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Are Medical Marijuana Products Safe for Pets?

Medical marijuana use is now extremely common across the United States. With people from all walks of life are embracing the new attitude and appreciation of marijuana, people have begun to expand and question its limits. For example, in the past, the thought of using marijuana to combat chronic pain may have seemed crazy. Today, however, it is the largest reason for medical marijuana use in the country. So, if we can get this much use out of it, can it help our furry friends?

Can Marijuana Benefit Pets?

As pets age, some form of illness or disease is likely to afflict them at some point, however sad that may be. In fact, arthritis is one of the most common diseases in both dogs and cats, with the risk of it developing increasing with both size and age [1]. 

In humans, the research on marijuana and arthritis has become clearer over time, with many experiments showing improvements in the user’s quality of life [2]. It has also been found that dogs have the same endocannabinoid system that people do. Combine this with the availability of marijuana for humans with arthritis and you may be tempted to think that a high CBD dog treats may help put the “spring” back in springer spaniel. 

A large number of people have even taken this a step further and have begun treating their pets with medical marijuana [3].  Some people believe it can help calm the pets during storms or when their owners are away for an extended period, similar to how a person with an anxiety disorder would use it. Many vets have warned against this, though, as there have been few formal studies on the effects of cannabinoids in pets. This may change in the future, but for now, there is not much scientific backing for the benefits of medical marijuana in animals (other than humans and some lab rats). 

Of the studies that have been done, though, some have produced promising results. One study on the pharmacokinetics on CBD in dogs showed that both orally and intravenously administered CBD showed up in their blood plasma, though the oral CBD was likely barely absorbed [4]. Another 2018 study showed even more promising results when CBD oil was given to dogs with osteoarthritis. This one found that the dogs given the oil showed both an increase in activity and a decrease in overall pain [5].

Can Marijuana Harm Pets?

On the other hand, though there is not much certain evidence saying marijuana is beneficial to pets, there have certainly been cases where marijuana has harmed animals. Some vets believe that dogs may even have more cannabinoid receptors in their bodies than humans, meaning that marijuana may have stronger effects in smaller doses, even when accounting for body mass. 

Both cats and dogs can become intoxicated by marijuana, whether it be through second-hand contact, eating an edible (more on this later), or even directly eating the plant. Though ingesting a large amount of marijuana may be fine for a fully-grown adult, pets are more susceptible to highly concentrated products. Certain edibles may even contain compounds that are deadly to pets, including chocolate and raisins, which can cause issues alongside marijuana intoxication. 

Likely due to the legalization and availability of medical grade marijuana, one study has found a nearly four hundred percent increase in accidental marijuana ingestion cases in recent years [6]. This can have many different effects on pets, like it could in humans. Pets can experience dizziness, nausea, loss of coordination, and, due to their smaller size and higher susceptibility, there have been cases where extreme overconsumption has resulted in the pet entering a comatose state. 

What Should I Do if My Pet Becomes Intoxicated?

In most cases, marijuana ingestion in pets is not fatal. There certain signs, however, that any pet owner with access to marijuana should look out for. If your pet has dilated pupils, is hyperactive or is making more noise than usual, is drooling excessively, or is leaking urine or vomiting, they may have ingested marijuana. If this is the case, then they should be taken to the vet for treatment. There, the vet may try to induce vomiting to get any undigested marijuana out of their system. This won’t remove what has already been absorbed but will limit further intoxication. Afterwards, the vet may give them activated charcoal to draw out any toxins and offer supportive care. 

In Conclusion

Pets and marijuana are a complicated pairing. Some burgeoning research is showing promising results with certain CBD-based treatments for diseases in dogs, but the fact remains that there just isn’t enough research done to come to a complete conclusion. Due to the recent legalization of marijuana, and the number of forms it comes in, accidental ingestion of marijuana in pets has increased many times over and brings with it its own difficulties. Because of their size and increased receptivity, pets will likely reach a dangerous dose long before any adult would. If this happens, it is crucial to get them medical attention. 



[1] http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5968020/

[3] https://www.bostonglobe.com/news/marijuana/2019/03/28/more-people-are-treating-their-pets-with-marijuana-and-veterinarians-aren-sure-quite-how-handle/lZXlrHE2mQTFiR4BuhpBQK/story.html

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2900742

[5] https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fvets.2018.00165/full

[6] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1476-4431.2012.00818.x