CBD is widely thought to relieve stress and anxiety in humans – but what about elephants? Cannabis Health talks to veterinarian Dr Agnieszka Czujkowska, who is leading a groundbreaking project to find out.
Warsaw Zoo caused a stampede of media coverage last summer when it announced it was going to be testing the effects of CBD on its elephants.
The Hemp for Elephants project, which is thought to be the first study of its kind, aims to determine whether regular doses of CBD oil will reduce stress levels in the animals. If it proves to be successful, the zoo hopes to roll it out to other large mammals in its care, with giraffes, polar bears and rhinos all next in line.
But first, the eyes of the world will be on Fredzia, Fryderyk and Buba – the three elephants at the centre of the Polish zoo’s experiment.
The trio were thought to be the perfect candidates, when the zoo was approached by Polish CBD company Dobrekonopie at the beginning of last year.
Veterinarian, Dr Agnieszka Czujkowska, who is leading the project told Cannabis Health: “There’s always going to be an indication with elephants because they are really social creatures and they live in very complicated social groups.
“Elephants sometimes have various conflicts with each other – sometimes it’s the weather, sometimes it is caused by a changing environment – there are many factors that can make an elephant feel uncomfortable and stressed.”
After the death of Edna – the head of the zoo’s elephant herd – Fredzia was having trouble adjusting to her new position as the leader of the pack.
Dr Czujkowska said: “It’s not that there is an emergency in the group right now, because that would be the worst time to conduct this experiment, but we did have some changes. After our oldest elephant Edna died, they had to adjust to a new situation.
“Fredzia has always wanted to dominate and now she can, she’s in control of the other elephants so there is a little bit of stress involved.”
This combined with the fact that the elephants are in a small group, are well trained and the zookeepers know them all well, means it should be easier to monitor their behaviour during the project.
A pilot study was carried out first to measure the amount of cortisol, the hormone produced in the bodies of humans and animals in stressful situations, in the elephant’s saliva and determine which time of day it was highest.
For the study itself CBD hemp extracts will be mixed in with the elephant’s food or administered directly into their mouth at regular intervals.
Dr Czujkowska and her team will begin by following the guidance around dosage in horses – around 40-50 drops every six hours – and will then adjust this for each elephant throughout the project, collecting samples of their blood, faeces, saliva and urine to monitor the levels of cortisol.
“When you conduct an experiment like this, you have to have full control over the group,” she said.
“This is easy in the elephants because the keepers know them really well and they can catch the tiniest differences in their behaviour.”
She added: “We will expand into others such as giraffes, polar bears and rhinos.
“But these are wild animals and the problems that you have to solve are completely different from those in domesticated animals.”
Dr Czujkowska is hopeful that CBD could provide an alternative option to the strong pharmaceuticals that large animals are currently treated with.
“We have a whole pharmacy full of different drugs, but they are not natural and these drugs really change the animals’ behaviour,” she said.
“There are many antipsychotic drugs and true narcotics that you can use in elephants if you don’t have any other choice. For example, if you have to sedate or anaesthetise the animal or it’s a dangerous animal and you cannot approach it, or it has a huge wound that you have to clean every day and it’s not going to cope with the pain.
“Otherwise I think we should look for something natural, and CBD is a very potent substance so why not try it?
Dr Czujkowska continued: “We would rather work really hard through a lot of enrichment to manage the behaviour in the group and try CBD oils than just put them all on Prozac. That is not the solution.
“We have the people, we have the skills so we would rather work harder and give something natural a try, than just go for the easy option.”
The Hemp for Elephants study will be a long-term project, with Dr Czujkowska not expecting to be able to make the first conclusions until around one year down the line.
The study will also have to take into account environmental changes such as weather conditions and other outside factors that may impact on the elephants mood and behaviour.
“We might see that CBD solves some of our problems, maybe not all of the and maybe there will be some side effects. I don’t know and that’s the exciting part of the project,” she said.
“It’s not just about proving that it works. A project like this takes so much labour to collect all those samples and watch the animals, but it might benefit other elephants if people can look up the data and see the results for themselves.
“We thought let’s just try because it’s for the good of the animals, not just the science.”
CBD in the animal kingdom – what the research says
The use of CBD in animals is a growing area of interest and the internet is bursting with anecdotal evidence to suggest how it could help our furry friends – although so far the science to back it up is relatively thin on the ground.
In humans, cannabis is widely-thought to help relieve symptoms such as anxiety, chronic pain and to reduce seizures. Given how close we are to our pets, it was only a matter of time before people started to explore how it could be used to treat similar health concerns in the animal kingdom.
