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Is Cannabis Safe for Dogs? Yes, But…

cbd and dogs
PHOTO Michael Sander


Is Cannabis Safe for Dogs? Yes, But…

Recent scientific study confirms safety and efficacy of CBD-rich cannabis-based treatments for dogs.

The first president in more than a century to not have an official First Dog at the White House—and maybe the first to have an (in)famous thing with canines—Donald Trump nonetheless did more than any other president to ensure your dog can get weed—and, in an accidental and roundabout way, to ensure that your dog can access a cannabis-based treatment safely. But, the question remains: Is cannabis safe for dogs and, if so, at what levels?

Pet owners for years have been experimenting with medical cannabis to solve maladies in their pets, including pain, seizures, anxiety and inflammation—in other words, treating them like tiny people who suffer from the same ravages of life and aging. 

Though the issue is still under-studied, it turns out dogs can indeed be given cannabis-based treatments, and dog owners can enjoy the comfort and security of knowing that the cannabis can be given both safely and effectively, as recent research published May 5 in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research confirmed.

However, there’s one significant caveat: That cannabis you give your dog had better be high in CBD, and with low or no THC. That means many products derived from hemp—legalized federally under the most recent Farm Bill, which Trump signed into law in December 2018—are good and proper to be shared with both man and man’s best friend.

Dogs Best Weed

Among the tasty treats enjoyed by humans that are problematic or potentially harmful for your dog, cannabis ranks somewhere between avocado, onions and cooked chicken bones. Beware when it comes to weed and pets: With 30 times more CB1 receptors in a dog’s endocannabinoid system than a human’s, THC and dogs don’t mix, as canines are extremely sensitive to THC. In fact, if you could choose between accidentally letting your dog eat your edibles and leaving them out where your kid could get them, for least harm, you’d give your weed candy to a baby. (Note: Don’t do that either, please.)

Well before Trump triggered the CBD boom by encouraging US farmers to grow hemp—which, for a while, was converted almost exclusively into CBD, the cannabinoid that doesn’t intoxicate like THC and is instead associated with beneficial health effects—certain cannabis-product makers followed some bold pet-owners’ experimentation, and marketed cannabis-based oils and tinctures for pets.

As a team of Brazilian researchers conducting a review of the science found, there’s a scientific basis for this, if the cannabis-based concoction is CBD forward. As they found, in addition to assisting with pain and anxiety, two common afflictions in older as well as urban dogs, “products rich in cannabidiol (CBD), free or with low concentrations of tetrahydrocannabinol” can “potentially promote improved quality of life and reduce pain perception in animals affected by canine osteoarthritis.”

Since the Farm Bill legalized cannabis (CBD) with 0.3 percent of THC or less, Farm Bill-legal cannabis is the right concoction for a dog—though you might not have much luck getting solid advice or product recommendations from your veterinarian.

Dont Ask Your Vet

One thing the Farm Bill didn’t legalize was “medical hemp.” As the American Veterinary Medical Association notes, neither that bill nor any state-level medical cannabis bill extended legal protections to pet owners or vets who might want to prescribe cannabis. And under Food and Drug Administration Rules, a product can’t be marketed as a medicine or having medical benefits until after a rigorous scientific process is concluded.

That hasn’t happened for CBD and dogs. Thus, according to the AVMA, “the available scientific evidence pertaining to their use in animals is currently limited.”

“While findings from a few well-controlled studies have been published, much of what we know is related to anecdotal or case reports,” the AVMA noted, adding that to complicate factors, many commercially available CBD products are mislabeled. For these reasons, the AVMA can’t quite say that cannabis is safe for dogs, even if other research, such as the Brazilians’ review of data, concludes that doing so is generally safe and effective—and even if prominent veterinarians are frustrated by the AVMA’s understandable intransigence.

Just Ask Your Dog

If you practice holistic medicine for your pets, you probably have a book written by Dr. Gary Richter. The former medical director of Montclair Veterinary Hospital in Oakland, CA, Richter is a certified practitioner of veterinary acupuncture and veterinary chiropractic techniques—and he’s also the co-founder of the Veterinary Cannabis Society.

Though the recent review of canine application of CBD “didn’t necessarily tell us anything we didn’t already know… any study that supports the safety and efficacy of cannabis is a plus,” he said. “There really aren’t that many, so we’ll take it where we can get it.”

While CBD’s value for pets in applications for seizures and arthritis has been studied most, for all applications where a human might want to try CBD, they can also carefully proceed giving man’s best friend a dose. Pet owners can rest assured that with CBD and dogs, “you’re talking about a product that’s very, very safe,” Richter said. “Clinical and anecdotal evidence would suggest that pretty much any application you know that it might be used in a person is also applicable for dogs.”

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