Stoners think it’s a hoot to get their pets high (it’s really not, so don’t do it). Anecdotal evidence suggests that cannabis-based products can be good for pets. They alleviate pain, nausea and anxiety in dogs and cats. The key point is that all evidence is anecdotal. There is no scientific evidence to support the use of medical marijuana in pets.
If you’re thinking about using medical marijuana to improve your pet’s quality of life, it’s very important that you discuss it with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian won’t prescribe or even advise that you use medical marijuana, but they could, hypothetically, estimate the correct dose for a cat or dog that resembles your pet.
Those for medical marijuana for pets
Many people want to use cannabis-based products to alleviate their pet’s pain and improve their quality of life. Some veterinarians are even in favor of it, but few are willing to risk their reputation in public. The risk to their credibility and practice is too great for them to add their weight to the pro medical marijuana argument.
Nevertheless, some politicians in the USA have faith in the potential of medical marijuana to aid pets. They’ve made moves to legalise it and support research to give scientific credibility to anecdotal evidence. For example, in 2015, Nevada’s state senator introduced a bill to create a medical marijuana registry for pets. Unfortunately, the idea died at the committee level. In January 2016, Florida’s senator proposed more comprehensive research into using medical marijuana to treat pets.
What is medical marijuana?
Some of the cannabis-based products for pets are made from legal hemp. This contains very little or no THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is the ingredient that causes the high. However, some people believe that hemp products are not as effective as products from marijuana with trace amounts of THC.
They believe that ‘purer’ products are better at treating pain, anxiety, inflammation, epilepsy and to promote appetite. The cannabinoids (CBD) component of marijuana treats pain, nausea and loss of appetite. CBD is extracted from marijuana and used in various products, including treats, shampoos, and oil.
It’s believed that hemp-based products are risky for pets with compromised immune systems.
So, anecdotally, what can cannabis do for our pets?
Reports from pet owners who have used cannabis-based products for their furkids suggest that they can treat the following conditions:
- Epilepsy: The parent of an epileptic Swiss mountain dog with severe grand mal seizures used a pet supplement with cannabis as a last ditch attempt to help his dog. Not only did the seizures become less severe but after a while they disappeared entirely.
- Cancer: Many pets with cancer seem to bounce back from the side effects of chemotherapy and medication. Pet parents report increased energy, better sleep and improved appetite.
- Degenerative diseases: Parents report reduced pain and improved mobility and appetite.
- Behavioural disorders: Medical marijuana has been used to treat anxiety- and fear-based disorders.
- Gastrointestinal disorders
- Tumours: Cannabis oil can treat tumours.
Anecdotally, medical marijuana appears to improve pets’ quality of life, especially for pain management in terminally ill pets.
However, there are plenty – and we do mean – plenty of risks.
Overdosing is a major risk. Many people give their pets cannabis-based products without consulting their vets. They follow friends’ advice or experiment by adjusting human doses. This is risky because human metabolisms are different from dogs and cats. Furthermore, different breeds and sizes have different physiological reactions to medications. You can’t assume that something that works for a Great Dane will work for a Chihuahua. In theory, Chihuahuas would need a much smaller dose, but people often think the dose too small and add a ‘little’ bit more.
It also depends on how the cannabis is administered. Capsules are more potent than glycerine tinctures, which are more potent than liquid extracts put in butter or cheese. The medium in which the treatment is administered (cheese, liver paste, butter, etc.) also affects efficacy.
Even if you get the dose right, your pet might discover the stash and help herself. For example, if you have cannabis treats and a dextrous dog or cat, they could easily find the box and help themselves. Some dogs jump on counters and retrieve biscuits from high shelves. Some dogs and cats learn how to open cupboard doors for the express purpose of treating themselves.
According to the ASPCA, the number of pets accidentally poisoned by marijuana has quadrupled since medical marijuana was legalised in several US states. There is the fear that this could increase further if medical marijuana becomes more readily available for pets.
Aggravate existing medical conditions
There is also the risk that medical marijuana could aggravate existing medical problems. For example, while anecdotal evidence suggests that THC products may lessen seizures, other studies show that they can provoke seizures. Studies have also found that while marijuana can ease nausea and vomiting, approximately 33% of animals will get nauseous and vomit when given medical-grade marijuana.
You know you’ve got a problem when …
Signs of marijuana toxicity include stumbling, depression, agitation, incontinence, drooling, vomiting, diarrhoea, twitching and seizures. Occasionally pets will fall into a coma and die. So if your pet starts to exhibit any of these signs, and you have any reason to believe that marijuana may be the cause, get to a vet immediately.
Signs may become apparent within a few minutes up to a few hours after ingestion or exposure, and symptoms may last for several days.
The bottom line
Many veterinarians believe that there is enough potential for medical marijuana to benefit pets to justify comprehensive research studies. Companies that already manufacture cannabis-based pet products are also fully supportive of more research into the efficacy and safety of different non-psychotropic compounds in treating pets.
Whether these studies are ever conducted and whether the results will ever be definitive enough to satisfy lawmakers, veterinarians and pet owners … well, who knows?
Note: Under no circumstances do we endorse, encourage or advise the use of medical marijuana for pets. Intentionally giving your pet marijuana (medical or not) is recognized as being dangerous and, aside from the risk posed to pets, could invalidate pet insurance policies.