A study by Dr Stephanie McGrath at Colorado State University gave 14 dogs two daily doses of CBD oil for 12 weeks and the results showed a significant decrease in the number of seizures over this period.
Meanwhile Californian company Phyto Farmacy is marketing CBD oils for pain relief in farm animals, particularly horses.
A review of cannabis in veterinary medicine published last year by Dr Joshua Hartzel reported that although it has not seen the same advances as human medicine, there are now several university-based, clinical studies examining CBD from hemp extracts to measure its safety and pharmacokinetics, including the effect of hemp oil extracts on osteoarthritis and epilepsy.
The review concluded: “Due to the nearly universal distribution of the endocannabinoid system in all chordates, and in many invertebrates, the same or similar beneﬁts of cannabinoids found in humans also can be applied to most veterinary species.”
Despite concerns around treating animals with cannabis, a study published by the Veterinary Information Network showed that 80 percent of dogs that were given CBD to help relieve pain and anxiety experienced no adverse effects. However, the British Veterinary Association is reluctant to support CBD use in animals until more evidence about its impact emerges.
Photos courtesy of Dr Agnieszka Czujkowska, Warsaw Zoo
NFL to explore effects of CBD in players with chronic pain
America’s National Football League (NFL) is looking into how cannabis and CBD can help in managing player’s chronic pain.
The league and player’s association (NFLPA) made a formal request for information to researchers on “pain management alternatives to opioids” earlier this month.
In an official statement, the NFL-NFLPA Pain Management Committee (PMC) said it is working to “improve player health through evidence-based treatment of acute and chronic pain” and to “facilitate research to better understand and improve potential alternative treatments.”
The NFL is seeking out qualified researchers who could lead studies into pain management and athletic performance in its players.
Areas of investigation include the potential therapeutic role of medications and “non-pharmacological interventions” that are considered to be alternatives to opioids in routine pain management of NFL players, including, but not limited to, cannabinoids such as CBD.
The committee also wants to explore the cannabis or cannabinoids on athletic performance in NFL players.
The PMC was formed in 2019 as part of the NFL-NFLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement with the goal of benefitting the health and safety of NFL players through education and research.
Last year it conducted two informational forums on CBD to learn about the current state of CBD science and manufacturing in the US, as part of its aim to find alternatives to opioids in the pain management of players.
Respondents to the request are expected to have experience conducting controlled, experimental studies in the relevant areas and should be affiliated with institutions or companies that meet state, federal, and IRB requirements.
However the NFL is not committing to funding any specific studies at this stage, and instead wants to seek out qualified scientists who can assist with future research projects.
CBD is not currently listed on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s Prohibited List and, as a result, is permitted for use in sport.
However, all other cannabinoids such as cannabis, marijuana and THC are prohibited in competition due to the receptors activated in the brain which cause a ‘high’.
A 2018 review assessed the impact CBD has on relieving chronic pain. The review examined a number of studies, concluding that CBD was effective in overall pain management and didn’t cause any other negative side effects.
In addition, it has been suggested that CBD can speed recovery and fight fatigue – welcome news for athletes suffering from long-term or recurring injuries.
How can CBD help arthritis?
In the UK, more than 10 million people have arthritis or other, similar conditions that affect the joints – and many are turning to CBD products to ease their pain and discomfort.
With an ever-expanding range of drinks, gummies and edibles on thee market CBD could be seen as something aimed at the younger generation.
However, there is a growing body of research that suggests CBD can also be of great use for the older members of the population – and one condition in particular.
Arthritis is a common condition that causes pain and inflammation in a joint, and while it can affect people of all ages, it is more likely to begin when people are in their 40s and 50s, worsening with age.
A Canadian study from 2020 found that up to one in five patients who consulted an orthopedic surgeon for chronic musculoskeletal pain were using a cannabis product to treat them, with the express aim of reducing pain.
The researchers also found that interest in the compound was high, with two thirds of non-users curious to try a cannabis product to treat their muscle and joint pain.
Furthermore, those patients already using CBD had generally positive experiences using the products. Nine out of 10 said it was effective in managing their pain, and four in 10 said it decreased their reliance on other pain medications. Nearly 6 in 10 said cannabis products were more effective than other drugs.
Such findings corroborate what we already know about CBD; thanks to its anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, early research into its use as a treatment for acute and chronic pain is promising.
A 2016 study found that transdermal cannabidiol has potential for reducing pain and inflammation associated with arthritis without any noticeable side effects.
