Last year the animal rehabilitation department at a zoo in Europe decided to try cannabis oil to treat depression and anxiety in a grieving elephant. During the height of global pandemic fears, an elephant at the Warsaw Zoo in Poland was experiencing anxiety and depression like many humans were last year.
English-speakers have been saying, “An elephant never forgets,” ever since a cartoon with that adage as the title was published in the 1930s. Apparently Fredzia, a young female African elephant at the Warsaw Zoo, is no exception. She was stricken with anxiety and depression following the death last year of Erna, the eldest of the four in the herd at the zoo’s elephant exhibit.
The zoo’s animal rehabilitators spotted a perfect opportunity to advance scientific research into the medicinal use of cannabis oil to treat depression. Fredzia’s depressed and anxious state from the passing of the herd’s eldest elephant made her a perfect candidate for the animal trial in a controlled setting, with zookeepers to monitor her health and progress.
The project’s facilitators began giving Fredzia oral administrations of cannabis oil, or mixing it with her normal food. Caretakers also continued to monitor her health, and began taking regular blood tests, looking for markers to see how the cannabis oil treatment would impact her overall health.
Most important to the cannabis trial— for a scientific way to measure the impact of the cannabis oil on Fredzia’s depression and anxiety— researchers took cortisol measurements from the elephant’s stool, saliva, and blood samples.
Dr. Agnieszka Czujkowska, head of the zoo’s Animal Rehabilitation Department, told the BBC, “Fredzia reacted strangely when she saw Erna’s body.” The younger elephant became agitated, and began to show recognizable signs of grieving and depression when Erna died. She also became hypervigilant toward one of the other survivors in the herd, confused and anxious about her herd’s new social order and each survivor’s respective role in it..
“We are planning to give them the CBD and measure the cortisol again. This is the experiment. Then we know for sure [the oil] is working or not,” Dr Czujkowska said.
With scant scientific research on the use of cannabis oil to treat depression (though there is a small number of notable studies that hold promise for CBD and human mental health), the Warsaw Zoo is paving the way for 21st century medical research. The zoo is also famous for former zoo directors Jan and Antonina Zabinski, who saved hundreds of Jews during the holocaust by hiding them in the zoo. Their daughter passed away at age 77, this February.
This isn’t the first time researchers have tested cannabis oil to help depressed or debilitated animals find relief. With mounting anecdotal evidence of its health benefits for people and pets, the AKC Canine Health Foundation (CHF) sponsored a study earlier this year to evaluate CBD treatment for dogs with severe, treatment-resistant epilepsy. The Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences were the AKC’s partners for the study.