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Thanks to the success of medical cannabis in humans, pet owners are becoming more interested how medical cannabis can improve the quality of life for their furry family members.

The extension from human to pets may be influenced by cannabis legalization, but many medications for dogs and cats are also given to humans. Substances like muscle relaxants, anti-anxiety medications, steroids and opioid painkillers are all administered to pets, but in smaller doses. Logic dictates that a medicine that would help treat arthritis in a human would also treat it in another mammal, but there are some differences.

When it comes to cannabis, dogs are more susceptible to the effects of THC than humans. Research shows that dogs have a higher amount of CB1 receptors throughout their brains. Even if a dog weighed as much as a human, THC would ultimately have a stronger effect on a canine than a human thanks to these receptors. Because of this, it is recommended that any cannabis treatment for a pet be significantly higher in cannabidiol (CBD) rather than THC. In cats, THC also exhibits the same relaxing and sedative qualities, but about 25 percent of cats showed increased agitation and restlessness.

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While cannabis may have a stronger effect in pets, the ailments that cannabis seems to help in humans is also true in dogs. Epilepsy, chronic pain, inflammation, gastrointestinal issues, cancer and arthritis have been treated with cannabis in people as well as dogs and cats. While much of the evidence supporting this is anecdotal, veterinarians are starting to take notice.

Dr. Douglas Kramer has become one of the leading voices calling for rescheduling cannabis in order to research its potential health benefits. After administering a cannabis treatment to his own dog who was suffering from cancer, Kramer noticed significant improvement. “I’d exhausted every available pharmaceutical pain option, even steroids,” Dr. Kramer said. “At that point, it was a quality of life issue, and I felt like I’d try anything to ease her suffering.” After giving his sick dog a small dose of cannabis, he noticed her appetite improved and she seemed to be in better spirits.

Like other medical professionals who are in favor of more scientific research into cannabis, Dr. Kramer knows that an open dialogue is in the best interest of the patient. He said,

“The veterinary community needs to address the issue, but we don’t want to talk about it, even though it’s clear our clients are giving marijuana to their pets, with good and bad effects.”

In 2014, The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association issued a statement regarding their policy on medical cannabis. The statement said “There is a growing body of veterinary evidence that cannabis can reduce pain and nausea in chronically ill or suffering animals, often without the dulling effects of narcotics. This herb may be able to improve the quality of life for many patients, even in the face of life-threatening illnesses.” This approach is a reflection of how physicians struggling to treat human ailments are examining medical cannabis as an alternative to conventional medicines.

Patients and pet owners who aren’t willing or unable to wait for the scientific community are taking matters into their own hands. In California, pet owners have sought out physician’s recommendations for medical cannabis for themselves, but then administer it to their pets. “I went to the weed doctor and said, ‘I need a card so I can get it for my dog who had cancer,’” said Pallas Weber, who was seeking medical cannabis for her dog Emmett. “He said, ‘I don’t have a solution for that.’ So I told him I had insomnia.”

Cannabis manufacturers are noticing the trend and responding with edibles and tinctures specifically for pets. Companies like Canna Companion and Treatibles are focusing on high-CBD products that are easy to give to reluctant pets, along with dosing guidelines.

If you plan on attempting a cannabis treatment for your sick pet, there are a few things to consider.

If the goal is to get your pet high, please don’t.

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While humans understand the ritual of taking mind-altering substances, pets may be confused and scared by their experience. Many animals will hide or run away if they feel ill, so keep your pet happy and save the THC edibles for yourself.

There is very little solid research on cannabis and pets.

The research on medical cannabis for humans is already scant, and even less so for pets. Unless you can find a veterinarian who has experience administering cannabis therapies, you may have to use your best judgement after reading the many anecdotal reports online. One of the most definitive guides available regarding cannabis was published in 2015 by Dr. Robert J. Silver and includes data from relevant studies, dosing guidelines, and potential uses for medical cannabis.

Look out for static ataxia.

This is a sign that a dog has had too much THC. Static Ataxia presents as drooling, pupil dilation, rigid muscles and a sharp rocking back and forth. Please take your pet to an emergency animal care facility if you notice these symptoms.

Talk to your vet.

Depending on where you live, there may be veterinarians who are familiar with medical cannabis or already administered it to their patients. Your pet may be on certain medications that could interact with cannabis, so it is worth talking to your veterinarian prior to attempting a cannabis treatment.

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