I am not against the use of medical marijuana in pets, but working in a veterinary emergency room showed me plenty of examples of why pets and pot don’t always mix. Why is this? Simply put, there isn’t enough scientific research to know how much and what type is safe to administer to animals.
Dogs of all shapes and sizes came into the ER with marijuana ingestion. Most struggled to remain sitting and standing, often falling over and struggling to correct themselves. Those that could walk, wobbled, and all of them looked dazed and very, very confused.
A stoned dog is also an unpredictable dog. Dogs without a history of aggression would snap out of fear, and many urinated constantly. They had no clue what was happening to them and they visibly struggled to perceive their surroundings. My heart always went out to these accidental stoners. Not only were they feeling a little funny, but they were in a strange place with strange people. All in all, nothing about marijuana ingestion was amusing, and there is little vets can do except offer supportive care while the pets suffer through the effects.
Despite my firsthand experience with the negative side effects of giving dogs marijuana, I am open to anything that can improve a sick dog’s quality of life, provided there is scientific research to back it up.
It isn’t surprising that more and more people are considering treating their pets with medical marijuana. As more states like Colorado legalize the drug, many people have logically started to wonder if medical marijuana could help pets as well as people.
It is easy to see why. Anecdotal evidence so far supports the belief that marijuana can help pets with chronic conditions like epilepsy and pain management in terminal cancer. These stories are encouraging to pet owners who have maxed out traditional treatment options and are desperate for ways to improve their pets’ quality of life. As a pet owner, I can certainly see the appeal of trying cannabis when all other options have failed.
To make things even easier for pet owners interested in trying medical marijuana, several companies now provide marijuana-based pet products. Currently, pet owners still need a medical marijuana card to purchase these products, regardless of whether the supplements contain THC, CBD or are strictly hemp-based, but the growing number of products and manufacturers reflect the level of public interest. These companies claim that the products are safe to use, so what exactly is there to worry about?
The problem with using medical marijuana on our pets is not necessarily the marijuana itself, it is the lack science behind it. Currently, very little research has been conducted about the benefits and risks of using marijuana to treat veterinary cases. This puts veterinarians who might be interested in prescribing medical marijuana to animal patients in a bind. Without solid research about appropriate dosages and the best plant strains to treat specific conditions, veterinarians cannot safely (or legally) advise their clients about the best course of action. This leads many pet owners to take matters into their own hands, and cause more trips to the veterinary emergency room.
For every positive story about medical marijuana helping pets, there are cases of marijuana toxicity. Despite popular belief, THC is toxic to animals. It can even be fatal in severe cases, though these are, thankfully, rare. Most of these cases occur when pets consume large amounts of marijuana or edible marijuana products. Not surprisingly, the number of THC toxicity cases have risen significantly in states where marijuana is legal, as pets have unprecedented access to marijuana. While many of these cases involve accidental ingestion of marijuana, the risks of overdose are a warning for pet owners who want to try medical marijuana on their own animals.
Marijuana could have many promising benefits for veterinary use. As a potential pain reliever and appetite stimulator, its uses in hospice care, managing glaucoma, coping with terminal cancer and chronic pain management could prove invaluable.
I am the first to admit that I would be willing to try almost anything if I thought it would help ease my pet’s suffering. However, I also believe that we owe it to our pets to view marijuana just like any other untested drug — with both hope and caution. Until more research surrounding the benefits, risks and, most importantly, the appropriate dosages for animals is widely available, pet owners should hold off on medicating their animals with marijuana.