Animal care specialists at the Warsaw Zoo are studying the potential therapeutic uses of CBD by using it as a treatment for an elephant experiencing the grief of losing a member of its herd. The experiment at the zoo in Poland’s capital is being led by Dr. Agnieszka Czujkowska, the head of the facility’s Animal Rehabilitation Department.
In March of this year, Erna, the largest female and elder of the zoo’s herd of four elephants passed away, which caused a major disruption of the group dynamics of the remaining three animals.
“This is a huge game-changer in every elephant group,” Czujkowska told the BBC. “Elephants might have behavioral problems when the structure of a group changes.”
After Erna’s death, one of the three remaining elephants, another female named Fredzia, began exhibiting signs of grief.
“Fredzia reacted strangely when she saw Erna’s body. She was really excited,” Czujkowska explained. “But you could see that she was also grieving actually, she was also depressed.”
After the death of an elder member of an elephant herd, it can take months or even years for the members of the group to cope with the loss. Only then can the herd return to its previous state of harmony.
“When Erna passed away, everything changed,” Czujkowska said. “I don’t think Fredzia was ready for such a big change.”
Fredzia has continued to show signs of stress, particularly as she works to establish a new relationship with her companion, another female named Buba.
“Fredzia is always thinking about what Buba is doing now, before that she was more calm,” Czujkowska said.
CBD For Depression And Anxiety
To help Fredzia deal with the depression and anxiety she is experiencing, Czujkowska decided to try treating her with a cannabis extract rich in cannabidiol. Because they are prone to stress and relatively easy to monitor, she believed that elephants would make good subjects to test the effectiveness of CBD to treat stress in animals. It is believed that CBD stimulates the production of dopamine and serotonin, two neurotransmitters that can help fight depression.
Czujkowska believes that the elephants will tolerate the cannabis oil well without experiencing any serious side effects.
“It’s not very potent. The only side effect will be some behavioral changes,” Czujkowska said. “We will have to manage these to achieve the results we want.”
The first stage of the experiment, collecting saliva, feces, and blood samples from the elephants to monitor levels of cortisol, has already been completed. Cortisol is a hormone that is produced by both humans and some animals when they are subjected to stress.
Next, the zoo staff will administer the CBD oil to the elephants by either giving it to them directly by mouth or by mixing it into their food. The health of the herd will continue to be monitored as time goes on.
“We are planning to give them the CBD and measure the cortisol again,” Czujkowska explained. “This is the experiment. Then we know for sure [the oil] is working or not.”
Czujkowska believes this is the first experiment to measure the cortisol levels of elephants after the administration of CBD. If the trial is a success, the zoo may expand the research to include other animals subject to stress, such as rhinos and bears. The results of the study will not be known for at least two years.