CAMP VERDE (3TV/CBS 5) -- Exotic animals at a safari park in northern Arizona are being treated for the first time with oil derived from hemp plants in the cannabis family.
The staff at Out of Africa in Camp Verde has been working with veterinarians to use cannabidiol (CBD) oil to treat ailments including cancer, seizures and anxiety.
Park owner Dean Harrison says he's seen improvements in a variety of animals, including a tiger, a lion, a python and a goat.
The first experimental treatment was for an ibex, a large goat, who suffered severe seizures.
"We just started incorporating natural cannabinoids in her diet, and over six or seven months, we decreased her seizures 95 percent, which was significant," said Ian Pederson of Source CBD, a Sedona-based CBD oil company that is working with the park.
Pederson says they originally developed the products for a girl at Phoenix Children's Hospital; she was suffering from seizures.
"From that point, we translated it across the board," he said.
"This is still experimental. A lot of research needs to be done," said Dr. Kenneth Skinner, a veterinarian from the Prescott area who has worked with the animals at Out of Africa for a decade.
"We're open to anything natural," Harrison explained. "It's not the hallucinogenic part. It's the healing part, which has been around for a long time."
The staff is optimistic based on early results.
Vets found a cancerous tumor in an 11-year-old white tiger named Chalet earlier this year.
"She was diagnosed with cancer a few months ago, and went through a few operations," Skinner said. "She has melanoma. The CBD oil works on pain, discomfort and appetite."
"I'm hoping to eliminate the tumor," Harrison said as he squeezed CBD oil into chunks of raw meat for Chalet.
When he tossed them to her, she caught them mid-air.
Chalet, who has been at Out of Africa since she was 2 weeks old, has been on break from the park's well-known Tiger Splash show. She's well enough now to join the staff in the pool in front of a crowd.
The tiger grew up with a lion named Kumba. She is being treated with CBD oil for anxiety.
Harrison says when Chalet is taken from their large enclosure to the Tiger Splash pool, Kumba gets the same kind of separation anxiety a lot of pets deal with when their owners leave for work.
"When Chalet goes by herself, Kumba is not happy," Harrison said. "We give her CBD oil, and it settles her down."
On the other side of the park, a 16-foot-long reticulated python named Apollo had a large cancerous tumor. The snake is also being treated with CBD oil.
"Usually it's a death sentence, but in this case, we've been treating him, and he's alive and active," Harrison said.
For months, the python's keepers have been injecting the oil into frozen quail and rabbit carcasses. The snake digests the food over a week, and the oil is absorbed and metabolized over that time.
The snake's tumor is now much smaller, following months of CBD oil treatment combined with other medication.
Research is underway to determine the exact role CBD played in the tumor's retreat.
"We can't say if it's directly correlated yet, but we can't say it isn't," Harrison said.
"Studies show incredibly promising results with supplying our endocannabinoid system with cannabinoids. That translates to key proteins, cell support, cell proliferation and cell health," Pederson said.
"On the neuropathic level, it [helps with] arthritis, IBS, Crohns, Fibromyalgia. On the neurological side, it covers seizures and disorders in the central nervous system," he added.
Still, experts caution average pet owners, who might want to use CBD oil at home on cats and dogs. The market is unregulated and products available online often have inconsistent potencies.
"You can find incredibly low levels of CBD in some products, because it's still the wild west [in terms of regulation]," Pederson said.
Mold and pesticides have been found in some cannabis products, which have not been properly treated.
Experts suggest purchasing CBD oil under a vet's supervision, and only from companies which can produce third party test results to prove potency and cleanliness.