With all the talk about medical marijuana, do you wonder if it might help your aging or infirm dog?
I do. After all, if marijuana has medicinal benefits for humans, why wouldn’t it be beneficial for our pets?
In my quest to find the answer to that question, I’ve gained clarity. But I’ve also learned cannabis is a slippery slope. Here’s why.
Just like in humans, marijuana can relieve many unpleasant medical conditions and symptoms.
But because it’s not legal in many states, and the federal government doesn’t recognize marijuana as legal in any state, little research on dogs (or humans) has been done.
Veterinarians won’t recommend it for fear of losing their licenses. And you can’t get a medical marijuana card for a dog.
But cannabis, the plant marijuana comes from, can be helpful in relieving some debilitating health conditions. And if you decide cannabis is right for your dog, ways exist to get it. We’ll discuss those in a minute.
How can cannabis help your dog?
Marijuana can relieve symptoms of cancer, seizures, stress, anxiety, arthritis, back pain, nausea and other gastrointestinal issues.
There is much anecdotal evidence of improved quality of life in once-suffering pets. But no scientific research to back it up.
And as long as it’s considered a controlled substance by the federal government, research on cannabis will remain stalled.
How does cannabis work?
Here’s a little lesson in marijuana, one byproduct of the cannabis plant. Cannabis contains over 400 known natural compounds and at least 60 plant-based cannabinoids.
Cannabinoids are like messengers that travel to receptor sites in the endocannabinoid system, which all vertebrates have. This bodily system regulates many physiological and cognitive processes including appetite, pain sensation, and mood and is the system of the body most affected by cannabis.
In marijuana, the two cannabinoids produced in greatest abundance are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Of all the cannabinoids found in cannabis, only THC will make you high. CBD provides the medicinal component and THC the psychoactive component. Any cannabis product you would give your dog would contain a low dose of THC, not enough to get them high.
In fact, many products for dogs get their CBD from industrial hemp, a product with many purposes. Hemp, like marijuana, comes from the cannabis plant but does not have psychoactive properties.
Cannabis grown for industrial hemp has a very low THC content, only around .3%. The THC content of cannabis grown for marijuana can be 6 to 7%, sometimes up to 20%.
The two cannabinoids used together are what make medical marijuana most effective. So a small amount of THC is necessary.
The receptors the cannabinoids bind to determine the effects of cannabis. There are two main cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2. In dogs, CB1 exists in the brain, salivary glands, and hair follicles.
CB2 is in the skin, immune system, nervous system, and some organs. As in humans, it’s important to give your dog the right cannabinoids to achieve the desired effect.
And correct dosing is critical! Your dog will not get high if the dose is correct.
Although death from marijuana in dogs is rare if it’s used correctly, an overdose can be life threatening.
The biggest risk of an overdose in dogs is them getting into your stash. Most dog deaths related to marijuana overdose occurred when the dog ate edibles infused with pot that contained large amounts of chocolate, raisins or coffee. All toxic for dogs.
Consuming large amounts of marijuana, however, can be fatal. The signs of an overdose are lethargy, dilated pupils, balance problems, drooling, muscle twitching, vomiting, involuntary urination and even unconsciousness. Get to the vet if you suspect your dog got into your pot.
How much cannabis should I give my dog and how do I get it?
Determining the correct dose is one of the greatest challenges because there is no research to tell us the right dose.
Weight doesn’t determine dosage. The efficiency of the endocannabinoid system affects dosage. Your vet must observe your dog to assess that.
If you decide to give your dog medical marijuana, you must find a vet who has experience using it for treatment. Many holistic vets do. They can suggest reputable manufacturers and correct dosing. But they will not dispense it. And they are not able to give you a medical marijuana card for your pet.
Dogs are usually given a topical oil or an edible—a food item made with marijuana or infused with cannabis oil—which you can buy at a dispensary.
If you live in a state where marijuana is legal you can get it easily. If you live in a state where only medical marijuana is legal and you have a medical marijuana card, you can go to a reliable dispensary and find products made for dogs.
Only give your dog a product formulated for them.
Dogs are more sensitive to cannabinoids than humans. They need a much smaller dose. There is a concern in the veterinary community people will use their own experience with medical marijuana as a guide and will give their pets too much.
If you live in a state where medical marijuana is not legal, you may still be able to buy hemp products. These products still offer the benefits of CBD.
As with any medication or supplement, I can’t stress enough the need to seek the advice of a veterinarian before you give your dog cannabis.
Marijuana instead of medicine?
Marijuana should not replace any medicine your vet recommends. You can use it in conjunction with traditional treatments, or when other treatments have failed.
It is not a cure-all. But marijuana does not seem to have the life-threatening side effects of many traditional medicines. It doesn’t cause organ damage, stomach distress or sedation.
When considering medical marijuana for your dog, be realistic about its capabilities. But if it can improve your dog’s quality of life, marijuana may be worth a try.
Do you use marijuana to treat a medical condition in your dog? Share your experience at the top of the page.