How Marijuana Affects Your Pets

April 3rd 2016

The effects of marijuana on household pets aren't very well established in scientific literature, but what little research has been done (and the anecdotal evidence from pet owners) appears to support the idea that dogs, cats, and even horses can benefit from cannabis when used for medical purposes.

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Animals can't consent to getting high — and intoxication can be a scary experience for them — so there are concerns among animal rights advocates about pet owners who "smoke out," or feed edibles to, their companions. That said, using marijuana to treat pets suffering from serious illnesses is an increasingly popular option that appears to be effective. 

Let's be specific here. There are psychoactive and non-psychoactive ingredients contained in cannabis, both of which provide positive health benefits to humans with limited side effects. However, for pets the "high" associated with pot's main psychoactive ingredient, THC, isn't the same; consuming too much can cause "staggering, agitation, and stupor," Jennifer Bolser, the chief clinic veterinarian at the Humane Society of Boulder Valley, wrote.

How marijuana can help treat pets with health disorders.

Just like humans, household pets such as dogs and cats have cannabis receptors throughout their nervous system, and the receptors in their brains respond to cannabis in similar ways. That's why animal-specific, medical marijuana products — developed by veterinarians and researchers in California, Colorado, and other legal states — have caught on in a big way recently.

The proof that these products work is most apparent in the testimonies of pet owners, a selection of which were cited in a 2013 study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Cat, dog, and horse owners detailed how cannabis helped their pets manage pain and terminal illnesses better than the pharmaceuticals (opioid-based painkillers and anti-anxiety medication) that are traditionally prescribed to animals.

"The other great thing is that, in the last couple of weeks, Miles has been going to the beach, he’s been running, he’s being himself," one pet owner said of her sick dog's response to a marijuana tincture specifically developed for pets. "If Miles was on the [painkiller] tramadol, he’d be in bed, and he wouldn’t be enjoying anything or eating anything, and he’d probably be dead."

ATTN: previously reported on a "veterinarian-formulated" marijuana product for pets in California called VetCBD, which contains the non-psychoactive ingredient CBD. It's meant to treat a host of physical and psychological disorders, including pain, anxiety, inflammation, nausea, and loss of appetite.

But for the time being, veterinarians aren't allowed to recommend medical marijuana for pets, even in states where the substance has been legalized. The American Veterinary Medical Association writes that the protections that allow physicians to prescribe marijuana "do not apply to veterinarians, for whom it is illegal in every state to prescribe or recommend marijuana to treat a patient."

RELATED: Why People Are Giving Marijuana to Their Pets

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