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Some time ago, I wrote a post called No Pot for Your Pup, in which I stated pretty unequivocally that marijuana was a bad thing for your dog, and generally speaking, I’m going to stand by that.
So, why am I revisiting marijuana, or to be more accurate, its main ingredient, THC, for dogs at this point?
It’s because when I wrote No Pot for Your Pup, my concern was dogs getting into their humans’ recreational stash. I wasn’t considering medical marijuana.
Simply stated, when it comes to recreational marijuana, today’s weed is not what your parents would have used; it’s a lot stronger. In fact, some blends can contain so much THC that, for dogs, even small amounts can be very harmful.
That said, though, there has been a lot of research lately that suggests medical marijuana can be as good for dogs as it is for humans. So with that in mind, let’s take a closer look at THC for dogs. Of course, the first question we need to consider is…
It certainly looks as though it does. I’ve been reading a lot on the topic of THC for dogs, and coming across a lot of anecdotal evidence that would seem to indicate that the benefits of medical cannabis for dogs are very real.
I’ve seen stories about dogs that were very nearly hopelessly neurotic and resisted all manner of conventional medication but calmed down when given marijuana. I’ve read about skin cancers that have improved following the application of cannabis oil and I’ve read countless stories about how medical marijuana helped dogs that had terminal cancer to recover some of their vim and vigor, and remain with their humans for longer than you might expect, when given tincture of cannabis from approved medical marijuana providers.
Now, if you’re thinking, “This sounds wonderful; I’ll have to ask my vet about it!” you need to pull back and regroup.
As I often do, I asked my vet, Stephen, what he thought about marijuana for dogs. I’d taken Janice in for a checkup, since she was bred right around Valentine’s Day, and thought I’d broach the subject; obviously, not with Janice in mind but just out of general curiosity.
Stephen’s response was, “Ash, I don’t even want to talk about THC for dogs while I’m working. How about we do coffee after I close up the clinic?”
What I learned during our coffee date was that Stephen is very much of the opinion that THC for dogs can be very helpful in many instances, but if he prescribes it, he could lose his license.
This is because even though marijuana has been used for pain relief and other issues for thousands of years, the Federal Government considers it a “Schedule 1 controlled substance” – in other words, a drug that has significant potential for abuse, and no recognized medical purpose. “Human doctors” are exempt from prosecution in many states if they prescribe marijuana, but veterinarians have no such protection.
So, if Stephen were to prescribe marijuana for a dog, his career could be over.
The argument has been thrown out more than once that this is because well-meaning owners could easily give their dog too much of a good thing, and an accidental overdose could be the result. But surely this is the case with other medications a vet could prescribe for pain.
Some veterinarians are taking the chance – bucking the system and prescribing medical marijuana for dogs, just hoping they won’t get caught. I asked Stephen what he would do if he honestly thought that medical marijuana would be the best way of easing pain for a dog in an “end of life” scenario. Would he prescribe THC for my dogs if it meant that their appetite would improve, that they would feel less pain, and enjoy a better quality of life in their twilight years?
“Ash,” he said, “Let’s just cross that bridge when we come to it.”
I know why Stephen wouldn’t answer my question, and I certainly don’t hold it against him. But why can’t we get answers to the general question, “Why can’t my dog have medical marijuana?”
I think a lot of it has to do with culture. As recently as the 1950s, marijuana users were largely vilified, seen as rampaging addicts who were a scourge on respectable society, not to be trusted, and possibly dangerous. Then, once we moved into the 1960s and ’70s, we just sort of looked down on people whom we perceived as “potheads.” Then, a decade or so later, we more or less accepted “stoners” – those habitual users – but we didn’t really respect them all that much. And as recently as 1993, Bill Clinton had to downplay his marijuana use by insisting that he’d never inhaled.
This kind of cultural viewpoint has made it difficult to actually weed out (pun very much intended) the truth about the benefits of marijuana when it comes to medicinal purposes. There hasn’t been all that much research on the subject when it comes to humans, and still less when it comes to THC for dogs. And in order to use medical marijuana in ways that allow the benefits while reducing the risks, we need research. It doesn’t matter how much anecdotal evidence we throw out; all those stories I’ve read online about the benefits of THC for dogs are not hard evidence. Since research into medical marijuana has been largely discouraged, we just don’t have hard evidence supporting its medicinal value.
I was surprised to find out that there has actually been research done on THC and dogs as far back as 1899 when Walter E. Dixon, a doctor and pharmacologist in England, discovered that dogs responded favorably to cannabis. It took another century, though, before we learned that this response originated in the dog’s ECS (endocannabinoid system).
Cannabinoids actually work on the body’s receptors, binding to them to create certain reactions. In essence, they prevent certain signals from transmitting to the brain. This is how they work to stop anxiety, nausea, convulsions and (some believe) even the responses that cause infections and tumors to flourish.
In short, the limited research that we have does suggest that cannabis can ease numerous conditions in both humans and dogs.
