 1960s that scientists really started to notice this elaborative system. In fact, it was Dr. Ralph Mechoulam, an Israeli scientist, who first isolated and identified the chemical makeup of the infamous intoxicating phytocannabinoid, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and the non-intoxicating Cannabidiol (CBD). His curiosity in how THC affects the mind opened the door to identifying endocannabinoid receptors, which were initially thought to be found only in the brain.

Then, in the 1990s, the first discoveries of two major endogenous cannabinoids were made –– Anandamide and 2- Arachidonoylglycerol (2AG). With the discovery of endocannabinoids, receptor cells, and other endogenous components, scientists are observing just how crucial of a role the ECS plays in maintaining good health.

Still the question remains: What role does the endocannabinoid system play in our pets?

How Does the Endocannabinoid System Work in Pets?

The role of the ECS is to communicate balance within our pet’s body, through homeostasis – i.e. keeping everything in proper balance. Scientific research suggests that when the ECS is working correctly, it helps regulate appetite, digestion, mood, sleep, perception of pain, memory, body temperature, motor control, immune function, cognitive function, reproduction, and fertility. In other words, our pets’ bodies are constantly making endocannabinoids. Their bodies know when and how to make them in order to stay healthy. When something is out of balance in our pet’s body, their ECS responds by identifying the problem and bringing it back into balance. But when the ECS is not working properly, our four-legged friend’s body is no longer in balance and we start seeing physical negative signs like:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Poor digestion –– vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation
  • Excessive panting, even in cool temperatures
  • Aggression
  • Fear
  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • No desire to play
  • Whimpering

According to researchers, the cause of many chronic conditions may be due to Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Syndrome –– the lack of endocannabinoids. In this case, our furry friends are often prescribed pharmaceuticals to help alleviate their ailments. While some medications can improve the health of our beloved pets, unwanted side effects inevitably follow. Before you know it, your sweet fur baby is on a handful of medications. In these cases, some pet owners have seen benefits from supplementing with plant cannabinoids like CBD. So what exactly does CBD do in our pet’s body?

Endocannabinoid System and CBD

When CBD enters our pet’s body, it indirectly influences their ECS to utilize more of their naturally occurring endogenous cannabinoids. This just means that CBD helps their body create more endocannabinoids. With this influence, the CB1 and CB2 receptors can then respond to these newly created endocannabinoids — which then creates balance.

CBD also interacts with the enzymes that are responsible for breaking down their endocannabinoids like Anandamide, also known as the “bliss molecule”. It’s called the bliss molecule because it’s responsible for invoking harmony or happiness in the body. Unfortunately, anandamide is a short-lived molecule, meaning the body breaks it down fairly quickly. However, when CBD is consumed, it actually interferes with enzymes responsible for breaking down anandamide, allowing it to stay in their system longer.

Another key factor regarding the endocannabinoid system and CBD is the Entourage Effect – which is the enhancement of therapeutic potency when combining phytocannabinoids and all other phytochemicals from the cannabis plant. This term is popularly known in the CBD industry, as it informs consumers that using the whole hemp plant enhances the efficacy of its overall therapeutic benefits in the body. We know that CBD and THC are powerful phytocannabinoids and they influence certain therapeutic effects in our pets’ bodies. It’s also important to note that other phytocannabinoids and terpenes help enhance these effects and they offer quite a few beneficial properties as
well.

Endocannabinoid System in Dogs

To date, scientists are still learning how the endocannabinoid system and hemp oil interact with one another. For the most part, researchers are only aware of how the endocannabinoid system and hemp oil help with misfiring brain cells and inflammation in dogs.

Additionally, one of the major differences scientists noticed between the endocannabinoid systems in dogs and humans is that dogs actually have more endocannabinoid receptors in their brain than humans do. This makes them more susceptible to the effects of phytocannabinoids like THC and CBD. Too much THC can cause a condition in dogs called static ataxia. While not fatal, it is very troubling and scary – for you and your dog. Full spectrum hemp oil products that contain less than 0.3% THC are very beneficial, it’s important to be cautious of the quality of your full spectrum hemp oil products and to only give the recommended dose, unless directed otherwise by your veterinarian. It also means that you need to be very observant of how your pet responds to full spectrum hemp oil products.

Our pets’ bodies are uniquely designed much like the human body. From their organs and muscles, to their senses and desires, everything in their body has a purpose, a function, and a connection to one another. Their endocannabinoid system is just as involved in various processes and functions as the human endocannabinoid system. When we understand how hemp oil interacts with their ECS, we can potentially provide relief from certain health ailments and improve their quality of life.