As the popularity of medical cannabis continues to grow worldwide, an increasing number of pet owners are now consulting vets about the possibility of treating their four-legged companions with cannabinoids. According to a recent survey, 55 percent of vets in the US now receive regular inquiries about giving cannabis to pets, while data shows that owners are most commonly using cannabis to treat pets suffering from inflammation, anxiety and chronic pain.
Cannabis and Pets – What Does The Science Say?
Research on the use of cannabis in pets is still very sparse, and the few studies that have been conducted have not provided any conclusive answers. For instance, it has been suggested that dogs’ brains contain a higher concentration of cannabinoid receptors than humans, and that they also metabolise cannabis-based compounds slower than we do, although exactly what that means is unclear[i].
A study that was published last year aimed to investigate the effects of giving an array of different cannabis oils to dogs. Those that received oil containing only CBD experienced no major side-effects, with the infusion appearing to have the same safety profile as a placebo. However, pet dogs that ingested cannabis oils containing THC tended to experience more complications[ii].
Interestingly, adverse effects were slightly more severe in animals that received an oil containing both CBD and THC than those that ingested just THC. While the reason for this is not fully understood, the study authors suggest that in some species, CBD may actually potentiate the effects of THC, despite the fact that the reverse is often seen in humans.
Importantly, both cannabinoids were still detectable in the dogs’ blood plasma a week after the final administration, suggesting that the animals lack the ability to rapidly break down these compounds.
As far as cats are concerned, the evidence is even thinner on the ground. One small study published this year indicated that healthy pet cats are able to tolerate cannabis oils containing CBD, THC or both THC and CBD with no major side effects[iii]. However, previous research has shown that cats tend to start licking themselves excessively after being treated with CBD.[iv]
On the whole, it’s obvious that we still don’t really know how cannabis affects pets, so it’s advisable to keep your stash away from any non-human companions and consult a vet before attempting to treat any animals with cannabis-based medicines.
But Can Cannabis Help Treat Symptoms In Pets?
It bears repeating that until we know more about the safety profile of different doses of cannabinoids, cannabis should not be used to treat any pets. That said, there is data to suggest that the plant can help some animals deal with certain symptoms.
To date, the majority of research on the subject has been conducted on dogs, so if you’ve got an epileptic goldfish or a depressed iguana then unfortunately there’s really nothing that we can tell you. However, what we can say is that dogs suffering from osteoarthritis showed increased mobility and decreased pain-related behaviours after receiving two milligrams of CBD per kilogram of body weight twice a day for four weeks[v].
In a separate study, cannabis extracts were given to pet dogs with intractable idiopathic epilepsy. Those that received CBD showed a 33 percent decrease in seizures compared to dogs that ingested a placebo[vi]. While this may seem like a good result, the study authors point out that treatments are only considered successful if they bring about a fifty percent reduction in seizures.
However, because blood plasma levels of CBD were directly correlated to seizure reductions, the researchers speculate that increasing the dosage of CBD may help dogs to hit that 50 percent improvement mark. Unfortunately, we still can’t confirm whether or not this really is the case, as we’re still waiting for more research to be conducted.
[i] Gyles C. Marijuana for pets?. The Canadian Veterinary Journal. 2016 Dec;57(12):1215. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5109620/
[ii] Vaughn D, Kulpa J, Paulionis L. Preliminary investigation of the safety of escalating cannabinoid doses in healthy dogs. Frontiers in veterinary science. 2020 Feb 11;7:51. – https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fvets.2020.00051/full
[iii] Kulpa JE, Paulionis LJ, Eglit GM, Vaughn DM. Safety and tolerability of escalating cannabinoid doses in healthy cats. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. 2021 Mar 26:1098612X211004215. – https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1098612X211004215
[iv] Deabold KA, Schwark WS, Wolf L, Wakshlag JJ. Single-dose pharmacokinetics and preliminary safety assessment with use of CBD-rich hemp nutraceutical in healthy dogs and cats. Animals. 2019 Oct;9(10):832. – https://www.mdpi.com/2076-2615/9/10/832
[v] Gamble LJ, Boesch JM, Frye CW, Schwark WS, Mann S, Wolfe L, Brown H, Berthelsen ES, Wakshlag JJ. Pharmacokinetics, safety, and clinical efficacy of cannabidiol treatment in osteoarthritic dogs. Frontiers in veterinary science. 2018 Jul 23;5:165. – https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fvets.2018.00165/full?fbclid=IwAR1S16ZSa-DktbvZ1wHFczaD_JV8Eg8mjQqtlNJi8Z0t0xpBGskl2J364no
[vi] McGrath S, Bartner LR, Rao S, Packer RA, Gustafson DL. Randomized blinded controlled clinical trial to assess the effect of oral cannabidiol administration in addition to conventional antiepileptic treatment on seizure frequency in dogs with intractable idiopathic epilepsy. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 2019 Jun 1;254(11):1301-8. – https://avmajournals.avma.org/doi/abs/10.2460/javma.254.11.1301