Pot for Pups? Legalizing Medical Marijuana…for Dogs

APRIL 11, 2015 UPDATE: The Nevada bill (SB 372) that would have allowed veterinarians to prescribe medical marijuana for dogs failed to pass.

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If a bill introduced in Nevada last month passes, the Silver State will become the first in the U.S. to allow veterinarians to prescribe medical marijuana for four-legged residents.

“People these days believe that marijuana can cure everything under the sun, from the inability to eat if you’re terminally ill to problems with your nervous system,” Sen. Tick Segerblom, the bill’s sponsor, told the Los Angeles Times. “So if your dog has a nerve disease or uncontrollable tremors, this might be able to help it.”

In Florida, lobbyists are also trying to get pets added to the state’s existing medical marijuana law, which legalizes cannabis that’s low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and high in cannabadiol (CBD), the component that relieves symptoms for many health issues but doesn’t make the user high.

Lisa Miller’s Bulldog, Dinah, suffers from epilepsy. Miller is one of those Florida lobbyists asking for the change in the law.

She wants a one-sentence amendment added that would require the state’s Department of Health to work with a veterinary research organization and “determine the benefits and contradictions of the use of medical-grade marijuana for treating animals with seizure disorders or other life-limiting illnesses,” according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Isn’t Marijuana Bad for Dogs?

Is marijuana toxic for dogs? Not necessarily, depending on the amount and strain of cannibis. Since its recreational use was legalized in Colorado, veterinarians there have seen an increase in dogs who got “high” after ingesting their owners’ THC-rich stashes, ABC News reports.

“Most of the time they’re wobbly like they’re drunk; they dribble urine,” Dr. Tina Wismer, medical director of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, told ABC News. “But 25 percent of them become extremely agitated, which certainly is not something I would want to put my elderly pet through. In fact, dogs that get into the really large amounts of THC often need to be put on fluids and have their heart rate monitored.”

Along with the THC, when dogs munch pot-laced brownies made with chocolate and butter (both are bad for them), it’s a triple whammy.

“The big, dark cloud is that for the longest time, all we’ve known about marijuana in animals is that it can be toxic to them,” Dinah’s vet, Dr. Lucas Bevis of Tallahassee, told the Tampa Bay Times. “A lot of people have been blinded by that fact. It really makes a lot of clinicians just write off the fact that there may be therapeutic properties to this plant.”

Dr. Douglas Kramer, a veterinarian in California, has witnessed those therapeutic properties. He was amazed by the results when he gave his dog Nikita, a Siberian Husky with terminal cancer, a small amount of medical marijuana.

“I’d exhausted every available pharmaceutical pain option, even steroids,” Dr. Kramer told the American Veterinarian Medical Association (AVMA) journal, JAVMA, in May 2013. “At that point, it was a quality of life issue, and I felt like I’d try anything to ease her suffering.”

Nikita began eating again and seemed to be more comfortable at the end of her life. Dr. Kramer said between 2011 and 2013, about 300 people had told him they had also tried giving their dogs small amounts of marijuana to treat everything from separation anxiety to irritable bowel syndrome.

“I don’t want to come across as being overly in favor of giving marijuana to pets,” he told JAVMA. “My position is the same as the American Medical Association’s. We need to investigate marijuana further to determine whether the case reports I’m hearing are true or whether there’s a placebo effect at work. We also need to know what the risks are.”

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Canine Cannibis Treats Already on the Market

Some edible pet products containing small amounts of cannabadiol are already on the market, including Auntie Dolores Treatibles, which debuted last year.

“Most people breed cannabis for the euphoric experience of THC. But they’ve been overlooking CBD, which is non-psychoactive,” Matthew J. Cote, brand manager at Auntie Dolores, told ABC News. Each of the treats contains 1 milligram of CBD.

“What we’ve seen is that some of these dogs respond very rapidly,” Cote said. “One woman was ready to put down her dog due to how sick and in pain he was, but the day before he was scheduled to go under, she administered our treats and just like that, the dog was up, walking around and acting normally again.”

Veterinarian Dr. Sarah Brandon spent 10 years developing Canna Companion, capsules filled with dried, powdered hemp that, based on 5-star Facebook reviews, have helped dogs with arthritis, cancer pain and other issues.

Last month Dr. Brandon received a letter from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, warning her she was violating the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act for marketing the “unproved new animal drug,” according to ABC News. (Speaking of the FDA, two U.S. senators wrote the agency last month, asking why it has not implemented the 2007 pet food safety law.)

The Future of Analgesics?

If further research determines that medical marijuana is safe for dogs, many vets believe it has great potential.

Dr. Dawn Boothe, director of the Clinical Pharmacology Laboratory at Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, told JAVMA her gut reaction is that medical marijuana has therapeutic benefits. She said she wouldn’t be surprised if FDA-approved analgesics made from cannabinoid derivatives are eventually available for dogs.

“But I’m never going to say there’s enough benefit that marijuana should be given to pets,” Dr. Booth said. “I’m saying there’s enough justification that we need to study it.”

Photo credits: Britt Selvitelle, Mikkel Zibrandsten

Would you give your dog medical marijuana if it was safe? Leave a comment below!

Laura Goldman

I am a freelance writer and lifelong dog lover. For five years, I was a staff writer for i Love Dogs. When that site shut down, I started this blog...because I STILL Love Dogs!