Marijuana for Pets – Top 3 Pros and Cons

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When people talk about giving marijuana to pets, they are really talking about the use of CBD products derived from hemp. The California Veterinary Medical Board explains that CBD is the “abbreviation for cannabidiol, which is one out of 60 naturally occurring compounds present in cannabis. It is the second-most prevalent cannabinoid in both hemp and marijuana and is nonpsychoactive.” [1] CBD extracted from hemp contains less than 0.3% THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is the compound in marijuana that causes the high. [1] Pet owners spend an estimated $70 billion annually on their furry friends. [2] The market for CBD products aimed at companion animals jumped from $32 million in 2018 to $400 million in 2019, and market estimates for 2022 range from $125 million to $1.6 billion. [2][3] A survey found that 11% of dog owners and 8% of cat owners gave CBD to their pets last year, often in the form of pet treats, tinctures administered under the tongue, and salves or creams applied topically. [7][8] Reasons cited for giving CBD to companion animals included caring for aging pets and treating conditions such as anxiety, pain, and seizures. [9][10]

Is CBD a safe and effective treatment for animals, or should pet owners be wary of using an unregulated product lacking scientific testing?

 

 

Is CBD Good for Pets?

Pro 1

A majority of veterinarians agree that CBD helps animals.

A Veterinary Information Network survey found that 79% of vets with clinical experience using cannabis products said CBD was somewhat or very helpful for chronic pain in animals; over 62% said it was helpful for managing anxiety. [11] Over 80% of those vets said there were no reports of adverse effects aside from sedation. [11] A study published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science found that 82.2% of veterinarians agreed or strongly agreed that there are medicinal uses of CBD products for dogs from a medical standpoint. [10]

Jeffrey Judkins, DVM, holistic veterinarian at Animalkind Veterinarian Clinic, said that CBD is “100% non-toxic. You can’t overdose on CBD. It might make pets sleepy, but there’s no toxicity.” [12] Judkins reported success in using CBD to alleviate pain and anxiety in animals, stating, “Recently I was able to significantly reduce the amount of a narcotic pain drug a dog was being given (with adverse side effects) by substituting a cannabis product.” [13]

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Pro 2

Studies about CBD use in pets have had positive results.

A clinical trial found that 89% of dogs who were given CBD oil experienced fewer seizures. [19] Researchers at Cornell University who performed a double-blind cross-over trial on dogs with osteoarthritis found “a significant decrease in pain and increase in activity” with CBD oil. There were no observed side effects from the CBD treatment. [20] Studies on laboratory animals have shown benefits for cardiovascular health, the respiratory system, and cancer and pain treatment. [21]

While experts acknowledge that research in this area is preliminary, they speak positively about the results to date. Stephanie McGrath, DVM, neurologist at Colorado State University’s James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital, stated, “We saw a correlation between how high the levels of CBD were in these dogs with how great the seizure reduction was. It’s really exciting that perhaps we can start looking at CBD in the future as an alternative to existing anticonvulsive drugs.” [22]

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Pro 3

Pet owners report success in treating their animals with CBD.

Many pet owners swear by the use of CBD to treat ailments such as anxiety, pain, digestive issues, and inflammation. [26] Their positive experiences are reflected in the growing market for CBD pet products. The industry was estimated at $400 million in 2019, and could jump to $1.7 billion by 2023. [3] A study of people who gave their dogs CBD found that less than 5% reported any side effects, and the most common side effect was lethargy (a lack of energy). [10]

Joshua Hartsel, PhD, chemist and CEO of Delta-9 Technologies, stated that since all mammals have an endocannabinoid system, “the same or similar benefits of cannabinoids found in humans can also be applied to most veterinary species.” [28] In fact, people have been giving medical cannabis to pets and farm animals since the 1800s. [28]

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Con 1

CBD pet products are unregulated.

The lack of regulation means pet owners could be buying CBD with unlisted ingredients that are potentially toxic to their pets, such as THC. [14] Experts say these products are in need of testing for the presence of heavy metals, pesticides, and THC. [15][16] “It’s really the Wild West out there,” said S. David Moche, MBA, CEO of a veterinary medicine company that sells CBD products. [15] Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that 70% of the CBD products they analyzed didn’t match the concentration listed on the label, and 21% of their samples contained THC despite it not being on the label. [17]

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said in a statement, “We want to stress that FDA has not approved cannabis for any use in animals, and the agency cannot ensure the safety or effectiveness of these products.” [18] According to the FDA, animals who ingest cannabis could suffer negative side effects such as “lethargy, depression, heavy drooling, vomiting, agitation, tremors, and convulsions.” [18]

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Con 2

There isn't enough scientific evidence to support giving CBD to pets.