Usually, people who take THC for medicinal purposes smoke it. Some might include it in edibles, or drink it as a tea. Again, the problem with simply administering marijuana to your dog is that you might not know how much THC is in the blend, and too much can be harmful. There are companies out there, though, that make edible products for dogs that contain enough THC to be helpful but not enough to cause harm.
Those who choose to treat their companion animals with medical marijuana generally give it to them in one of two ways: as an oil or as an edible —a food item that is either created using marijuana as an ingredient, or infused with its oil. Most of the time, treats that are made for dogs use CBD from industrial hemp, which contains practically no THC. One company that makes this type of product is Constance Therapeutics, founded by Constance Finley who began administering cannabis to her service dog that had cancer and was not expected to live any longer than six months following the diagnosis.
Well, she didn’t have much to lose, did she? So she began giving her dog a bit of cannabis oil, rubbed on the dog’s gums. The cancer appeared to go away after three weeks, so she stopped using the oil. Within six months, though, the cancer returned and the dog died.
Now, what if Constance had kept on using the cannabis oil? I’m sure this is a question that she has often asked herself. Would the cancer still have come back? Or would the dog have enjoyed a longer life? Certainly, it would seem that the cannabis oil didn’t cause any harm. Again, though, the research just isn’t available.
We have no dosage protocols for THC for dogs. To establish those protocols, we need research.
Another company that has jumped on the marijuana for dogs bandwagon is Auntie Dolores, which has been making Treatibles products for dogs, and cats, as well. The company represents its products as being 100% safe, containing cannabigerol (CBG) which is distilled from hemp. Each treat contains about a milligram of CBG, which is considered to be a medicinal dose, but not one that’s as high as would be used for humans. It’s enough to relieve pain and anxiety in a dog but not enough to be harmful. Founder Julianna Carella laments the fact that research into the benefits of marijuana for dogs has essentially been hamstrung by the Controlled Substance Act.
The AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) has no official position on THC for dogs, due to the lack of scientific research. As I mentioned before, one concern is that people might think, “Well, it works for me, so it should work for my dog,” and then they administer marijuana from dubious sources, or they deliver too much.
Again, though, I have to wonder if that differs all that much from any other medication you could give your dog. You see him in pain, and you think, “Well, if one pill didn’t work, I’ll give him another.” The issue here is not the nature of the medication – it’s the inclination of the human to do undesirable things in order to ease suffering. I really don’t have any reason to think that a person would be more likely to overmedicate with THC for their dog than they would with anything else their vest might prescribe.
There are new developments underway. This year, Nevada Senator Tick Segerblom (D-District 3) introduced a bill suggesting significant changes to the use of medical marijuana in the state, including a provision that would allow veterinarians to prescribe marijuana for companion animals.
This is a good start, but according to Constance Finley, just the beginning. Veterinary professionals also agree that more needs to be done, and more study is needed.
Stephen believes that veterinarians should also be consulted on the issue. He says that he knows there is great potential in THC for dogs, but so many vets are afraid of trying it because of the possible legal consequences.
As debate rages on regarding the usefulness of THC for dogs, it would seem as though the tide is turning. But we need studies – studies that can identify the therapeutic benefits and the toxicity levels when it comes to administering THC for dogs. Right now, we don’t really know how much is safe, or for that matter, how little it takes to be ineffective. There’s too much guesswork, and the only way we’re going to take that guesswork out of the equation is through research.
Now that you have at least as much information as I’ve been able to assemble, if you do want to use cannabis for your dog’s health issues, I’ve found what I think might be a useful resource. It’s the Love Buds Healthy Pets: Home Cooked Healthy Treats with CBD Cannabis, Marijuana, Pot & Weed (Cooking with Cannabis) (Volume 5).
This book tells you how to make nutritious treats for your dog, using cannabis. All the ingredients in the recipes are natural: beans, lean meats, legumes poultry, vegetables, fruits and whole grains. The authors suggest that their recipes can help with a variety of conditions, including memory and brain dysfunction, anxiety, diabetes, immune deficiencies and more.
I would add a footnote here, though, in that there’s no way of knowing exactly how much THC your dog might ingest from using any of these recipes, so tread carefully. It might not hurt to ask your vet a hypothetical question, as I did when I had coffee with Stephen. I showed him the book, and said, “Now, just hypothetically, if a person were to make this recipe for their dog…”
You get the idea.
So, do marijuana and dogs make for a good mix?
What I worry about, though, is your dog getting into your “stash.” As I’ve said, a lot of the recreational marijuana out there is way too high in TCH for your dog. Medical marijuana is one thing; recreational is another thing entirely. Much of the time, though, if your dog sees you enjoying something, he’s going to want to partake of it, too. So if you like to “wake and bake,” that’s entirely up to you. Just keep your recreational stash away from your dog, and if he does get into it, know that it can be very toxic.
I usually keep a supply of Veterina Charcoal Suspension with Sorbitol on hand just in case my dogs get into something they shouldn’t. It induces vomiting, so your dog will bring up anything toxic that he might have ingested. Get in touch with your vet first, though, because not all poisons should be treated in this manner.
Medical marijuana might very well be good for your dog. Recreational marijuana (the kind you get from that nice man on the street corner) is probably not, so tread carefully.