EXCLUSIVE: Avida Global’s Top Strategist Discusses Europe’s CBD Market for Pets

By Oliver Bennett, Special Contributor to New Frontier Data

Heidi Whitman is Global Strategy Director at Avida Global. From a technical background in the veterinary industry she co-founded Naked Leaf, formulating CBD products for people and animals, subsequently acquired along with its parent company, CBD Labs LLC Ltd, in 2019.

Use of CBD for pets has been rising in the U.S. for years, Whitman says. “Now that uptick is happening in Europe and the U.K., it’s just a matter of time before we flip over some of the regulations that have prevented the market growing.”

With traditional dog and cat products ruling the market, others designed for equine and other domesticated animals loom on the horizon. Those pet and animal products marketed as treats, supplements, or food additives feature therapeutic CBD with antianxiety and anti-inflammation properties, which are expected to remain top-selling products in the segment.

Recent tracking of CBD pet products found no noticeable differences during the COVID-19 pandemic, though government regulations among some countries have tempered demand by suggesting doubts about the health and efficacy of cannabis for pets. 

For example, the U.K. defines CBD as a medicine, therefore requiring stringent regulation. Whitman notes that the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD)  has expressed concerns about having vets prescribe CBD. Nevertheless, she adds, vets can prescribe human CBD for animals, which seems to render it as more of a marketing than medical issue.

It’s not for a lack of research, Whitman suggests: ”There’s actually a lot of research to demonstrate its safety,” she explains. “Many products are already on the market and pet CBD is on the forefront of many professional bodies, including the ACI. The trouble is that professionals need to protect their licenses and prove they’re not doing anything detrimental to the animal. So, at the moment we need to provide education, science, and support to show that cannabidiol for animals is safe, effective, and non-toxic.”

Avida Global has been cultivating cannabis for production cannabis in Colombia, where four universities have been providing veterinary research to implement clinical work. “Hopefully that research will shine a light on the fact that it’s safe and works, and we can bring that to Europe,” Whitman said. In the European Union it’s a grey area where they adopt an approach similar to the U.K. However, there’s already a great market for pet CBD in several countries, including Spain, Germany, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia. So, I think pressure from the public will overturn some of the veterinary hesitations.”

She elaborated that “like humans, animals have an endocannabinoid system, and just like us pets can experience neurological disorders to anxiety, seizures or fits and arthritis. Once we activate that system through plant-based cannabinoids we can correct those imbalances. So, say your dog, horse or cat has arthritis or pain – these are imbalance that can be treated with CBD. My dog is personally on CBD prescribed by a vet in the UK for seizures, and it works. Pain, anxiety, arthritis and neurological issues in pets are all proven to be relieved or de-escalated with cannabinoid therapies,” if in limited sampling.

Whitman noted that “regarding agricultural usage, there’s a consensus that cannabis for ruminants used for food is not an option. That’s not to say that that won’t change; I’d suspect happy cows produce happy milk. But at the moment it’s much more in the pets market although in Colombia, we’re working with zoos, including Cali Zoo. Animals in captivity experience a lot of ailments that may not be present in the wild; this year, we’ve been working with a hyena with arthritis, an electric eel that had been chewing its tail, and two anorexic snakes suffering renal failure, as well as a sea otter and a bear with anxiety. A vet working at Cali Zoo said that cannabis would have been her last option, but after working with our colleagues in Colombia is now convinced” while the consensus remains uncertain.

According to the American Pet Products Association, U.S. pet owners in 2020 spent approximately $95.5 billion on pet supplies, treatments, and veterinary care. According to Whitman, the 2020 global market for pet CBD was $125 million USD.

“That’s growing now, as vets are flipping one by one. I’ve asked one U.S. doctor to come in as a leader into Latin America as we want to produce a medicinal cannabis extract and partner with the right brands who want to bring it to market, supported by science and education. I’d say out of the 10 or 20 brands that I could think of, maybe three or four have had the time to do some research. And that will be increasing. I think there’s plenty of room on the market for a variety of different brands. There have been groundbreaking studies already. In the U.S., Cornell University (in 2016) was one of the first to do a study on osteoarthritis, [before] studies from the University of Colorado. But university research is highly priced – not something a new CBD brand could afford.”

Whitman adds that “Pedigree has come out with a CBG product, and large pharmaceutical companies for veterinary supply are also in R&D. But it’s still a sensitive subject, needing veterinarian and education. I’m confident because at Avida we’re working with medical cannabis for humans, and we can also support the veterinary market in the same way.”

She says that Avida is “investing in studies, educational documents, and webinars. And I’ll be going back to Colombia in August to speak at the annual Veterinary Congress for all of Latin America, to get in front of doctors and most importantly, students. The vets of the future will be far more adept in prescribing cannabis, and – starting in Colombia – I hope that we can be a shining beacon for Europe.”