Research in this area is so new that no one knows the long-term impacts of CBD use in companion animals, or what an effective and safe dose would be. [23] Sue Lowum, DVM, a veterinarian and associate professor at the University of Minnesota, said she wouldn’t recommend CBD for pets because “We just don’t have enough information at this point to draw any legitimate conclusions… there is no assurance the CBD oil they purchase is safe or effective.” [16]

Veterinarians’ knowledge about CBD use in pets is purely anecdotal at the moment because of the limited scientific evidence available. [24] Researchers found that some seller’s websites contain “blatant lies” about CBD. [16] The American Veterinary Medical Association stated, “While both marijuana and industrial hemp products are available, no studies, doses, or uses in veterinary medicine have been determined… AVMA cautions pet owners against the use of such products.” [25]

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Con 3

Using CBD instead of traditional medicine may harm animals.

A phenomenon called the “caregiver placebo effect” may cause pet owners to misread their animals’ response to CBD. This might lead to suffering in animals that could have been helped by veterinarian-prescribed medications with scientifically proven effectiveness. [29] Alex Avery, BVSc, veterinary surgeon and founder of Our Pets Health, said, “Because we are so invested in our pet, we really want to see them improve and likely believe the treatment will work… There is a real risk we will see improvement even when it is not there.” [30]

Much of what we know about therapeutic CBD is specific to humans, and its effects on companion animals could be quite different because they don’t metabolize it the same way. [28][31] CBD could also cause dangerous interactions with pharmaceutical drugs prescribed by a vet. [32]

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Did You Know?

  1. State and federal laws restrict the ability of veterinarians to recommend or discuss marijuana with their clients. [5] On Jan. 1, 2019, California became the first state to allow vets to talk to clients about medical cannabis for pets – but they still cannot recommend, prescribe, or administer it. [1][6]
  2. The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act, allowing people to grow and possess CBD oil that is made from industrial hemp if it contains less than 0.3% THC. The bill’s legalization of hemp made commercial production easier and opened opportunities for scientific research. [4]
  3. THC is toxic for cats and dogs even in small amounts. The ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center reported a 765% increase in calls regarding animals ingesting marijuana from 2018 to 2019. [27]
  4. At an average price of $28.63 per bag, CBD dog treats tend to cost twice as much as regular dog treats. CBD tinctures for cats cost $39.99 on average. [33]

Click for an Encyclopaedia Britannica video about the chemistry of marijuana
and how its potency and safety is determined.

 

Discussion Questions – Things to Think About

 

  1. What is the difference between anecdotal evidence and scientific evidence? Should one be trusted more than the other?
  2. Should veterinarians be legally allowed to talk about cannabis with their patients? What reasons might there be to restrict those conversations?
  3. Would you give your pets CBD products for medical reasons? Why or why not?
Footnotes: 

