Medical Cannabis for Ailing Pets: Is It Worth a Try?
Not being able to help a suffering animal is nothing but heartbreaking. There are veterinarians who believe that cannabis can be an alternative to strong medication and euthanasia.
People across the globe have discovered the medical potential of cannabis to treat various health problems. Especially in the US, where medical cannabis is legal in 23 out of 50 states, and patients have safe access to it, users continuously report on the positive impacts this plant has on their lives, and consequently, on the lives of their families. What can be easily overlooked is the great significance the life of a pet has to families and the helpless feeling they are facing when their best companion suffers from a serious disease. In many cases, euthanasia or strong medication with severe side effect are considered the only options. But why not look into the therapeutic potential of cannabis to see if it provides an alternative approach to help ailing pets? It might be worth a try.
THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM IN PETS
Interestingly, vertebrate animals have an endocannabinoid system just like humans, and even many invertebrate animals possess this central regulatory system. The endocannabinoid system affects a wide range of biological processes within an organism. Researchers suspect that the main function of this system is to regulate homeostasis, which is the key element in all living things to maintain stable internal conditions. In fact, diseases are often the consequence of certain parameters being out of balance, making it a promising objective to target the endocannabinoid system to restore this balance, regardless if the patient is human or not.
ASSOCIATED RISKS OF TREATING PETS WITH CANNABIS
The debate whether or not cannabis should be administered to pets has been going on for a quite a while, and people opposing cannabis often warn that pets are quick to overdose. In extreme cases, anti-cannabis campaigners use terms like “cannabis toxicity” or “poisoning” to emphasize the dangers of cannabis for pets. Without any doubt, there are certain risks when people treat their pets with cannabis, but fatal consequences are very unlikely in contrast to what some media coverage on this topic might suggest – dead puppies are a persuasive image but have little to do with reality.
There was a study released in 2012, directed by the Colorado veterinarian Dr. Stacy Meola, saying that the number of dogs sickened by cannabis quadrupled from 2005 to 2010. This study also reported the deaths of two Labradors that died after eating cannabutter, although it is unclear what kind of potency this butter had and if the actual cause of death was directly related to assumingly high levels of cannabinoids. The majority of dogs regarded in this study experienced comparatively harmless side effects, such as a loss of fine motor skills and a raised heartbeat. We cannot rule out that some dogs were taken to the vet because their owners failed to secure their legal cannabis products. Hence, this study might be just as concerned with preventable accidents due to irresponsible dog owners as the outcomes of treatment methods.
If dogs eat edibles like chocolate brownies or butter, they will get sick – not necessarily due to CBD or THC but because they cannot metabolize food like this. Theobromine, an alkaloid in chocolate, is a good example of a compound that might be responsible for sick dogs. Nevertheless, cannabis affects both the physical and psychological constitution of a pet and does not come without risks if a pet owner handles it without caution. One of the major challenges of treating pets with medical cannabis is finding the correct dosage, meaning that the positive impact of CBD and other cannabinoids outweigh potential side effects like a loss of fine motor skills.
WHAT ARE BENEFITS OF MEDICATING AILING PETS WITH CANNABIS?
Naturally, well-conducted studies about treating animals with cannabis are hard to find when there is still a lack of medical trials regarding human patients. However, there are many individual examples showing that medical cannabis works for pets – often by reducing pain, increasing appetite and therefore prolonging lives. One expert in this field, the LA-based veterinarian Dr. Doug Kramer, believes in cannabis for pets since his Siberian Husky developed terminal cancer. “I grew tired of euthanizing pets when I wasn't doing everything I could to make their lives better. I felt like I was letting them down” he told the press.
His preferred treatment method of adding glycerin tinctures to a pet’s water or food ensures a very accurate dosage, helped to reduce the pain of his own Husky, and increased her appetite. Although Dr. Kramer’s dog passed away a few months later, he could observe an increase in her quality of life and soon became the first licensed vet to treat pets with cannabis.
There are much more benefits of treating pets with cannabis than just pain management and appetite stimulation. Other medical conditions that can potentially be treated with cannabis are severe arthritis, chronic inflammations, nausea & vomiting, inflammatory bowel disease, epilepsy and others cancer-related symptoms, but also psychological issues like the fear of separation.
SHOULD PET OWNERS GIVE IT A TRY?
Considering medical cannabis as an alternative treatment for pets seems like a viable option when the owner handles these compounds with caution and great care. It’s crucial to differentiate between edibles meant for human consumption and cannabis-infused products tailored to be digested by pets. Otherwise, negative health consequences can overshadow the therapeutic effects. In contrast to humans, animals don’t necessarily appreciate a psychoactive high making the use of CBD-rich oils and tinctures more advisable than giving pets products with a high THC content. We need to face the fact that large-scale medical trials are still scarce and therefore cannot provide the data we would need to base our decision on solid evidence. But if medical cannabis provides a safe and non-toxic way to improve humans’ quality of life, it should also help to reduce the suffering of our four-legged companions – it’s at least worth a try when other medications fail to achieve the desired effect and euthanasia would otherwise be the only option left.