The legal cannabis industry is growing larger and dividing into subsectors which aim to use the plant to meet more specific needs. One of the more interesting, and amusing, fields of research and development is that looking at using cannabis to treat our four-legged, furry friends. That’s right, your favourite medicine might just work for your best bud too!
The overwhelming lack of studies about the effects of cannabis on pets is somewhat unsurprising considering the lengthy prohibition that we have just ended, in which researchers were lucky to get approval to study the effects of the plant and its cannabinoids on humans, let alone cats and dogs. But with legalization here, and both the stigma and legal red tape lifted, we can expect a flood of studies and developments. Read on to get an idea of what kinds of products work for pets, what they can treat, and what the outlook is looking like for the subsector.
HOW IT’S DONE DIFFERENTLY
The first and most significant difference between cannabis for humans and that designed for animals is the THC, or rather the lack thereof. Whereas people get high from exposure to THC, animals like dogs and cats can be poisoned by it. This startling difference is due to the fact that animals have a different spread of cannabinoid receptors—namely, dogs have more than we do, and these receptors are found throughout their bodies and brains. Simply put, what would be a pleasant amount of THC for a human being could easily overwhelm an animal’s system, particularly that of a small animal. So don’t be surprised at the lack of THC products available for your little buddy—it’s for his own good. It also goes without saying that you should keep your own stash in a pet-proof container and out of reach.
Not all cannabinoids are bad, however. In fact, cannabidiol (CBD) has been found helpful in treating in animals similar symptoms for which it is prescribed for human use. The difficulty from the perspective of producers is that it is quite difficult to attain reliable CBD extractions that contain no residual THC. Many CBD oils for human use include small amounts of THC, even if they’re not labelled as such. To me or you, that would just register as an unexpected buzz, but for a pet, the reaction could be catastrophic. Therefore, particular care needs to be taken with cannabis products for pets to ensure that CBD extractions are pure and contain absolutely no THC.
On a lighter note, producers must also make products that pets will enjoy. Anybody who has had to administer medication to a dog or cat knows how stubborn they can be about taking their medicine. In order to subvert this tendency, producers are turning to inventive flavouring—of the sort that you would never find in a product designed for human consumption. Bacon flavoured CBD oil? Yes, please!
WHAT IT WORKS FOR
Cannabis can be used to treat pets in much the same way it’s used to treat people—it can be a healthier, natural alternative to many existing medications.
Probably the first sort of cannabis product to be introduced for pets were those which contain hemp terpenes as the active medicinal ingredient. These products contain no cannabinoids, and instead rely on terpenes from the hemp plant, the effects of which range from calming to anti-inflammatory benefits.
Veterinary science is particularly lacking when it comes to epilepsy in cats and dogs. There have been very few breakthroughs in the field, and pet owners can rarely afford the expensive new medications used to treat humans. CBD oil is a very exciting prospect in this regard. Anecdotal evidence is pouring in to suggest that the more subtle cannabinoid is as effective in treating epilepsy in pets as it is in people.
Perhaps the most common use is for animals experiencing anxiety. Nothing is worse than not being able to trust your little buddy at home alone. We all know the scenario: human leaves home, dog freaks out, dog shreds couch. Separation anxiety is the leading cause of destructive behaviour by home-alone pets. CBD offers a solution in that it can relieve anxiety in our furry friends just as effectively as it can in people. A few drops of oil could very well be the solution to your pup’s panicked destructive episodes.
It seems that scientists are discovering more symptoms that can be treated with CBD each and every week, and it’s only fair to assume that this will be true for pets as well. CBD is also useful in treating joint pain, such as that caused by osteoarthritis, and may be used to ease the pain of dogs in the golden years. Many feel that this is a healthier and more graceful option for mid- or end-of-life care for pets, and a welcome alternative to spirit-crushing hardcore painkillers.
WHO’S LOOKING INTO IT
In the days of prohibition, there was little talk of using cannabis to treat pets, and what little there was rarely included veterinarians. There are several companies and organizations currently trying to change that.
Apawthecary Pets is a leader in the sector, and produces a wide range of cannabis-based medications for dogs, cats, and even horses. British Columbia based True Leaf Pet Inc. has been making hemp-based products for pets, and distributing them internationally, since 2015. CannTrust Holdings Inc. entered an agreement last April to join with Grey Wolf Animal Health Inc. to develop cannabis products for pets.
The biggest player in the Canadian cannabis game, Canopy Growth Co., announced in August 2018 that it was beginning a clinical trial, approved by the Veterinary Drug Directorate of Health Canada, to study the value of using cannabis to treat anxiety in pets. For the endeavour, Canopy has established a dedicated Canopy Animal Health branch to undertake the research and development.
Furthermore, the scientific community at large is taking an interest. For example, students at the University of Calgary’s veterinary school will spend much of the 2019-2020 academic year seeking to objectively establish the effectiveness and safety of cannabis products for pets, and also to set proven guidelines for administration, such as safe and reliable doses according to animal weight.
Opportunities are opening up for studies to be done on cannabis and its effects—on both humans and animals—and it’s only a matter of time until we see the effects.
CANNABIS FOR ALL
In retrospect, developing cannabis products for pets seems like a no-brainer. If it works so well for us, it’s only natural that it would work for our best friends. While a lot of progress has been made in the past few years, we’re still awaiting a legal avenue for veterinarians to prescribe cannabis, as doctors can. For now, it is up to owners to decide the best treatment for their pets. If you are considering cannabis for your animal, remember these points:
- While your vet may not be able to prescribe cannabis, they can talk about it. Discuss treatments with your veterinarian whenever possible. Their insight is critical.
- Animals should not be exposed to any THC whatsoever! It’s not worth the risk!
- When it comes to dosing, it’s better to err on the side of too little, as opposed to too much.
Give a little love to all the good boys and good girls out there!