There's CBD in everything these days—hummus, jelly beans, maple syrup, and even dog treats. Does that mean you should give some to your pup? Dr. Courtney Campbell is here to hash (ahem) it out.

dog laying in grass smiling
A very good—and very relaxed—boy.
| Credit: Photography by Getty

What Is CBD?

CBD is short for cannabidiol, a chemical compound found in marijuana and hemp. This is what's typically found in these dog treats, potions, and creams. "CBD doesn't have the psychotropic, or hallucinogenic, effects, but it maintains various positive medicinal properties," says Campbell. Translation: CBD may be helpful, and it won't get dogs high.

What Does It Do?

Humans have been exploring CBD as a treatment for anxiety, chronic pain, seizures, and other medical issues. Now there are formulas to address the same ailments in pets. "Studies evaluating CBD's benefits in dogs are limited," says Campbell. "Although there's a robust body of research in mice and rats, much of that cannot be extrapolated to companion animals." Meaning that most of the evidence we have for CBD's efficacy with pets is strictly anecdotal.

Is It Safe?

"Almost all drugs have the potential for side effects; however, cannabinoids appear to be remarkably safe in dogs and cats," Campbell says. Of course, talk to your vet if you're considering some for your pet. Exercise caution and keep a close eye on him whenever you give him a new medication or supplement.

Is It Legal?

"Not all CBD is legal—only the kind that has been demonstrated to be derived from industrialized hemp is legal," says Campbell. Hemp farms must be approved and monitored from seed to plant via the Secretary of the USDA, and a license is required. Legality will depend on where you live and whether you're talking about CBD from hemp or marijuana, so research local laws before buying. "And verify that the supplement comes from a validated source and has undergone strict safety testing," Campbell says. 

What To Look For?

Campbell says to look for three things: water-soluble hemp (it is more easily absorbed into your pup's bloodstream, providing faster relief); a USDA organic certification ("it has to meet strict criteria for not being contaminated with harmful ingredients"); and less than 0.3 percent THC, the legal maximum allowed in medicinal marijuana products (higher doses could be toxic to dogs).

What About Other Holistic Pet Treats?

There are plenty: chamomile, which can be used as a mild sedative; valerian, which can relieve anxiety; tryptophan, which helps regulate mood and sleep patterns; and more. "If you're considering using a calming herb or alternative therapy, discuss with a veterinarian trained in alternative therapies," Campbell says.

This article originally appeared in our Summer 2020 issue. Get the magazine here