There has been a lot of hype and marketed information as to the use of Cannabinoids in animals. You have heard of it as CBD oil or cannabis oil, a new popular supplement that many pet owners are now reaching for to potentially avoid or minimize pharmaceutical use. In the human realm, decades of research have indicated many positive medicinal relief uses. Now, as continued research emerges to include animal benefits, pet parents and veterinarians alike are finding that medical cannabis can provide positive benefits for dogs as well. Cannabis oil has been shown to be effective for treatment of seizures, nausea, stress, anxiety, arthritis, back pain, symptoms of cancer, and gastrointestinal issues, among other health conditions in dogs. However, before we run and purchase these products, let’s increase awareness about cannabis oil for dogs.

First, there are two different kinds of marijuana. Marijuana plants contain 80 different cannabinoids, including THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive component) and CBD (cannabidiol, the medical component). Cannabis oil is liquid derived from a species of marijuana plant that has less THC. If a dog or cat is given THC marijuana, similar psychoactive symptoms will manifest, causing a high anxiety state for the pet. I have used the analogy of being in a dream, when you are walking through quick sand or your feet are like lead and you cannot get away from something that is frightening you. It’s a very reactive feeling and the pet does not understand what or why they are currently incapacitated. Depending on how significantly a pet has been overdosed, THC effects can be quite long-lasting, even days where a pet may not be able to stand or eat. If this occurs, bring the pet immediately to your veterinarian for anti-toxin treatment which includes vomit induction, activated charcoal administration, and for some, days of IV fluid hospitalization. Dogs come in all shapes and sizes, and marijuana can often be laced with heavier narcotics and /or alternative hallucinogens causing a significant negative effect to your pet. Not to mention, a dog does not necessarily stop at “just one”. We have treated pets who eat an entire pan of brownies, or multiple “blunts” causing significant illness. Life-threatening risks for dogs from medical cannabis are “exceedingly rare,” instead, toxicity more often occurs when a pet has eaten a product that contains chocolate, coffee, or raisins. Even if the THC toxicity is not excessive, they can sometimes have problems due to these other ingredients. That said, ingestion of large amounts of marijuana has been fatal in a number of dogs, so preventing overdoses with medical cannabis is still extremely important.

Hemp products, on their own, contain less than 0.3 percent THC. The functionality is based on a cellular level of the pet/mammal, where specific internal receptors interact well with CBD. This system in the body is called the endocannabinoid system, modulating nausea and pain. All of this sounds great right?

So why pump the brakes? Why can’t your vet recommend it? Why is it available in pet stores and online if it isn’t regulated? The worries our veterinary industry has is that as the popularity of alternative medicine increases, pet parents may buy into “overly ambitious claims about cannabis oil” from unreliable sources. Your vet cannot recommend it because we are held to a higher standard of health responsibility and advice assurance that cannabis is a guaranteed safe product. What that means, is we have to ensure that CBD oil is indeed CBD oil only, without any other additives including THC or pesticides that could be harmful for your pet. Retailers are not held to this standard, simply by a matter of perspective, which is why it is readily available EVERYWHERE except from your veterinarian, and you are cautioned to proceed at your own risk. Let me put the disclaimer that retailers are NOT intentionally harming animals. That is not what this differentiation is about. Retailers are not scientists, but doctors are. We are required to understand the mechanism of medication in our training to be sure we are providing best care, and are licensed by the DEA and must follow guidelines set by the FDA. Veterinary pharmacologists that are pro-cannabinoids have performed research showing CBD “oral chews” do not consistently have the same amount of CBD per chew, and there has not been proof that CBD is absorbed orally the same way in different animals. So as a consumer, what are you buying? There is no doubt CBD has a positive place in medicine, but currently it is not yet regulated to ensure optimized safety for our pets. Cannabis oil is not a “cure-all” that out-values a vet visit to confirm an ailment. The research needed to determine the correct dosage for CBD oil in dogs simply hasn’t been done yet. And, to make matters worse, FDA testing has shown that many CBD products contain little if any CBD. The best option available to pet parents at this time is to talk to a veterinarian who has experience with pets being treated with cannabis oil about proper dosage and reputable manufacturers. Furthermore, to process to titrate out THC, ensuring pure CBD-only oil is very expensive, and we have been advised that any product marketed as CBD-only oil that costs less than $100 has a very high likelihood of containing THC.

Regulations that veterinarians have been cautioned about starts at the agricultural level. If a farm is growing both THC marijuana and cannabis marijuana, there could be cross pollination. There is no regulation yet at this level. As a consumer we would expect that if the product is out there and being marketed, it is already confirmed as safe. This is not the case. Look at how well grain-free diets have been marketed and as Veterinarians cringed at the confident affirmations from their pet parents that grain-free was “the Best Diet for My Pet”? The truth is out now, that was not the case. If you have questions about that, please as your vet.

In California, CBD and Cannabinoids are legal, and pet parents who have a medical marijuana card or ID can visit a reputable dispensary and purchase the product that best meets their pet’s needs. The trouble is, generally speaking, pet owners aren’t waiting on the science before self-medicating their pets.

Veterinarians don’t discount marijuana’s potential as an animal therapy simply because it’s a controlled substance or a plant; after all, the same can be said about morphine. The issue lies in that morphine’s pharmacological effects on humans and animals have been thoroughly studied, which is not the case for marijuana, therefore giving the drug to a pet as medicine is actually putting the animal at unknown risk. We simply don’t know what we don’t know.

The public shouldn’t assume marijuana affects humans and animals in the same ways, nor should they assume, that because marijuana is a natural substance, it isn’t harmful. When people say something is natural and therefore safe, my immediate response: ‘Natural to what?’ Marijuana certainly doesn’t occur naturally in animals or people, and that’s why the body develops ways of ridding itself of compounds introduced to it. Hallucinogenic side effects are not natural.

So what can be used instead? There are some essential oil treatments and hemp oils that can calm help with the aforementioned symptoms that have zero risk for unnecessary side effects or detriment. Hemp oils can be used, and an old but renewed surfaced product called Copaiba has similar uses without the negative potential effects.

The bottom line is:

  1. Be a truth-seeker. Don’t accept the fad and the hype at face-value
  2. Research responsibly because this is an innocent life for which you are responsible

I personally look forward to the confirmations, regulations, and research coming because there is definite value in cannabinoids. The collaboration of western and holistic medicine has already been a valuable relationship for the last couple of decades. This will simply be one more connection to comfort our pets and provide peace of mind for our pet parents who want nothing more than “best for their pet.”