Animals at Warsaw Zoo are being given cannabis extract as part of a programme to investigate whether it can reduce anxiety. The first to receive the experimental treatment are the elephants.
The study aims to assess the impact of cannabidiol (CBD) oil – the active ingredient of which is a chemical derived from cannabis plants – on the moods of different animals. Elephants were chosen as the first subjects because they are prone to stress but also easy to monitor.
“We know what each of our elephants eat, how they behave, if they show any behavioural disturbances, what their position is in the group,” says Agnieszka Czujkowska, a veterinary doctor and the head of the zoo’s animal rehabilitation department, quoted by Polsat News.
“We can check their current state of health by examining their blood,” she continues. “If the results are good, we hope to invite further animals for an adventure with hemp.”
Warsaw Zoo’s elephants have recently found themselves in a difficult situation, reports Gazeta Wyborcza. In March this year, 35-year-old Erna – the largest and oldest female – died. That has resulted in stress and tension for her two younger female companions, Fredzia and Buba.
“After the loss of the herd leader, Fredzia and Buba are going through a very difficult time connected with establishing a new hierarchy, which is even more difficult as they form only a group of two,” explained Patryk Pyciński, the zoo’s mammal keeper.
“The females are very closely related and now have to get along with each other, which generates a lot of stress,” he added. “It can take months or even years for elephants to cope with such a big change. We are trying to help them return to their psychophysical balance.”
The investigation is being run in cooperation with an online hemp store DobreKonopie.pl, which already sells CBD oil for use on animals. The product is made by extracting CBD from the cannabis plant and then diluting it with coconut or hemp seed oil.
Although derived from cannabis, the CBD oil does not cause intoxication or a “high”. It is seen by some as a natural remedy for certain ailments, including as a way of regulating mood. As well as being used on humans, some pet owners tout the benefits of administering the product to cats and dogs.
Małgorzata Fabiańska – a veterinary technician from DobreKonopie.pl – claims to have used it successfully on horses, telling Gazeta Wyborcza that it has helped reduce pain and swelling while also mitigating symptoms of anxiety.
Both her firm and Warsaw Zoo say that this is the first case they know of in which CBD has been given to elephants. The oil will be added to the animals’ food, though zookeepers will also attempt to administer the substance directly into their mouths, so that it can be more effectively absorbed.
“It all depends on whether they like the smell and taste of the cannabis,” says Czujkowska. “So far, there have been no ‘complaints’ during the tests we have undertaken.”
The first elephant being given the experimental treatment is Fredzia, who has exhibited signs of stress following the death of Erna. Andrzej Grzegorz Kruszewicz, director of Warsaw Zoo, told Polsat that anxiety in elephants is a common issue
“Stress in elephants is a widely known topic,” he said. “Numerous studies are conducted in this area, but we have not yet found a description of a similar project, so we are glad that we can implement it.”
If the experiment is successful, other animals at the zoo will also be given the CBD oil. Among the next in line are rhinoceroses and bears, spokeswoman Anna Karczewska told Gazeta Wyborcza.
Main image credit: Warszawskie ZOO/Facebook