Can Weed Help Our Pets? The Controversy

Introduction

The cannabis industry is more powerful than ever before! And, with today’s breakthroughs in marijuana science, it is only going to continue to grow.

Every day, studies emerge that prove the positive effects that weed can have on humans. As a result, we’ve discovered that cannabis has a wide-range of additional uses.

It has helped patients dealing with cancer, nausea, vomiting, chronic pain, epilepsy, eating disorders, Parkinson’s disease, and intestinal difficulties. And every day more and more doctors are getting behind cannabis.

But, weed isn’t only used for medicinal and recreational purposes anymore. We are now using it to make clothing, construction material, beauty products, etc.

People then began to question if it could have the same beneficial impact on animals. Since then, the cannabis for pets industry has grown into a multimillion-dollar enterprise.

There are now many pet owners that treat their pets with cannabis. 

However, while many studies have demonstrated the perks of marijuana for humans, there have been few studies on the impact it might have on animals.

Furthermore, the FDA  has not authorized the use of cannabis on animals. So, can marijuana help our pets? Is it secure?

Continue reading to learn more.

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Table of Contents

CBD vs. THC

Marijuana has been used by people recreationally for decades. In recent years, it has also become a powerful medicinal remedy. Can the same be said for our pets? To understand this controversial topic, first we must understand how weed works.

Cannabis has over 480 compounds that can be extracted from the plant. The main compounds are THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol).

THC is the psychoactive part of cannabisYou know, the one that makes you high. But CBD doesn’t have psychotropical effects; it is actually the calming component in weed.

According to the California Veterinary Medical Board, CBD is the non-psychoactive part of marijuana. This means that it has no effect on how you perceive reality.

CBD is obtained through a purification and distillation process. This means that the end result contains less than 0.3% THC. CBD alone won’t produce the effects that marijuana is famous for.

CBD vs. THC for Pets

When we are talking about weed for pets, we mean CBD for pets. The use of cannabis in pets refers only to CBD because THC compounds have proven to be toxic for animals.

It can be dangerous for dogs and cats, even in small doses. The ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center actually had a 765% increase in cases that reported intoxication by weed from 2018 to 2019.

It comes as no surprise that the FDA has been reluctant to allow the use of cannabis-based products for animals.

Although most vets differ with their decision because of the positive effects that CBD has had on animals. It is a multi-billion dollar business, after all, which proves its effectiveness.

However, we still don’t know the long-term repercussions that CBD can have on animals. 

Figure 2. CBD for dogs and cats. Source Flick Hemp oil for dogs benefits

Why is Cannabis Use in Pets so Controversial?

The use of cannabis in pets has been widely debated in the past few years. But, it turns out that the use of cannabis on dogs and cats isn’t quite as new as you might think.

According to the CEO of Delta-9 Technologies, Joshua Hartsel, we can actually trace the use of marijuana in pets back to the 1800s.

Pet owners have consistently used marijuana-based products for the same reasons we do: to help ease pain and anxiety. Any pet owner out there is familiar with the pain dogs go through when they leave for work, for example.

And CBD helps keep them calm and at ease.

However, medical and governmental institutions have advised against this.

Why? Well, CBD is very hard to extract from the THC components in weed. And, as we already mentioned, THC can be toxic to pets.

The extraction process is still being standardized, and it is very expensive. And some companies selling CBD products for animals have been known to cut corners.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania actually discovered that 70% of the CBD for pets on the market didn’t match the concentration percentages listed on the label.

They also discovered that 21% of the products studied contained THC at a higher percentage than permitted.

Meaning, you could actually get high with these products. So, this is not great news for the pets involved.

Investigators and scientists have focused their research on dogs, in particular. They mainly study the toxic effects that weed can have on them.

There are actually fewer than 100 studies available on marijuana for dogs. These studies concentrate almost exclusively on toxic effects.

However, these studies talk about weed in general and not isolated CBD. There are actually no scientific studies on the effects of CBD as an isolated compound on pets. Which also poses a problem.

We have no way of knowing the actual effects that isolated CBD can have on our pets.

While there are no scientific studies advocating the use of CBD in pets, the evidence of THC’s toxic effects on pets is numerous.

In Colorado, intoxication from cannabis in pets increased by 400% over a 5-year period. This was directly correlated to the increase in registered users. In the same study, they reported that 2 dogs that consumed high-dose THC edibles died.

However, there have been no serious cases when treating them with CBD.

Another factor is that cannabis-derived products are not approved by the FDA. 

Vets and pet owners who use CBD products are convinced that they are safe for consumption. But until the FDA gets behind the use of weed in animals, it will always be a topic of controversy. 

How Does Cannabis Work on Pets?

If you have ever wondered how we process weed, it’s thanks to the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is a series of receptors in our brains that already contain the compounds found in cannabis.

When we smoke or eat weed, compounds like THC and CBD that are already inside of us are activated, resulting in a high. We aren’t the only mammals with this capacity, though.

