The question of using medical cannabis to improve the health of a dog or cat is a complicated one. Due to the fact that cannabis remains federally illegal and classified as a Schedule I drug, the amount of solid, peer-reviewed research available examining its safety or effectiveness on pets remains severely limited. Individual state laws, the science of cannabis and public opinion are slowly changing in favor of accepting cannabis as a medicine to improve the health of humans and, in turn, the health of pets. Dr. Greg Richter, a veterinarian in California, and Dr. Rob Silver, a holistic veterinarian and pet herbalist in Colorado, have been working in states with medical and recreationally legal cannabis to educate pet owners and legislators on the benefits of treating pets with cannabis.

Leafly.com spoke with these two veterinarians to learn what pet owners should know before starting a cannabis treatment regimen with their pets. Below are some of the key points discussed during the interview with Dr. Richter and Dr. Silver. Read on to discover helpful tips from holistic veterinarian Dr. Angie Krause that has witnessed the health conditions of her pet patients improve when using cannabis products.

Veterinarian’s Can Not Prescribe Cannabis Products for Pets

In most states, a veterinarian does not have the authority to prescribe or recommend a cannabis product to treat a pet’s condition. This is because each individual state has its own veterinary board, and that board adheres to federal law concerning medical cannabis. If a veterinarian is caught prescribing or recommending use of a medical cannabis product to a pet owner, they risk having their licenses revoked. Presently, the Veterinary Medical Board allows veterinarians to “discuss” the use of cannabis with pet owners in some states but debates over the definition of “discussing” continues. This is how some veterinarians are able to “discuss” but not prescribe or recommend a cannabis treatment regimen with pet owners.

Rumor has it from Health.com that in the state of Nevada, where medical and recreational use for adults is legal, this “discussion” law aimed towards vets and pets may soon be changing. The legislature is currently debating a bill that would allow veterinarians to prescribe or recommend cannabis products to pets without loosing their license or risking harsh punishments.

Watch Out For Overconsumption

Dogs are extremely sensitive to the effects of cannabis products. Out of all the species, research has shown that dogs have the highest density of THC receptors in their hind brain. This is why it should be taken seriously if a pet has accidentally ingested their pet owner’s stash of edibles or raw weed. Cannabis-based products for pets has become a multi-million dollar industry for animals to safely and effectively consume cannabis, but it may not be the right option for all pets or their condition.

Dr. Richter suggests to “start by choosing the right product for your animal’s needs and then start slowly. As you increase the dose, be careful to observe any side effects and back off treatment if it seems to be adversely affecting your animal. Signs of overconsumption can include vomiting, diarrhea, trouble with equilibrium, or seeming zoned-out or spacey.”

Pet Conditions Benefited from CBD

Many cannabis users are treating their own various ailments with CBD and THC products, and are directly experiencing the medicinal benefits that marijuana provides. In addition, many people believe that cannabis, specifically the CBD component, offers many benefits for their pets. A growing number of veterinarians believe CBD products can be effective in treating an array of ailments in dogs and cats, from anxiety to a lack of appetite. For example, Dr. Angie Krause, Holistic Veterinarian, has seen the following conditions improve on her pet patients when using cannabis products containing CBD:

  • Anxiety (from travel or separation)
  • Arthritis
  • Pain
  • Aggression
  • Seizures
  • Asthma
  • Allergies
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Increased Immune Function
  • Appetite Stimulation
  • Cancer
  • Lupus and Other Autoimmune Disorders

Product Selection

As cannabis-based products for pets flood the market, it is important that consumers make an educated purchase for their pet’s size, weight, health and condition. Dr. Angie Krause recommends on her website, BoulderHolisticVet.com, to look for the following criteria when shopping for the perfect cannabis product for pets:

  1. Farming practices. Has the plant been grown with the use of pesticides?
  2. Extraction method. Watch out for methods that use chemicals, as these residues will be present in the final product.
  3. Concentration. Some products contain too little CBD to be effective.
  4. Guaranteed analysis. Does the company test their product for the constituents beyond THC and CBD? Does it look at the terpenes and flavonoids?
  5. Other ingredients. Make sure you know what other ingredients are present. I prefer HempRx because it only contains hemp. For my very sensitive patients introducing one ingredient at a time is beneficial.
  6. Terpene/Flavanoid. CBD and THC are not the only medicinal components of cannabis. I only use products that have the terpene and flavanoid profile analyzed as well.

Try Hemp-Derived Products

Hemp-based treatments are available and legal in all 50 states and can provide some of the same relief for pets. Hemp products are high in cannabidiol (CBD), a cannabis compound that has glorified medical uses but doesn’t cause the psychoactive high that comes with Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Veterinarian Dr. Rob Silver informs pet owners on Leafly.com that hemp-based cannabinoids, which are very low in THC, can cover almost all the bases while providing a lower risk of overconsumption.

Do Your Own Research

Many pet owners are curious about cannabis-based treatments for their ailing companions. Dr. Richter recognizes that shifting the attitude of medical professionals toward the use of medical cannabis with pets is slow, hard work, and will remain to be in the future. Dr. Richter trusts that the research will continue to show cannabis as a positive medical option for the treatment of our furry friends, and because of that, Richter and many others who have seen the firsthand effects of cannabis medicine in animals, do not see a point in waiting to start helping pets.