Cannabis-based medicines can help manage the pain of arthritis by rebalancing the body’s natural endocannabinoid pain-processing system and soothing inflamed body tissues.
There are two primary ways of taking a CBD supplement; topically or orally.
In the case of arthritis, a cream or ointment containing CBD would be rubbed into the affected area. Topical products may also include common over-the-counter ingredients such as menthol, capsaicin or camphor, which could make it difficult to determine if any positive effect is due to the CBD or another ingredient.
There are a number of ways to take CBD orally, from gummies, snacks and drinks to tinctures and capsules – although gummies are discouraged in households with children, due to their similarity with sweets.
However, all work in largely the same way, being absorbed through the digestive tract. However, it is worth noting that absorption can be slow and dosing is tricky due to the delayed onset of effect (one to two hours), unknown effects of stomach acids, recent meals and other factors.
Whichever method you choose, it is always a good idea to check with your medical practitioner first, as CBD, although it is natural, may interact with other treatments, such as prescription medications.
However, for those looking for an alternative to prescribed drugs, with fewer side effects, CBD could well prove to be the answer.
9 out of 10 readers have self-medicated with cannabis
Nine out of 10 Cannabis Health readers have consumed cannabis for medical purposes without a prescription – and almost all said they found it to be more effective than conventional medicines.
Over the last few weeks, we’ve been asking for your views on social media to delve deeper into how people are consuming cannabis.
As expected, the proportion of our readers who self-medicate with cannabis was high, but the results also demonstrate the perceived effectiveness of cannabis in comparison with traditional medication, highlighting a need for wider access to safe cannabis based medicines.
Despite the law around medical cannabis changing over two years ago, gaining a prescription can still be challenging, particularly on the NHS.
This has forced a lot of patients to take matters into their own hands.
According to research, as many as 1.4 million Brits are self-medicating with cannabis, equivalent to just over two percent of the country’s population.
Studies from the US have backed this up, with one suggesting that as many as a third of teenagers with a chronic health condition have taken it upon themselves to manage their symptoms with cannabis.
We asked our readers if they were self-medicating to treat a health condition, with the results confirming that almost 94 percent of people said they were.
On top of this, a further five percent said they were not currently, but were open to the idea.
Just over one percent said they weren’t self-medicating due to the stigma attached, however no one responded that the law was a factor in this.
Effectiveness of self-medicating
Anecdotal evidence and some early studies suggest that cannabis can ease symptoms of some chronic pain conditions, such as fibromyalgia, where other, more conventional medicines have failed.
There is also promise in the potential of cannabis to relieve some mental health conditions, with some saying it has provided huge relief for disorders such as PTSD.
Ninety five percent of Cannabis Health readers polled said they found cannabis extremely effective at relieving symptoms.
In addition no one said they had found it ineffective when it comes to treating their condition.
The remaining five percent said they found it to have a similar effect as their conventional treatments.
Route to administration
How patients consume cannabis can have an impact on its effectiveness, as well as how quickly it kicks in.
With such high numbers both self-medicating and reporting positive effects, we wanted to discover the common consumption methods.
Smoking the flower is the traditional method of consuming cannabis and often viewed as the one which can provide the most relief.
However, even though it has been seen to be less harmful than tobacco, smoking can still lead to a number of other health issues and is note recommended by health professionals.
Despite this, it remained the most popular choice among Cannabis Health readers, with just over a third saying this is how they consume cannabis.
The modern alternative to this is vaping, which was the second most common route to administration among Cannabis Health readers.
Around a third of readers said this was their preferred consumption method.
Some professionals argue this is the healthiest way for consumption, with clinics recommending vaping cannabis flower, but more research is needed in this area.
One method which has few negative effects is the use of oils or tinctures.
This is typically how CBD is consumed, with 21 percent of readers saying this was their preferred method.
Self-medicating alongside conventional medicines
The NHS says it is unlikely that many people in the UK will be able to gain access to a medical cannabis prescription.
Despite this, many patients have chosen to self-medicate with cannabis either alongside or often in the place of conventional therapies.
The majority of readers agreed with this, with 55 percent saying they no longer use conventional medicines in favour of cannabis.
A further 22 percent said they would only use their conventional medicines if they did not have access to cannabis and the remainder said that they still consume cannabis alongside conventional medication.
Want to get involved? Cannabis Health will be running a number of polls over on our social media pages, to find out more about your views on CBD and cannabis for medical and wellbeing purposes.
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- How can CBD help arthritis?
- 9 out of 10 readers have self-medicated with cannabis
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- Always Pure Organics: “The UK is a front runner in establishing a regulated CBD market”
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