All vertebrates, aquatic or land-based, actually have an endocannabinoid system. It helps our brain secrete the chemicals we need to relax, eat, and sleep. It also has a well-known link to accessing our emotions.

It is basically the system in our bodies that is in charge of maintaining internal balance. Veterinary herbalist and author of Medical Marijuana and Your Pet, Robert J. Silver, explains the ECS like this:

“Receptors are like locks, and cannabinoids are like keys. They fit together perfectly. Once the cannabinoid connects to the receptor and ‘turns that lock,’ a series of actions in the cell membrane occur; these actions are responsible for some of the cannabinoid’s effects. ” (Silver, 2018).

Upon further research on the endocannabinoid system, scientists found that there are actually two kinds of receptors, CB1 and CB2.

Canines have tons of receptors throughout their bodies. CB1 receptors can be found in their brains, salivary glands, and hair follicles. CB2 receptors can be found in their skin, liver, and kidneys. It can also be found in their immune and nervous systems.

This basically means that dogs have a ton of receptors for cannabis, much more than humans. This means that even a very low dose of cannabis is enough to produce the effects of marijuana on a dog.

Since this discovery was made, people have been experimenting with cannabis on dogs and cats. They have found that CBD has helped pets deal with problems like chronic pain, separation anxiety, epilepsy, and even cancer. 

Pet owners have gotten word of these CBD veterinary treatments and it has quickly grown into a huge enterprise. The CBD industry for pets has actually jumped from being worth $32 million in 2018 to $629 million in 2021. Those numbers say something in themselves.

The CBD products are normally found in two presentations: as an oil or as an edible treat. Although human edibles usually contain THC, pet edibles are made with CBD oil made from hemp. This means that it has an almost undetectable presence of THC.

In 2019, a survey found that 11% of dog owners, and 8% of cat owners, treated their furry friends with CBD. They reported using treats, under-the-tongue tinctures, and creams that are applied topically.

They also reported that the use of CBD oil on their pets helped ease anxiety, pain, and epileptic seizures. So, how does the dosing normally work?

How Much Cannabis is Used on Pets?

CBD dosage for pets is still in very early stages of standardization. In the 1970s, researchers were just beginning to learn about dog’s endocannabinoid system.

The recommended amount that vets normally suggest is 2mg of CBD for every 10 lbs of pet weight. You can see an example of a cbd oil for dogs dose calculator.  

How Long Does Cannabis Take to Kick in For Pets?

So, how long does cbd for dogs take to work? The normal time is between 30-45 minutes, though dosing for pets is like dosing for humans, it depends on a lot of factors. 

Each dose normally lasts between 4 to 8 hours, depending on size, age, activity level, breed, and the level of pain they are in.

Testimonials of the Uses of CBD on Pets

For years now, vets and entrepreneurs alike have stood behind the use of CBD in pets. Some even risk their jobs to help pets cope with severe pain and anxiety.

Dogs don’t understand the concept of time and can’t possibly know if we are coming back when we leave them at home. This puts them in a state of anxiety that can cause damage to their organs in the long haul.

Also, no pet owner likes to hear their furry babies cry. CBD helps animals the same way it helps humans. It has been proven effective by most vets.

Jeffrey Judkins, vet at Animalkind Veterinarian Clinic, stated that CBD is 100% non-toxic. This makes it impossible to overdose on it. He also said that the only known side effect is latharga, which is basically sleepiness.

Why not let your furry friend take a long nap? He reported a successful outcome when treating pets with CBD. He confirmed it helped his four-legged patients cope with anxiety and pain.

Dr. Judkins stated that it also helped the animals because it significantly reduced the amount of pain-numbing narcotic drugs given to them. And as we all know, narcotic drugs like morphine or ketorolac have a lot of known side effects.

They can even kill you. Let alone the severe damage these drugs have on the liver and kidneys. And Dr. Judkins isn’t the only one who thinks CBD can be positive for pets.

According to a study that was published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 82% of vets agreed that CBD could be a medical treatment for pets. It has actually proven to be one of the best solutions for pets struggling with epileptic seizures.

This is a common illness that dogs and cats alike suffer from. Having a seizure not only scares them, but it can also be very painful.

The pioneering of CBD as a treatment could also save thousands of animals from seizuring. Or so says Stephanie McGarth, a neurologist at Colorado State University’s Veterinary School:

“We saw a correlation between how high the levels of CBD were in these dogs and how great the seizure reduction was. It’s really exciting that perhaps we can start looking at CBD in the future as an alternative to existing anticonvulsive drugs.”

Given the pending FDA approval, vets are still a long way from being able to prescribe CBD to pets. And although there aren’t any scientific studies that advocate the use of CBD, the anecdotal experiences shared by pet owners and vets alike speak for themselves.

Warnings and Precautions on the Use of CBD for Pets

Although the majority of vets have a positive outlook on CBD use for pets, some vets don’t agree. Sue Lowum, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota, stated that she wouldn’t recommend the use of CBD in pets. 

