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. But there’s one other system that’s been deemed one of the most important 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 receptor 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. Scientific research suggests that when the ECS is working properly it helps regulate a variety of bodily functions. Here’s a great link about the ECS as it relates to the body. 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 can start possibly seeing a range of physical negative signs like: vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, excessive panting (even in cool temperatures), aggression, fear, lethargy, melancholy or sad behaviors, no or lessened desire to play, whimpering, and much more.

According to researchers, many conditions may be due to a lack of endocannabinoids. In these cases, some pet owners have seen benefits from trying out 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 interacts with their ECS which helps it utilize more of their body’s naturally occurring endogenous cannabinoids. CBD also interacts with the enzymes that are responsible for breaking down their endocannabinoids like Anandamide, which is typically thought of as a molecule that helps with mood and happiness. Unfortunately, anandamide is a short-lived molecule, meaning the body breaks it down fairly quickly. However, when CBD is consumed, it can help it stay in the system longer by interacting with certain enzymes.

Another key factor regarding the endocannabinoid system and CBD is the Entourage Effect – which is the enhancement of effect 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 potential benefits in the body. We know that CBD and THC have the potential to influence certain effects in our pets’ bodies. It’s also important to note that other phytocannabinoids and terpenes help enhance these effects and they may 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 enhance brain function and help with joint discomfort 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 is harmful for a dog. The good news is that full spectrum hemp oil products contain less than 0.3% THC – which render it non-psychoactive and not harmful to give your dog. But the adverse effects of too much THC is why it’s important to be cautious of the quality of your full spectrum hemp oil products, which means buying from reputable and transparent companies, 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. 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 hopefully better their quality of life.