Also known as cannabis, marijuana is Cannabis plant’s dried parts, explained Rania Gollakner, BS, DVM, and Lynn Buzhardt, DVM of VCA Hospitals, an operator of over 1,000 animal hospitals in the US and Canada. It has been used as early as 500 BC as herbal medicine and for products like rope, paper, and textiles.
Presently, cannabis is mainly used for medicinal or recreational purposes. It can also be smoked like a cigarette, inhaled via vaporizers, or consumed via food and drink. Cannabis has more than 100 different chemicals or compounds called cannabinoids. But with the increased accessibility of cannabis, this has also led to increased exposure in pets.
Perceptions of Dog Owners On Using Cannabis Products (2018)
Lori R. Kagan, Ph.D., and colleagues of Scientific Report, an online multidisciplinary, open access journal, wrote that a total of 1,196 responses were collected. However, respondents who did not currently own a dog or did not reside in the US were eliminated, leaving only 1,068 participants for the study.
When asked if the owners ever bought hemp or marijuana products for their dog/s, 79.8% said yes and 20.2% said no. Of those who said that they have never bought hemp or marijuana products for their dogs, 30.6% said they decided to buy them because their dog does not have any medical complications they feel these products could help. 31% said they had not really thought about it.
Other reasons cited by the respondents were “don’t know where to get it” (23.6%), lack of research about hemp or marijuana products (20.8%), concerns about safety or toxicity (14.4%), lack of standardization/regulation of products (13%), cost (10.6%), “don’t think it would work compared to conventional or prescription medication” (1.9%), and legal concerns (8.3%).
Of those who indicated that they had purchased hemp or marijuana products for their dog, 72.9% said they bought it online, followed by local pet or animal supply store (21.9%), stores selling hemp or marijuana for human consumption (15.7%), friends/family (10.1%), veterinarian (9.6%), and use of a product previously bought for personal use (6.9%).
When asked about the type/s of hemp or marijuana products used, 56.9% said they used capsules/pills marketed for animals and 3.9% said they used capsules/pills that were marketed towards people. This was also seen for biscuits/edibles, with 29.3% of owners saying they used biscuits/edibles marketed for animals unlike 2.6% of respondents who used those products marketed towards people.
8.5% reported using topical oil products marketed for animals while 7% used these products marketed towards people. When asked to indicate what dog ailment/s they were treating with hemp or marijuana products, 60.2% used these to provide pain relief, along with reducing inflammation (48.7%), relieving anxiety (47.1%), helping with thunderstorm or fireworks phobia (17.8%), aiding with sleep (10.9%), reducing vomiting and nausea (8.3%), and suppressing muscle spasms (8.1%).
When asked where they obtained information about hemp or marijuana products, 38% mentioned an animal hemp or marijuana product company website, 33.6% said from their veterinarian, and 26.9% got information from their neighbor/friend/relative. 74.9% said they had talked to their veterinarian about hemp or marijuana products. When asked how comfortable they feel talking to their veterinarian about hemp or marijuana products, 71.1% said it was extremely comfortable, 12.1% said somewhat comfortable, 9.8% answered neither comfortable nor uncomfortable, 5.5% said somewhat uncomfortable, and 1.4% said extremely uncomfortable.
It is challenging for veterinarians to provide client recommendations for cannabis products, as there is currently a lack of evidence-based research and conflicting legislation regarding the use of cannabis in veterinary practices, Kagan and colleagues stated.
Cannabis In Veterinary Medicine
In the US, federal law prohibits veterinarians from possessing, administering, dispensing, or prescribing cannabis and related products, explained County of Los Angeles Public Health, a department that works to protect and improve health and well-being. However, in California, state laws legalized cannabis use for adults over 21 years old, including the prescription of marijuana for human patients.
Cannabis Intoxication Among Dogs and Cats
Dogs and cats can become intoxicated by inhaling second-hand smoke, consuming edibles, or ingesting cannabis directly. Dogs’ brains have more cannabinoid receptors so the effects of cannabis are more dramatic and potentially more toxic compared to humans. Cats and dogs that consume a small amount of cannabis cause toxicity.
Cannabis enters the body through inhalation or ingestion, binding with specific neuroreceptors in the brain and altering normal neurotransmitter function. THC interacts with neurotransmitters: norepinephrine, dopamine, serotonin, and acetylcholine. Before cannabis is eliminated from your pet’s body, THC will be stored in the fatty tissue in the liver, brain, and kidneys as it is very lipid-soluble. It is metabolized in the liver and 65% to 90% of the drug is excreted through dropping while the remaining 10% to 30% is excreted through the kidneys. Cannabis has to be metabolized and eliminated first before its effects dissipate.
Moreover, there is very little research on the effects of cannabis on pets, specifically about appropriate dosage, safety, and effectiveness. You cannot guarantee the ingredients’ purity because there is no government organization responsible for monitoring the quality control of cannabis products. Products marketed for pets often say they are manufactured from hemp and may be labeled as “cannabis,” not “marijuana.” Bear in mind that hemp is not approved by the FDA for use as an ingredient in animal products, pharmaceuticals, and products.
Successful treatment relies on accurate and complete information regardless of how your pet is exposed. For example, treatment varies between ingesting a “pot brownie” from inhalation because consuming the brownie requires your dog to undergo treatment for cannabis and chocolate toxicity. Meanwhile, inhalation may require treatment for respiratory irritation.
Exercising Pet Safety for Drugs and Other Medication
Cannabis—whether recreational or medical—should be kept out of reach of your pets. Storing them in high cabinets or in locked drawers is recommended when not in use. Keep in mind that pets may be tempted to consume candies, cannabis, and other edibles. Be sure to keep your pets away from second-hand smoke by keeping them in a separate and well-ventilated room.
Owners should also familiarize themselves with the signs of cannabis toxicosis. If their pet starts to exhibit peculiar changes in behavior, they should consult their veterinarian immediately for early intervention.