Cannabis products, from traditional dried flowers to new CBD-infused sodas, are everywhere right now. At least, they’re everywhere that cannabis is legal, which—in some form or other—includes most of the contiguous United States.
With recreational weed legal in 11 states, medical marijuana in 33, decriminalization occurring in all but 3, and a universal federal approval of products made with Industrial Hemp (not forgetting full legalization in Canada), cannabis has never been more accepted in North America. As a result, the legal cannabis industry is booming, with some estimates valuing the industry’s economic impact in excess of 25 billion dollars in the US alone.
This relatively fast-paced pivot on cannabis has turned many people on to what others have long considered a safe and medicinal plant. So much so, it’s not uncommon to see two or three cannabis dispensaries on any regular main street. Alongside different cannabis strains and delivery methods, it wasn’t long before manufacturers turned their eye towards other potential uses for cannabis, and began developing products for pets.
Today, cannabis products marketed towards pet owners are commonplace, being sold in pet stores and online. Canines, in particular, have jumped on the cannabis bandwagon, with hemp & CBD oil for dogs being the most common products. But what’s the science behind pet CBD—and is it safe, let alone moral, to give your dog cannabis?
What kinds of cannabis are dogs taking?
Whether or not it’s ok for dogs to take cannabis very much depends on the type of cannabis product we’re talking about. First things first: dogs, and all pets, should never ingest cannabis that’s rich in THC. Cannabis products containing more than 0.3 percent of this cannabinoid compound (tetrahydrocannabinol, to give it its full name) are developed to produce a high—so think, dried flower, edibles, THC vapes, and so on.
All THC-rich products are clearly labeled to make avoiding them as easy as possible. And while ingesting a small amount of THC is unlikely to cause your dog significant harm, they definitely won’t enjoy it. Symptoms of THC toxicosis in dogs include nausea, vomiting, and drunkenness. More serious cases have also been reported, including unconsciousness, seizure, and even death.
Unfortunately, the relaxation of cannabis laws seems to cause an uptick in cases of pet poisoning with THC. According to the ASPCA, their poison control hotline received a 765 percent increase in marijuana-related calls in the decade between 2008 and 2018, many of which were related to dogs eating edible cannabis products intended for human consumption.
All of which goes to say that THC and dogs do not, and should not, mix. However, THC-rich cannabis is not the only game in town. CBD, or cannabidiol, is another type of cannabinoid compound known for producing all of cannabis’s anti-inflammatory and anxiety-combatting effects, without the psychoactive high.
Most CBD products—and all reputable pet CBD products—contain zero to trace amounts of THC. This means that they are incapable of producing intoxication in dogs or humans, however they’re ingested. As anyone who’s tried a CBD tincture, cream, or beverage can attest, the most you’re likely to notice after taking this type of cannabis is a mild sense of relaxation, akin to a massage, a glass of wine, or maybe just a really good nap.
That sense of calm people experience when taking CBD underlies the major reasons why so many advocate CBD oil for dogs specifically. When you take a CBD product, the cannabinoid begins acting on the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a key determinant of internal inflammation and homeostasis. While researchers are still trying to pinpoint exactly how CBD interacts with the ECS, they do know that it can kickstart the system’s most beneficial processes, including the ability to target and soothe the root causes of pain and anxiety.
For dogs, this can bring major benefits, as so many common canine conditions are inflammatory-based. Whether it’s joint issues, chronic anxiety, or the discomfort of becoming a senior pup, CBD offers a great supplementary treatment, which has been shown through anecdotal and clinical testing to be safe, non-toxic, and well tolerated.
The case for canine CBD gets even stronger when the potential side effects of commonly prescribed pain and anti-inflammatory drugs, such as opioids and NSAIDs, are considered. For a significant number of dogs, Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs are the only option for long-term inflammation relief, but they may also be an irritant, causing vomiting, diarrhea, appetite loss, and stomach lining and GI distress.
Here, CBD provides a much-needed alternative for dogs who need daily pain relief, offering similar benefits through an entirely different biological mechanism.
The future of CBD for pets
While dogs who don’t respond well to NSAIDs or opiates may have been among the first to switch to CBD, today, CBD products are used for a much wider range of purposes in pets. Expect to see CBD for soothing anxiety, skin irritations, seasonal allergies, motion sickness, and even for reducing seizure frequency.
CBD products are still unregulated by the FDA, which limits veterinarian’s ability to prescribe or even discuss the merits of cannabis in a clinical setting. Until the scientific evidence base builds, this is likely to remain the case, meaning that more clinical testing is the first stage towards full mainstream recognition of pet CBD. At that point, expect CBD pet products to become even more popular.