The diverse compounds in medical cannabis and potential health benefits

There are many different compounds in CBD with health benefits for animals.

Medical cannabis is well recognised for its two primary cannabinoids THC and CBD which have been well researched to have therapeutic actions in the body.

However there are numerous other plant constituents such as terpenes, flavonoids and other minor cannabinoids that all play a part in the diverse medicinal actions of cannabis.

How each of these cannabinoids and plant components affects or may benefit pets is yet to be thoroughly investigated.

Nevertheless, there is plenty of information on the actions and potential of cannabinoids to grasp an understanding of how these plant constituents might address symptoms or medical conditions experienced by our beloved pets.

CBD oil for dogs and cats

CBD oil prescriptions for pets have soared in the past 12 months in Australia. More vets are becoming interested and educating themselves on the unique and broad actions of this cannabinoid.

CBD oil, the dominant cannabinoid in veterinary prescribing, has anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, antioxidant and analgesic properties. 

CBD exerts its action via influencing endocannabinoid system pathways and interacting with numerous receptors involved in immune system functions, mood regulation and pain.

A part of CBD oil’s pain-relieving qualities is due to its anti-inflammatory actions where it modulates SOD and pro-inflammatory cytokine pathways. 

CBD has been shown to be an allosteric modulator of opioid receptors, it also has an affinity for TPRV and PPAR receptors. Both of these mechanistic pathways are postulated to contribute to its analgesic properties.

Together these anti-inflammatory and analgesic actions make CBD oil a potential treatment for arthritic conditions. A recent double-blind controlled trial research suggests CBD has greater bioavailability when delivered in a liposomal form. 

In dogs with osteoarthritis, 20mg/day of liposomal CBD showed similar improvements in a dog’s ability to walk and run with ease, as well as general mobility measures when compared to 50mg/day non-liposomal CBD.

CBD is probably most well known for its effects on epilepsy in children. By influencing the endocannabinoid system through the same anticonvulsant and neuroprotective mechanisms as in humans, CBD oil has exhibited promising results in treating dogs with epilepsy

High blood concentrations of CBD was associated with greater improvements than the placebo, with dogs treated with CBD oil showing a mean 33% decrease in seizure frequency.

CBD has exhibited osteogenic capabilities in rodent models and in vitro human cells. CBD may assist in fracture repair in animals by increasing an enzyme involved in collagen cross-linking, thereby increasing the migration and differentiation of mesenchymal cells in regenerating bone structures.

Safety considerations with CBD oil and pets

In dogs, the most common side effect of CBD oil is diarrhea, less frequently observed is erythematous pinnae or discharge from the eyes. In both humans and animals changes in liver enzymes, particularly slight increases in ALP have been observed in dogs. 

There is limited research on the effects of CBD oil in cats. Some safety research exists yet there has been no investigations into CBD oil treating specific conditions in cats. It seems cats more frequently experience side effects from CBD than dogs, primarily increased licking and head shaking,

Collectively research concludes CBD to have a good safety profile in dogs with side effects within respectable ranges and often mitigated by careful titration. Despite this, for pets taking concurrent medications regular monitoring is warranted.

Dogs can benefits from the various compounds in CBD

The THC effect in pets

You might have noticed THC is usually not  included in veterinary studies of cannabis medicines, whereas it is regularly included in human research and prescriptions. This is because pets have slightly different endocannabinoid systems than humans. 

The endocannabinoid system or ECS impacts nearly every physiological function in the body. CB1, one of the major receptors in the ECS, is responsible for inducing the intoxicating, psychoactive action associated with THC ingestion.

Unlike humans, dogs exhibit this receptor in regions of the brain involving autonomic nervous system functions which can affect their movement coordination and breathing. This makes dogs more sensitive to the intoxicating effects of THC, resulting in ataxia, and sometimes death, in very rare incidents of accidental high dose.

Even so, investigations are underway into the use of low dose THC with high doses of CBD in pets. 

Three different doses of THC:CBD at a ratio of 1:20 were compared against a placebo for adverse effects and pharmacokinetics in 13 dogs. This research found that the high dose group (10mg CBD, 0.5mg THC) showed signs of hyperesthesia and mild ataxia, but no noticeable change in depression or stupor.

Other side effects recorded included urinary incontinence(1/6), ptyalism (1/6) and small amounts of vomit (3/6). The medium showed significantly fewer adverse effects which were reduced by the fifth day of dosing, while the low dose showed no adverse effects.

In light of the potent and varied actions of THC, including analgesic, antispasmodic, sedative and antiemetic properties, including THC in veterinary medical cannabis formulations holds promise. An experienced vet must be involved when considering including THC in veterinary prescriptions.

Unlike THC, CBD is psychoactive but non-intoxicating. Both cannabinoids influence neurotransmitters which give rise to CBD oil’s promise in treating pets with anxiety

However, CBD does not interact with great affinity with CB1 receptors and therefore has a better safety profile for animals.

Minor cannabinoids

While certain medical cannabis production includes varied ratios of major cannabinoids, minor cannabinoids also play a key role in the therapeutic benefits of medical cannabis.

Minor cannabinoids represent around 1% of cannabinoid content in most cannabis plants, though different cultivation techniques and final product additions can increase their quantity. 

Two minor cannabinoids of great interest are THC-A and CBD-A, the acidic, non-intoxicating precursors to the major cannabinoids, THC and CBD. 

THC-A has potent anti-nausea effects, whilst CBD-A may prove to be a more effective analgesic than CBD.

Other minor cannabinoids with major potential include CBG which hold promise for mood dysregulation and skin conditions. CBC may also influence mood with anti-depressant activity as well as influence endocannabinoid levels.

Minor cannabinoids have been included in some cannabinoid products used in veterinary studies with their pharmacokinetic measured. However, sparse attention has been given to the therapeutic potential as yet.


Terpenes are aromatic compounds that account in large part for the distinct yet varied aromas of cannabis. Through a phenomenon known as the entourage effect, terpenes act together with cannabinoids, flavonoids and other plant constituents to create synergistic effects. 

In some circumstances, this can mean cannabinoids might exert different or enhanced effects when administered with terpenes or particular phytoconstituents profiles. 

Certain terpenes such as 𝛽-caryophyllene and pinene both have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant actions making them potentially useful in situations of inflammation, oxidative stress and bacterial infections.

Linalool and humulene both have sedative actions that may promote restful sleep as well as positive effects on pain. 

The benefits of terpenes in vet prescribed medical cannabis may already be providing our pets with positive benefits, though targeted investigation has yet to be conducted.


There are thousands of different flavonoids across the plant world, many of which have been researched in other contexts with great success against certain illnesses. 

In cannabis plants, flavonoids play a role in producing pigments and as a part of the plant’s defence system, providing protection from insects, microbes and excess UV. 

Flavonoids have potent antioxidant properties and those found in cannabis species such as cannaflavin A and B have been investigated for their ability to inhibit inflammation via suppressing the release of prostaglandins and synthesis of leukotrienes in animals.

Medical cannabis and the possible health benefits for pets

Within each cannabinoid medicine, there is a microcosm of different phytoconstituents – all with unique mechanisms and potential benefits for pets. 

Understanding the varied actions of cannabinoids and other minor phytoconstituents can go a long way in improving outcomes.

Want to learn more about prescribing CBD oil? Contact us  at [email protected] or register your interest HERE.

By Jessica Kindynis


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