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Can Medical Marijuana Improve Your Pet's Health?


Are you aware that marijuana products can help pets suffering from a variety of health conditions? It's somewhat of a controversial topic in veterinary medicine due to the perceptions people have about the medicinal aspects of cannabis for humans, as many folks still harbor the antiquated perspectives of Reefer Madness and the legality issues of marijuana use in the U.S.

Also contributing to the controversy are the reports of marijuana toxicity requiring treatment by veterinarians when pets consume their owners' edibles or smokable product being on the rise (see Bad medicine or natural remedy?). Having worked in emergency practice for many years, I've never treated more cases of marijuana toxicity than when practicing in West Hollywood where medical dispensaries are plentiful and attitudes around human use are relaxed.

Yet, there are veterinarians out there, including me, who appropriately use cannabis products for our patients. My own dog Cardiff has endured two bouts of T-Cell Lymphoma requiring surgery and chemothreapy that is current in remission. Besides ongoing chemotherapy treatment, whole food diet, and toxin avoidance, Cardiff gets herbs and supplements, including a cannabis product called Rx Vitamins for Pets HempRx as part of his wellness regimen. I use HempRx to help relieve some of the side effects of chemotherapy, including inappettence, lethargy, and nausea. Cardiff also has osteoarthritis and has previously shown adverse responses to anti-inflammatory medication, so cannabinoids (CBD) help relieve joint/other discomfort and reduce his potential to take pain-relieving drugs having potential for undesirable side effects. I have other patients that benefit from cannabis products to help with liver disease, glaucoma, and other ailments.

Check out my perspective on the use of cannabis in pets in the following article for NextAvenue- Is Marijuana Safe for Your Pet?

With medical marijuana laws now in effect in 25 states and Washington, D.C, we’ve all heard much discussion about the pros and cons of pot. But whether or not you embrace marijuana’s new reputation, if you own pets, it’s time to pay attention.

A Tempting Treat?

If you own a dog, you’ve surely witnessed his or her notorious “eat first, ask questions later” attitude. Even cats are known to take a curious nibble without much hesitation. This can be dangerous if they ingest some form of marijuana.

Since the relaxed laws around marijuana, vets have seen a steady rise in emergency visits from pets who have chowed down on their owner’s stash or munched on a marijuana-laced baked good. One emergency animal hospital in Colorado reports that it treats five dogs a day for ingestion of marijuana, according to Fox31 in Denver.

The fact is marijuana — the Cannabis Sativa L. plant — is toxic to dogs, cats and horses, according to the ASPCA’sanimal poison directory. Symptoms of ingestion include: lack of coordination, dilated pupils, depression, vomiting, lethargy and hyperactivity. More serious effects include low heart rate, coma, respiratory depression, and rarely, death.

While the idea of medical marijuana for pets is gaining attention, it’s a largely unexplored area.

While ingestion of dried marijuana or the actual plant can put your pet in danger, baked goods carry an additional concern due to the presence of other ingredients, such as chocolate, which can be toxic to dogs, or potential allergens, such as nuts or eggs.

“Marijuana should be treated like a prescription medication. Keep it out of reach of both pets and children,” advises Tina Wismer, medical director of the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center in Urbana, Ill. The same goes for any baked good laced with the substance.

Immediate Action Recommended

If you catch your dog or cat in the act of sampling, or immediately after, consider inducing vomiting.

“Marijuana is an anti-emetic (stops vomiting), so inducing vomiting would need to be performed very quickly after ingestion. Once the animal is affected, inducing vomiting usually does not work,” says Wismer.

Hydrogen peroxide is a common at-home remedy for inducing vomiting in pets. Dosage varies by weight, so consult your vet for details. Find this information out ahead of time — such as at a routine check up — to be one step ahead of any such emergency.

If time has passed since your furry friend swallowed the item, call your vet. You may need to bring your pet in for fluids and observation.

“If the animal is so affected that it cannot walk, or can’t be awakened, it needs to see the vet immediately,” adds Wismer.

Medical Uses of Pot for Pets?

Some pet owners, however, intentionally give their animals marijuana. When her 15-year old-rescue dog, Zeena, was bothered by aches and pains, Cheri Sicard gave her a cannabis tincture to keep her comfortable and help her relax. As author of two books and a blog on cannabis, Los Angeles-based Sicard is well-versed on what she calls the safe use and medicinal benefits of the plant.

“I’ve given my pets cannabis tinctures and oils at various times, for various conditions,” she says. “I just gave a bottle of commercial CBD tincture to my niece, who used the tincture to keep her (ailing 18-year-old cat) calm and comfortable.”

While the idea of medical marijuana for pets is gaining attention, it’s a largely unexplored area, with little scientific testing. David M. Cunic, CEO of Pazoo, a company involved in laboratory testing of medical cannabis and cannabinoids, believes the pet industry is 12 to 18 months away from progress in this area.

“When the states that have medical cannabis laws (for humans) have perfected and fine-tuned their systems and procedures, the pet cannabis industry will take off,” Cunic predicts, likening the potential to “modern day penicillin.”

No ‘High’

Before you start picturing glassy-eyed dogs or chilled-out cats, however, it’s important to understand the difference between veterinary and human products.

Human recreational pot (and some forms of medical marijuana) contains tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, a psychoactive component that creates the feelings of euphoria or a “high.” Products intended for veterinary use generally contain little or no THC, but do contain (or claim to contain) the pain-relieving substance cannabidiol, or CBD. Some experts believe CBD is safe for both species and yields potential medicinal benefits.

“Non-TCH products won’t get pets — or their owners — high, but they can be a way to manage pain in patients,” says Los Angeles veterinarian Patrick Mahaney. In addition to pain relief, Mahaney says other potential benefits for pets include improved feelings of well-being, anti-nausea and appetite stimulation.

“Owners sometimes report that traditional pain medications leave their pet lethargic, not acting like himself, or with a diminished appetite,” he reports. Cannabis products don’t come with such side effects, he says. “Sedation may occur at higher doses, but owners should always be working closely with their veterinarian for proper use,” notes Mahaney.

Not Approved for Use

One big caveat, however: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved marijuana for any use in animals, and cautions pet owners against the use of such products.

In 2015, the FDA sent warning letters to Canna-Pet and Canna Companion, saying that their marketing of certain pet products violated the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. The agency threatened legal action if the marketing language, which made it clear the products were “intended for use as a drug,” was not corrected. (The current language appears to address the FDA’s concerns.)

Talk to your veterinarian before using any products for your pet.

Dr. Patrick Mahaney

Thank you for reading this article. Your questions and comments are completely welcome. Please feel free to communicate with me through Twitter (@PatrickMahaney) and follow my adventures in veterinary medicine by liking Patrick Mahaney: Veterinarian Acupuncture Pain Management for Your Pets on Facebook. Copyright of this article (2016) is owned by Dr Patrick Mahaney, Veterinarian and Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist. Republishing any portion of this article must first be authorized by Dr Patrick Mahaney. Requests for republishing must be approved by Dr Patrick Mahaney and received in written format.

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