Paws for thought

Pot for pets?

by Dr. Janice Mitchell

October 17, 2018. A date now to be etched into the Canadian history books as Canada is now the second nation in the world to legalize both recreational and medical use of marijuana and marijuana derived products like CBD (cannabidiol). Many discussions have been had and will continue to be had about the effects of cannabis for humans, and thus it needs to also be discussed with regards to our pets as they are, after all, our furry family members.

The four major points I wish to state off the start are: 1. There is currently no legal pathway for veterinarians in Ontario to prescribe medical marijuana to animals; 2. There are currently no CBD products approved by Health Canada and therefore no legal pathway to obtain these products; 3. Cannabis products containing high levels of THC (ie. Recreational marijuana) can be toxic to pets; 4. It is mostly anecdotal evidence supporting the use of CBD in animals and limited clinical research, but this is starting to change with the current legalization.

Let’s clear up some facts. All this fuss is about the plant cannabis sativa. Different cannabis strains will provide different benefits and create a bevy of varying products such as clothing, rope, paper, biofuel and medicine to name a few. For our purposes, the biggest difference rests in the amount of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD that the cannabis plant contains. These compounds are just two out of at least 64 plant based chemicals or cannabinoids that this controversial plant contains. In a nutshell, THC gets you high, CBD doesn’t. Hemp plants and medical marijuana strains contain less than 0.3 percent THC. An average batch of recreational marijuana contains anywhere from 5-30 percent THC. The good guy here is the CBD fraction.

CBD creates beneficial physical change to the body’s endo-cannabinoid system. Yes, we and our pets have actual receptors in our brain and throughout our body and actually produce some of our own cannabinoid compounds. We are biologically wired to receive and respond to both body made (endo-) and plant made (phyto-) cannabinoid compounds. Thus, CBD has multiple effects on all these receptors and affects appetite, pain sensation, mood and memory. CBD is known to have anti-anxiety, anti-convulsive, anti-nausea and anti-inflammatory properties. It does not make one ‘high’ or cause ‘reefer madness’ as it was known in the 1930s. Veterinarians have heard numerous anecdotal success stories in treating chronic pain, anxiety, and seizures but still are lacking the clinical research. Recently, in August 2018, the hemp company Canopy Growth Corporation announced that it has approval from Health Canada to research the effectiveness of CBD to treat anxiety in certain animals. This, and numerous other veterinary colleges in the US studying its use for pain and seizures, may eventually lift the legal barriers and allow veterinarians to prescribe CBDs.

Until then, veterinarians are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Pet owners have access to these CBD products either through online virtual or brick-and-mortar pet stores.

CBD products now exist in a myriad of forms from treats to tinctures. And although veterinarians cannot prescribe, we can advise to ensure that these products have a certificate of analysis and are guaranteed to have less than 0.3 percent THC. Remember, THC is toxic to our pets. Please keep all edibles and plant stashes away from your dog or cat. Stay away from the emergency vet visit but stay informed on this weedy topic.

Dr. Janice Mitchell is a veterinarian with Island Animal Hospital in Mindemoya.