  1. California Veterinary Medical Board, “Guidelines for Veterinarian Discussion of Cannabis within the Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship,” vmb.ca.gov, Jan. 1, 2020
  2. PetfoodIndustry.com, “Pet Market Projected to Be among Fastest Growing CBD Sectors,” petfoodindustry.com, Mar. 31, 2019
  3. Corinne Gretler and Craig Giammona, “The CBD Industry Is Betting That Pets Need to Chill, Too,” bloomberg.com, July 17, 2019
  4. American Agriculturist, “McConnell Introduces Hemp Farming Act,” farmprogress.com, Apr. 16, 2018
  5. Jason Nicholas, “Pets and CBD: Why Your Veterinarian Can’t Talk About It and How to Change That,” preventivevet.com, June 21, 2019
  6. Joanne Cachapero, “California Governor Signs Bill Allowing Vets to Talk Cannabis Meds for Pets,” mgretailer.com, Oct. 2, 2018
  7. American Veterinary Medical Association, “FDA Warns Companies Illegally Selling CBD Products,” avma.org, Jan. 15, 2020
  8. Nice CBD, “CBD for Pets: What You Need To Know Before Giving Any CBD To Your Pet,” thenicecorp.com (accessed Feb. 11, 2020)
  9. Amanda Carrozza, “3 Trends That Will Shape Pet Care in 2019,” vmdtoday.com, Nov. 5, 2018
  10. Lori Kogan, Regina Schoenfeld-Tacher, Peter Hellyer, and Mark Rishniw, “US Veterinarians’ Knowledge, Experience, and Perception Regarding the Use of Cannabidiol for Canine Medical Conditions,” Frontiers in Veterinary Science, Jan. 10, 2019
  11. Edie Lau, “California OKs Bill to Let Veterinarians Discuss Cannabis,” news.vin.com, Aug. 30, 2018
  12. Sheridan Kowta and Felisha Le’Cher, “Starting the Conversation on CBD for Pets,” ktvl.com, Mar. 1, 2019
  13. Jeffrey Judkins, “Medical Cannabis & Pets,” animalkindvet.com, Oct. 21, 2016
  14. Danielle Kosecki, “Is CBD Safe for Your Pets?,” cnet.com, Sep. 13, 2019
  15. Associated Press, “All Bark, No Bite: Some CBD Pet Products Contain ‘Virtually No CBD,'” nbcnews.com, Jan. 7, 2020
  16. Sara Sloat, “Is CBD Safe for Your Dog? Why Some Owners Swear by the Promising Results,” inverse.com, Apr. 26, 2019
  17. Marcel O. Bonn-Miller, Mallory J. E. Loflin, Brian F. Thomas, et al., “Labeling Accuracy of Cannabidiol Extracts Sold Online,” JAMA, Nov. 7, 2017
  18. US Food and Drug Administration, “FDA Regulation of Cannabis and Cannabis-Derived Products, Including Cannabidiol (CBD),” fda.gov, Jan. 15, 2020
  19. Mary Guiden, “Preliminary Data from CBD Clinical Trials ‘Promising,'” cvmbs.source.colostate.edu, July 19, 2018
  20. Lauri-Jo Gamble, Jordyn M. Boesch, Christopher W. Frye, Wayne S. Schwark, Sabine Mann, Lisa Wolfe, Holly Brown, Erin S. Berthelsen, and Joseph J. Wakshlag, “Pharmacokinetics, Safety, and Clinical Efficacy of Cannabidiol Treatment in Osteoarthritic Dogs,” Frontiers in Veterinary Science, July 23, 2018
  21. Leos Landa, Alexandra Sulcova, and P. Gbelec, “The Use of Cannabinoids in Animals and Therapeutic Implications for Veterinary Medicine: A Review,” Veterinarni Medicina, 2016
  22. Colorado State University, “CBD Clinical Trial Results on Seizure Frequency in Dogs ‘Encouraging’.” ScienceDaily, May 21, 2019
  23. John Maddigan, “Ultimate Pet Owners Guide for CBD Usage in Dogs,” wvah.net, May 6, 2019
  24. Anna Burke, “How to Talk to Your Veterinarian About CBD Oil,” akc.org, Oct. 17, 2018
  25. AVMA Council on Biologic and Therapeutic Agents, “Cannabis: What Veterinarians Need to Know,” news.vin.com, Jan. 2018
  26. Susan Spillman, “Why Some Pet Owners Are Turning to CBD to Treat Their Ailing Animals,” latimes.com, Oct. 4, 2019
  27. Michael San Filippo, “With Legalization on the Rise, Veterinarians Warn against Pets Getting into Pot,” avma.org, June 25, 2019
  28. Joshua A. Hartsel, et al., “Cannabis in Veterinary Medicine: Cannabinoid Therapies for Animals,” Nutraceuticals in Veterinary Medicine, 2019
  29. Jason Nicholas, “Pets and CBD: Why Your Veterinarian Can’t Talk About It and How to Change That,” preventivevet.com, June 21, 2019
  30. Alex Avery, “The Placebo Effect in Animals: Fact or Fiction?,” ourpetshealth.com, June 8, 2018
  31. Carlton Gyles, “Marijuana for Pets?,” The Canadian Veterinary Journal, Dec. 2016
  32. Joey DiFrancesco, “CBD Oil for Dogs: Potential Drug Interactions,” lolahemp.com, Nov. 20, 2019
  33. Jordan Tyler, “Nielsen: CBD Pet Product Purchases Rooted in Pet Owner Usage,” petfoodprocessing.net, Feb. 6, 2020