Image via Victoria43/Shutterstock
By Aly Semigran
In certain states across the country, medical marijuana is an option for people suffering from various ailments and seeking relief. Now, as research continues to emerge, pet parents and veterinarians alike are finding that medical cannabis can provide positive benefits for dogs as well.
Whether a dog has cancer, seizures, or anxiety, cannabis oil can serve as an alternative medication to help treat symptoms. Here’s everything pet parents need to know about cannabis oil for dogs.
What Is Cannabis Oil?
Cannabis oil is liquid derived from the marijuana plant. There are many ways to extract oil from the plant, including CO2 extraction, says Dr. Tim Shu, founder and CEO of a pet cannabis company in California called VETCBD.
“The [marijuana] flower contains trichomes, which are glands that have essential oils,” Shu explains. Once the glands are separated from the plant, they can be formulated to find the ideal ratio of cannabinoids, he says.
Marijuana plants contain 80 different cannabinoids, Shu says, including THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive component) and CBD (cannabidiol, the medical component).
“When you use cannabinoids together, it’s more effective than separately,” Shu says of the “entourage effect” offered by cannabis. Hemp products, on their own, contain less than 0.3 percent THC.
Dr. Gary Richter, owner and medical director of Montclair Veterinary Hospital in Oakland, California, points out that cannabis oil has no psychoactive effect on dogs when dosed properly. “Depending on the nature of the product, if it contains little or no THC, then the dog is not going to get high.”
What Are the Benefits of Cannabis Oil for Dogs?
Cannabis oil can be used to treat seizures, nausea, stress, anxiety, arthritis, back pain, symptoms of cancer, and gastrointestinal issues, among other health conditions in dogs.
Relief is provided as the cannabinoids in marijuana interact with the endocannabinoid system, Shu explains. “It’s a series of receptors that run throughout the body,” he says. “The cannabinoids interact with the receptors in the body and modulate things like pain, anxiety, and nausea.”
Unlike some traditional pain medicine for dogs, medical cannabis has no life-threatening side effects with proper dosage, Shu points out. “It doesn’t damage the kidney, liver, or GI tract. The dogs aren’t high or sedated.”
What Are the Potential Risks of Cannabis Oil for Pets?
Like any medications, overdosing can lead to potential risks for pets. “The most significant is THC toxicity, meaning, essentially, they are high,” Richter says. “Depending on how significantly a pet has been overdosed, the effects of that can be quite long-lasting, even days.” During these episodes, a pet may not be able to stand or eat. If you suspect an overdose, take your pet to the veterinarian immediately.
Life-threatening risks for dogs from medical cannabis are “exceedingly rare,” Richter says, adding that toxicity more often occurs when a pet has eaten a product that contains chocolate, coffee, or raisins. “Even if the THC toxicity is not excessive, they can sometimes have problems due to these other ingredients.” That said, ingestion of large amounts of marijuana has been fatal in a number of dogs, so preventing overdoses with medical cannabis is still extremely important, warns Dr. Jennifer Coates, a veterinary advisor with petMD.
Graham Quigley, owner and acupuncturist at the Holistic Animal Clinic in San Rafael, California, worries that as the popularity of alternative medicine increases, pet parents may buy into “overly ambitious claims about cannabis oil” from unreliable sources. Quigley stresses that cannabis oil is not a “cure-all.”
As with any medication, pet parents should consult their veterinarian first before treating their dog with cannabis oil.
How Is Cannabis Oil Administered to Dogs?
Though there are some topical treatments, cannabis oil is typically administered orally to dogs. It also can be used in conjunction with traditional medications and treatments. Emerging research suggests there can be “synergistic benefits” between marijuana and traditional medications, Richter says. “There are few, if any, known significant drug interactions that you really need to be concerned about.”
Again, the correct dosage is imperative. “As is the case with any medication, success has everything to do with dosing,” Richter says. “If you dose pets properly, then they are going to get the positive effect that you’re looking for while not having any psychoactive side effects.”
But herein lies a problem. The research needed to determine the correct dosage for CBD oil in dogs simply hasn’t been done yet, Coates says. And, to make matters worse, FDA testing has shown that many CBD products contain little if any CBD, she adds. The best option available to pet parents at this time is to talk to a veterinarian who has experience with pets being treated with cannabis oil about proper dosage and reputable manufacturers, Coates says.
Where Can Pet Owners Get Cannabis Oil for Their Dogs?
Obtaining medical cannabis for your pet all depends on where you live and your state’s marijuana laws.
“In California, to legally purchase marijuana, you must have a medical cannabis card, which a person would get from their doctor,” Richter says. “There is no legal mechanism by which I, as a veterinarian, can provide a medical cannabis card for a pet.”
Pet parents who want to give their dog cannabis oil should speak to their veterinarian. From there, pet parents who have a medical marijuana card can visit a reputable dispensary and purchase the product that best meets their pet’s needs.
Pet parents who live in regions where medical marijuana is not available can also consider hemp products, which have lower doses of THC.