Visit a dog park in a state where cannabis is legal, and you’re sure to overhear someone recommend giving CBD to their pet. Similar to the way we talk about CBD and humans, there is a plethora of examples where CBD might help–anxiety when traveling or going to the vet, pain maintenance, using THC as a tumor inhibitor, etc. If you Google search “cbd and pets” right now, the results show three times the options of “pet-friendly” products to buy as there are educational resources. There is no question that people are already medicating their dogs with forms of cannabis and CBD extracts.
Despite the rise in experimentation, there remains very little research on the subject. So the very big question remains: Is it safe to give cannabis to my pet?
Part of the mystery around cannabis and animals is because of the fact cannabis is still federally illegal, so there hasn’t been funding or legal access to cannabis for potential projects. Without that research, the American Veterinary Medical Association can’t state that vets are allowed to even discuss cannabis as a possible recommended medication without risking their medical license. That being said, they released a document to members in February of this year titled “Cannabis: What Veterinarians Need to Know” to help doctors “advise clients and treat patients who may have been exposed to marijuana.”
The document gives a cursory breakdown of cannabis, cannabinoids like THC and CBD, concentrates and high-CBD/low-THC hemp plants, but only provides recommendations based on results from cases where animals came in to the vet from a toxic reaction. The evidence shows your animal will typically experience effects within 1-3 hours of exposure, but that they can “manifest in as little as 5 minutes or as long as 96 hours.” The AVMA notice also explains that most toxic cases have occurred in young puppies, and that most cases with dogs involved other toxicities such as chocolate, raisins, xylitol or wrapping.
Ultimately, it states that due to federal regulations, CBD oil or chews, “despite contrary claims,” are illegal for use in pets. But there is no acknowledgement of evidence that shows a toxic effect from CBD extract. As with everything we put in our, and our pets’, bodies, it comes down to proper dosage.
Dr. Cornelia Wagner, owner of Hawthorne Veterinary Clinic in Portland, OR, is one of the veterinarians opening her mind and her doctor’s office to the idea of cannabis as a safe, effective medicine when dosed properly. She’s the first to acknowledge that there are no clear medical guidelines for doing so, and thus strictly recommends beginning any pet’s treatment with the lowest amount possible–about 1 mg/ml a day.
“The upper dose limit for CBD products recommended is around 1 mg/kg/day orally, but one should start with a much smaller fraction of this dose such as 0.05 mg/kg/day,” states Dr. Wagner on the Hawthorne Clinic’s website. “For THC products, start with an oral dose of 0.1-0.25 mg/kg THC once or twice daily.”
If you don’t see any negative side effects (excessive sedation, disorientation, excitement, vomiting, etc.), Wagner states that the pet has developed a tolerance and the dose can be gradually increased every 5 days or so until the desired effect is seen. Stick to increases no larger than .05ml/mg a week.
One of the reasons the THC dosage should be administered with an even lighter hand is because dogs have a more complex endocannabinoid system as humans, with many more receptors. They feel the effects of THC much stronger than we do. Although infused dog treats are available at most dispensaries, pet-owners who keep cannabis tincture around can use that as well, just in smaller amounts. There are options like a whole plant-extract formula by Luminous Botanicals at Oregon dispensaries, or this GrönCBD tincture–an example of safe, synthetic CBD made from tree lichen. To achieve these small doses, you can use a water syringe to separate the proper sized dose and then some water, so it can be squirted quickly and directly into your pet’s mouth.
Fortunately for cannabis-curious pet-owners, the spread of legalization across the country is giving doctors enough resources (nerve) to take research into their own hands. In Colorado, Dr. Stephanie McGrath, a neurologist and assistant professor at Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, has completed two clinical studies since 2016 on the effects of cannabidiol in dogs with osteoarthritis or epilepsy. In January, the American Kennel Club granted Dr. McGrath $350,000 for her to begin a three-year crossover study of CBD for epilepsy in dogs. Legislation has been proposed in New York and California that would establish guidelines and allow veterinarians to legally discuss the use of cannabis products with their clients.
Until then, when you go shopping for tincture or “pet-friendly” cannabis or hemp products, just don’t hold back when asking about ingredient sources, any available testing on the cannabis material, and where it was grown/produced. This intersection of the FDA, the DEA, conflicting state laws and the equally-conflicted veterinary community means that a lot of medical claims and questionable synthetic formulas have been thrown around recklessly. We all just want our pets to feel good–make sure they’re getting the real deal.