Pets and Cannabis

With the legalization of marijuana coming soon there is more interest from pet owners and veterinarians in using medical marijuana for dogs and cats. Besides the legal issues veterinarians face with prescribing medical marijuana, there are also issues with a lack of scientific data supporting its use in pets.

The cannabis plant contains more than 113 compounds; it’s well known that THC is the compound that is responsible for the ‘high’ feeling. This is an undesirable effect for pets and is why marijuana containing recreational levels of THC is toxic to pets and should be avoided. However, other compounds found in the plant such as CBD can have beneficial effects without producing a ‘high.’ Hemp plants contain low levels of THC, while still containing CBD and other terpenes (some of the other 113 compounds) and are safe for medicinal use.

Dogs and cats have an endocannabinoid system (ECS) like humans do. This is the network of cellular activators and receptors in the body that regulate physiological processes, that are triggered by CBD. The ECS is involved with regulating pain perception, inflammation, mood and more.

Early indications for hemp terpenes and CBD in pets include: pain relief, reducing anxiety and possibly reducing seizures in pets with epilepsy. This list could expand with further research.

Fortunately, research has begun at Colorado State University (CSU), where a CBD safety study has already been completed. Diarrhea and an elevation in liver enzymes were the main side-effects found. The researchers also determined that an oil tincture was the form of CBD that provided the highest and most stable blood levels. Another ongoing study at CSU using client-owned dogs will hopefully provide scientific proof that CBD provides effective pain relief for dogs with osteoarthritis and helps control seizures.

Health Canada is responsible for providing a safe and reliable supply of medical cannabis for people. Currently (and even when marijuana is legal), veterinarians are not able to write prescriptions for medical grade CBD supplied by Health Canada. Veterinarians will only have as much access as the general public, which is less than ideal. Hopefully, with continued research into the use of CBD for dogs and cats, this will change, and veterinarians will be able to prescribe for their patients.

Written by Dr. Dana Cini DVM