Pets and Pot

Medical Cannabis Is Becoming a Serious Contender for Treating Animal Ailments

By Erik Ryken

pets and medical cannabis

While the billowing clouds of stigma are beginning to lift from many North Americans’ perceptions of cannabis, its medical potential is becoming clear. A hot topic of public debate, the legality and criminalization of cannabis has had an exhausting history – involving racism, morality, and drug wars – leaving scientific research obscured in smokescreens of sensationalism.

As we learn more from increasing legalization efforts and positive public perceptions, it follows that there is a growing number of people seeking medical cannabis treatment for themselves and, now, for their pets. We’re not talking about hot-boxing crates, however, but measured therapeutic doses as remedies for tumors, pain, muscle spasms, low appetite, anxiety, and neurological disorders. Another reason why people may treat their pets with cannabis-based medicine is to lessen the dosage of other medications used, which can have strong negative side effects.

We like to bring our pets with us wherever we go, but is taking them through a medical cannabis treatment plan excessive? Worse, is it dangerous and potentially lethal for your companion?

There are two main medicinal components of cannabis, of over 60 cannabinoids: cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). There are many strains of cannabis, all with differing amounts of each cannabinoid, some more intoxicating than others. Generally, medicine for pets derived from cannabis contains CBD as the active ingredient, since it is not psychoactive. CBD can be stronger in hemp plants bred for industrial or medical usage. Unlike cannabis strains known as marijuana – from the same cannabis sativa species – hemp strains contain negligible amounts of THC, the psychoactive agent that can give its user a high.

So, what is the appeal of treating your pet with cannabis?

For one thing, cannabis-based medicinal products are viewed as more “natural” than many prescription drugs and generally have more gentle effects. This doesn’t change the fact that they carry unique potential risks. Like any herbal remedy, medicinal chemicals can have dangerous side-effects and toxicities, no matter the length of their ingredient lists.

Manufacturers of cannabis-based products in pets vary from chews intended for treating joints and calming anxiety to glycerine tinctures for appetite stimulation and pain relief. The primary purpose of cannabis-based veterinary medicine seems to be in managing pain.

Laws surrounding cannabis vary widely by country and state, so you’ll need to research what applies to you and your pet. While a consumer in Canada, for example, may be familiar with seeing hemp products on grocery shelves, marijuana remains a Class II scheduled drug. While there are now products on the market – in the forms of oils, tinctures, edibles, and even injections – they are not travelling freely. Some CBD products for pets can only be obtained through dispensaries.

Due to the complicated legality of cannabis-based medicine, clinical research is limited. Some veterinarians are beginning to voice the need for more studies. Another problem we need to be mindful of is the risk of toxic effects when pets consume marijuana by accident; unfortunately this is a common sight in veterinary clinics. It begs a reminder that if your dog ingests drugs you need to remain honest in the situation when talking to your vet. If time is of the essence it’s good to be aware of poison control hotlines like the 24-hour ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (1-888-426-4435) and Pet Poison Helpline (1-855-764-7661), but be sure to keep your vet in close contact and let them know exactly what has been ingested for the sake of your pet’s health.