Since recreational marijuana was recently legalized in Nevada, I have heard more questions about using medical marijuana for pets. A quick Google search will return numerous stories about pets benefiting from marijuana and related components when used to treat pain, nausea, or seizures.
While these stories often bring promise of a powerful natural remedy, questions of safety and efficacy remain.
A Veterinarian’s Role
I have opinions about a lot of things. For example, I think chocolate ice cream tastes better than vanilla, my favorite dog breed is the Labrador, and I prefer skiing rather than snowboarding. But these opinions are not scientific opinions. They are based on nothing more than own humble preferences, just like anybody else’s.
In contrast, as a veterinarian, I give medical opinions. These are based on formal scientific research, complete with hard data to back them up.
For example, we have research that helps us pick the best antibiotic for a bite wound, along with appropriate treatment length and possible side effects.
Unfortunately, no such research exists for marijuana. Therefore, no matter how convincing those testimonials on the internet may be, I simply cannot recommend using marijuana for pets. My personal opinion is completely beside the point.
CBD oil (a component of hemp and marijuana) marketed for pets.
Concerns of Safety and Efficacy
Marijuana appears to be safe for dogs and cats in small doses. Even at higher doses, marijuana does not appear to be fatal. The supposed cases of death by marijuana toxicity most likely included ingestion of another toxic substance, such as chocolate (marijuana brownies).
Although marijuana, or components such as THC or CBD, appear to be safe, purity of commercially available products is uncertain.
As marijuana-based medicines for pets are not produced in FDA-approved facilities, questions arise about the purity of ingredients and how consistent concentrations are between batches.
Some companies provide “lab-tested” ingredient analyses, but these results could easily be fabricated. While your dog may have less seizures with one vial of CBD oil, the next batch may not be as potent, and therefore less effective.
Even if we could ensure purity, we cannot simply transfer human research to animals, as each species reacts differently to the same substance. For example, Tylenol is toxic to cats. Dogs can’t have macadamia nuts or large amounts of onion. The list goes on.
One CBD oil product for pets claims everything from anti-tumor activity to “anti-psoriatic” activity. But pets don’t even get psoriasis! It’s a human disease!
Waiting for Evidence
Many proven drugs already exist to treat medical conditions pets. Although these drugs may come with side effects, these side effects are well known, and they are typically outweighed by significant benefits.
As a veterinarian, it is my job to make recommendations based on hard evidence. If research eventually shows that marijuana is safer and more effective than an existing drug for a particular medical issue, then I will write a marijuana prescription without a second thought.
Until then, marijuana is anybody’s guess.