There isn’t enough information to make any legitimate conclusions on the effect that it can have on pets.

Dr. Lowum also stated that given the recent studies performed on the available CBD products for pets on the market, she didn’t think it was safe . In these studies, they found that 21% of the products contained higher doses of THC than advertised.

Meaning it could be mortal for your pet. She further pointed out that the evidence of the positive effects of CBD on dogs and cats was purely anecdotal.

And that it wasn’t responsible to give your pets CBD until the pending scientific research was done.

The AMVA continues to push for clinical research in the pursuit of FDA approval for CBD use in pets. This research would allow the nationwide legal use of cannabis-based products for humans and animals alike.

Although, for the FDA to approve the use of CBD, there would need to be tests in randomized, placebo-controlled environments so they are able to draw the pertinent conclusions.

So, why don’t they just do the studies?

Well, marijuana is a Schedule I substance. According to the feds, it is not currently accepted as a medical treatment. For a study to take place, researchers would need to register with the DEA and get a special license for the area where the study would take place.

They would also need to get an application from the Food and Drug Administration and get the marijuana from the National Institute of Drug Abuse.

This makes testing in a scientific environment nearly impossible.

People aren’t waiting for approval, though. They have noticed how it has helped them cope with anxiety and pain. And wish to help their companions in the same way.

Weed, however, does not cure diseases. It only helps pets enjoy day-to-day life until whatever disease they struggle with catches up.

Pros and Cons

Pros
Cons
Table 1. Pros and cons of CBD for pets Source: Pros and Cons CBD for pets.
The vets who agree on the use of CBD are numerous. A survey performed by the Veterinary Information Network found: 79% of vets that have experience with CBD in pets say that it helps them cope with chronic pain. 62% said that it helped with separation anxiety. Over 80% said that there were no reports of side effects, other than drowsiness.
CBD products for pets are not yet regulated. Owners could end up buying products with unknown ingredients that can be toxic for your pets. In recent studies they found products that contained heavy metals, pesticides, and THC.
Local research has shown the positive effects CBD can have on pets. A clinical trial found that 89% of dogs who were treated with CBD had less seizures than one who was treated regularly. Researchers at Cornell University also found a significant decrease in pain, and an increase in energy when treated with CBD. There have also been small studies that shine a positive light on CBD given it was found to help with cardiovascular health and cancer.
There isn’t enough controlled evidence that supports giving CBD to pets. The research that has been performed is new, and there is not yet a way of knowing safe doses, for example.
Pet owners who do use CBD for their pets, swear by it. They say it has helped their furry friends treat anxiety, pain, digestive problems, and even cancer.
Using CBD instead of traditional medicine could harm your pets. The “caregiver placebo effect” can cause pet owners to misunderstand their pets response to CBD. Which could be harming instead of helping.
Can I give CBD oil to my dog to calm him down?

Future of the Pet CBD Industry

Legislators have been pushing for more research. Based on the extremely positive anecdotal evidence.

Tick Segerblom, an Arizona State Senator, recently introduced a bill that would have allowed the state to give pets medical marijuana cards. This was only for certain illnesses, though.

The bill didn’t go through because they weren’t able to get a hearing from the Committee on Health and Human Services. Later on, another bill was issued in Florida allowing the University of Florida to conduct research and determine the benefits and side effects of the use of CBD in pets.

That investigation is being carried out. As well as the Farm Bill research that has been allowed to grow and investigate hemp.

In January 2021, the U.S. Department of Agriculture published the final rule, regulating the production of hemp in the United States. This will allow the regulation of the research related to cannabis-based products.

They will have to perform testing on all THC concentration levels and get a chemical consistency certification. Dr. Narda Robinson, a vet and director of the Colorado State University Center for Comparative and Integrative Pain Medicine, said the following:

“In my opinion, research into cannabis as it relates to veterinary medicine is vital for a number of reasons. While the anecdotal effects do sound intriguing and potentially beneficial, research will help us sort the actual effects of cannabis from those of a placebo. Research would also allow us to more rigorously assess and document the adverse effects.” (Robinson, 2021)

The future of CBD regulation is already on the way, and this could be a topic of the past soon. The FDA is quickly learning more about all the wonderful benefits that this plant can have on humans and pets, and is getting on board with the idea.

We could soon find CBD products for pets in pharmacies nationwide. And this is all pointing to a better quality of life for our loved companions.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the decision on whether or not to give CBD to your pet is up to you. We have presented both sides of the equation and with this information, you can decide if it is the right move for you and your four-legged pet.

FDA approval is around the corner, and the future of the hemp industry is ever growing and here to stay! 

If you do wish to treat your pets, please contact a local vet and ask them about the possible side-effects, dosing and other possible treatments available for your pet’s condition. In the meantime, we hoped you liked this article.

And feel free to let us know what you think in the comment section below! 

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