Cannabis and Our Pets

Cannabis and Our Pets

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In human medicine, cannabis has been prescribed to help alleviate symptoms of nausea, vomiting, chronic pain, epilepsy, anxiety disorders, irritable bowel disease, inappetence, and more, especially in cancer patients. There also are indications that cannabis may have similar benefits to our pets. Mammals have an Endocannabinoid System (ECS), which is a system that regulates neurotransmitters, receptors, and enzymes that help maintain normalcy throughout the body. Cannabis directly affects the way the ECS works. There are many different subspecies of cannabis plants and, even within the same subspecies, there are different chemical strengths and strains. The two main chemical components of the cannabis plant are delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). The “high” that people experience when consuming cannabis comes from the THC, not the CBD. Both THC and CBD effect the body in completely different ways, as these two different chemicals bind to different receptors in the body.

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Although humans and our furry family members have biological similarities, there are some big differences, especially when it comes to cannabis use. Dogs, for instance, have more CBD receptors than humans have. Unfortunately, this allows THC to readily bind to these receptors and cause toxic effects. So, if we just take out the THC, can’t we just use the CBD? Studies show this is not true. In fact, research shows there to be a synergistic effect when combining THC with CBD. This is called the “entourage effect”. The problem is, scientists don’t know the correct balance of THC to CBD to use in companion animal products. Further, the differences between how cats and dogs react to cannabis must be studied further, along with how CBD interacts with other drugs. Because cannabis has just been legalized in Canada, limited research has been conducted and published into the safety of use in our pets. At present, the hundreds of different chemical compounds in cannabis have to be studied individually to assess their effects. There is also the issue of growing cannabis outdoors, as these plants tend to have high levels of pesticides and heavy metals, all which have toxic effects. To complicate things even more, because these chemicals have different potencies within each subspecies and strain, research has been slow-moving. Also, because of the lack of standardization and consistency between batch to batch (of the same product), there are serious concerns about the safety of each product that is currently in market. Interestingly, Penn University conducted a study on human cannabis products and discovered 70% of CBD extracts were mislabeled and 86% of the products had absolutely zero CBD content! Because of the lack of studies into the safety of cannabis use, it is currently illegal for veterinarians to prescribe cannabis as a therapeutic option for their patients. In fact, the College of Veterinarians of Ontario (the governing body for veterinarians) states, “Pet owners should be aware of unapproved products being marketed to consumers. If a cannabis product does not have a drug identification number (DIN) or a notification number (VHP) then its safety and efficacy cannot be verified. The public should also be cautioned to keep any cannabis for human use away from pets due to the risk of poisoning if their pet accidentally ingests it.”. Although the prospects are exciting, a lot more testing on the effects of cannabis in companion animals needs to be conducted before it is considered safe. Studies are currently underway, so stay tuned for more updates when they become available!

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