Recommending CBD and Hemp Products for Pets: Legal Considerations for Veterinarians

By Catie Wightman

Feb 9, 2023

Cannabis (including both marijuana and hemp) has been used therapeutically for generations to treat many ailments ranging from pain to seizure disorders. Pet owners are increasingly interested in the medical benefits of these substances for their companion animals; however, there are legal implications for the pet owner and the veterinarian.

This two-part Vicente Insights series discusses the potential legal implications for veterinarians regarding cannabis and hemp products. This article focuses on hemp and hemp-derived products, while part one focuses on cannabis products.

Legality of Hemp and Hemp-derived Products for Pets

When the plant Cannabis sativa L. has less than 0.3% THC, it is "hemp." Hemp was legalized at the federal level through the 2018 Farm Bill and is no longer considered a federally controlled substance. Cannabidiol (CBD) products derived from hemp for humans and animals are readily available across the country. However, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) takes the position that CBD may not be included in food or dietary supplement products for humans or animals. As far as the FDA is concerned, pet food and treats containing hemp-derived CBD are adulterated and illegal for sale in interstate commerce.

In a recent announcement, the FDA stated that it will not be undertaking rulemaking to permit the sale of products containing CBD—including those intended for animals—and that any path forward must come from Congress. The agency devoted an entire paragraph of this short announcement to its concerns regarding products for animals, reinforcing that the agency is particularly concerned about animal products. The FDA is concerned with the risks to animals consuming CBD and the potential for people to become unintentionally exposed through meat, milk and eggs. The FDA suggested that a new regulatory pathway enacted by Congress could provide "access and oversight" for CBD products for animals.

In addition, while it does not have any regulatory authority, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) works with the FDA to establish model policies for the pet food industry. AAFCO released guidance* stating that hemp ingredients, including CBD and other cannabinoids, cannot be used in pet food. This guidance has been adopted and is binding in many states. Additionally, this guidance is referenced by many states and treated as binding—even where not officially adopted. (* Note, this guidance was recently removed from the AAFCO website, but there is no indication that it is rescinded and many states still reference it.)

Furthermore, many states have various laws regulating hemp-derived products, including pet products.

  • Some states choose not to control hemp-derived animal products and defer to the FDA's interpretation
  • Other states prohibit certain product types, such as food and treats for animals containing hemp-derived ingredients, including CBD
  • Some states expressly allow these products

Veterinary Recommendation or Sale of Hemp-Derived Products

Many veterinarians have a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) registration to prescribe controlled medications to animal patients. To maintain a DEA registration, veterinarians must comply with state and federal laws. While the DEA typically looks at whether the veterinarian is complying with federal and state controlled substances laws, it is possible that violations of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA)—as well as state food and drug laws—could affect a veterinarian's DEA license. And depending on the state issuing the veterinarian a license, violations of these laws could put a veterinarian's license to practice at risk.

Simply recommending that a pet take a hemp-derived product is not a violation of the FFDCA and likely does not violate state food and drug laws, even if the product is prohibited in the state where the veterinarian practices. However, selling hemp-derived products, including CBD, at a veterinary office likely violates the FFDCA and could potentially violate state law. Veterinarians who wish to sell pet food or treats containing hemp-derived cannabinoids at their office should be aware that these products are considered adulterated by the FDA. Veterinarians should also ensure they know all state laws regarding pet hemp products. They may be prohibited under state law or have specific requirements, including obtaining state registration, labeling, and testing requirements.

Hemp and CBD Product Considerations for Pet Owners

Pet owners should be honest and always discuss hemp and CBD products with their veterinarians before giving pets these products. There are a wide variety of hemp products now available on the market—some of which are intoxicating. Pets react differently than humans to cannabinoids, and these products may be dangerous for pets. In addition, if pets unintentionally consume products containing hemp ingredients, a veterinarian should be contacted immediately, as treatment may be required.

If you have questions about complying with your state's laws, regulations, and policies, please contact Vicente LLP.

Read part one, which focuses on legal considerations for veterinarians recommending cannabis products for companion animals.

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