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Millions of pet owners across the country and beyond have already had the pleasure of sharing the secret medicine in their arsenal with their pets, cannabis!
At one time the only way pet owners had of sharing their “stash” with their pets was not healthful or helpful. That was when the pot cookies or brownies were accidentally left within reach of pets. Overdosage almost always was the result. Many took a trip to the veterinary ER, where treatment was usually watch, wait for it to wear off and possibly activated charcoal and hydration. The first time it happened in my house it was frightening. My dog was wobbly, could barely walk, and couldn’t hold his pee. This, of course was from over ingestion of a THC rich edible. At the ER they said we needed to worry more about the chocolate than the pot. In fact, the cannabis would counteract the stimulation from the chocolate.
Fortunately, those days have evolved. Now we know to be vigilant with THC-rich edibles, in people and in pets, and there are healthier, more appropriate options for us all. Yet, availability and legality still complicate the picture. Laws and their enforcement vary between the states. Federally, cannabis is a Schedule I drug for pets as well as people. In fact, veterinarians have not been protected federally from even speaking with pet owners about medical benefits as have physicians (MD or DO). This has led some states to practice more lenient policies especially those that have approved adult use, notably Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and most recently California, the first to pass legislative action. The California Bill signed into law September 2018 requires the veterinary board to develop guidelines by Jan. 1, 2020, for practitioners to follow when discussing cannabis with clients.
There is a lack of research about cannabis as a health product for pets, as the case has been for people. Cannabis has been considered a cause of toxicity in pets, because that’s all we knew in the past. At one end of the spectrum is the position of the American Veterinary Medical Association, which still holds restrictive philosophies. According to information for members published in 2018:
“Marijuana toxicosis is most commonly due to our canine patients’ predilection for dietary indiscretion. The majority of cases reported have occurred in young dogs (less than 1 year old), although cases have also been recorded in cats. Toxicosis in dogs is most commonly associated with edibles, often those made with chocolate, while cats are more likely to directly consume the plant material….”
Furthermore, FDA has not approved the use of marijuana or hemp in any form in animals, and the agency cannot ensure the safety or effectiveness of these products. For these reasons, FDA and AVMA caution pet owners against the use of such products. There is no FDA approval process for animal supplements, including marijuana products marketed as nutritional supplements. Animal products are regulated as either animal drugs or animal feed ingredients. For humans, the FDA concluded that THC and CBD products are excluded from the dietary supplement definition. Despite the fact that CBD cannot be sold legally as a dietary supplement in the U.S., many CBD products are available.
CBD Products for Pets
So how did we get from the facts above to the glutted market full of CBD products for pets, nationwide, irrespective of medical or recreational marijuana laws? As previously mentioned, there is much confusion about the legality of CBD products, even derived from hemp. Nevertheless, any pet owner can find hemp-derived CBD products for themselves and/or their pets if they so wish. These come in a range of forms, from full-spectrum to powdered isolate, with differing potencies. It’s generally thought that cannabis derived products are medicinally more effective due to the entourage effect. And the forms available to consumers in medical or recreational marijuana states is comprehensive. So pet owners themselves have turned the tide of public opinion towards using cannabis as a health option, usually choosing what to use for their companion through trial and error.
According to a 2018 nationwide survey of 1,068 dog owners by Colorado State University, nearly 80 percent said they bought hemp or marijuana products for their dogs. Another survey of 632 people reported in 2016 found “The areas felt to be positively impacted by the products were relief from pain (reported by 64.3% as helping moderately or a great deal); helping with sleep (reported by 50.5% as helping moderately or a great deal); and relieving anxiety (reported by 49.3% as helping moderately or a great deal). The side effects reported most frequently included sedation and over-active appetite. The results were similar for cats.”
Recent research into the safety of CBD use in dogs at Colorado State University was one of the first studies to shed light on delivery. Dogs received CBD either by transdermal cream applied to the ears, or capsules with a powder form of CBD, or oil tinctures. Of the three delivery methods, oil tinctures had the highest and most stable absorption. High dosages of CBD (up to 300 mg) had side effects, including elevations in liver enzymes. 
A clue into appropriate dosage came from a recent study of CBD oil use for osteoarthritis in dogs. It concluded that 2mg/kg of CBD twice daily can help increase comfort and activity in dogs with OA. That a higher dose was not more effective, and that the half-life was about 4 hours, so a twice a day dosing regimen would work. 
Giving Cannabis to Pets
So now we know a little bit about what to expect when we give our pets cannabis.
1: Their endocannabinoid system interacts with cannabis. CBD and THC bind to receptor sites as in humans. In fact, whatever effects you expect to see in yourself you can extrapolate to your pet! As found above, people are using cannabis to treat pain, arthritis, sleep and anxiety in their pets, with success.
2: The best form of delivery is by tincture, as compared to powder in capsules. Oil tinctures were tested, but we would expect the same good results with alcohol or glycerin tinctures. The effect is going to last 4-8 hours (one to two half-lives).
3: We know 2 mg/kg dose of CBD can help arthritis pain (that’s about 0.9 mg/lb). The recommended dose on CBD products on the market is much lower, from 0.05 mg/kg to a maximum of 1 mg/kg. The best bet is to start low and increase slowly, just as with people.
4: As far as how much help your vet can be, that depends on where you live if they’ll even be able to talk to you, but also how much will they know. Will their advice be informed, biased, or no opinion? As in most alternative therapies, the consumer is the pioneer. You’ll have to do your own research. Your vet may come in handy when you want to lower your pet’s anti-inflammatory or pain medicine. They’ll probably be glad to say go ahead.
Rest assured that CBD rich products in modest doses will not harm your pet. Personally, I have used combinations with THC and THCA and CBDA in my pets. These are all strong anti-inflammatories and in the right combinations your pet will not get “high”, the same as in people. For more information on what to expect your best bet is to talk to an informed cannabis consultant, such as healthcare practitioners that have been advising people. Many of my clients would come in and talk to me about their pets during their own medical marijuana consultation.
Dr. Deborah Malka is an Integrative Medicine Physician and a Cannabis Clinical Specialist who is available for consultation. For more information, she can be reached at 831-359-7679.