Editor’s Note: While many will attest to the wonders of marijuana for pets, keep in mind that it can be toxic – and even fatal – to animals in certain doses. Do not give any dose of cannabis to your animal without first consulting your veterinarian. Scroll to the bottom to read about the symptoms that your animal may experience if they have consumed too much cannabis.
Years ago, my mother told me the story of how her grandfather fed his horses marijuana. This was surprising: I never thought my ancestors would even know about cannabis in 1920s South Africa, and I’d always assumed it was a bad idea to get animals high.
I tried to imagine a stern ‘Oupa’ Jonker riding to market on a stoned steed. Wouldn’t the horse get dry mouth? What if it stopped for some munchies on the roadside?
“My Little Stony”
So I did some research. As it turns out, medical marijuana for horses is an old practice. In fact, cannabis was used to treat animals and humans in ancient Greece. The Hippiatrica – a collection of late antiquity horse-care texts – cites cannabis as a treatment for tapeworm, and as a poultice for wounds.
In the US, cannabis was used to treat horses until the early 20th century. The US Cavalry Horse, a comprehensive field-guide to horses published in 1895, contains recipes for marijuana tinctures to address colic and stomach ailments. The proceedings from the American Veterinarian Medical Association’s 1913 convention even include a chapter on cannabis – noting that it is “superior to opium in not causing constipation, anorexia or indigestion”.
The story suddenly made sense. People use marijuana to relieve illness, so why not horses, or other domesticated animals?
Medical Marijuana for Pets
In fact, as medical marijuana gains support, so too could the veterinary applications for a range of pet ailments.
Pet owners across the US are coming forward with stories about how marijuana has helped their animals. The most common uses are for elderly pets, or those with chronic diseases: cancer and tumors, inflammation, arthritis, pain, lethargy, nausea, and lack of appetite.
One of the most famous cases is that of Phoenix, a 20-year-old horse suffering from arthritis and a degenerative ligament disease. Her owner, Becky Flowers, tried numerous treatments before finally feeding Phoenix some marijuana. According to Flowers, shortly after ingesting cannabis, Phoenix regained her appetite and mobility. Other anecdotal stories follow a similar trajectory about restoring pets’ vitality, movement, appetite, and energy.
In most cases, including that of Phoenix, the pet owners are already recipients of medical marijuana. Unfortunately, there is currently very little scientific research into the effects of marijuana on pets. More studies need to be done to determine safe dosages, and the potential side effects, for animals.
In a small study performed at two veterinary clinics in Colorado, for example, researchers found a correlation between the increased number of medical marijuana licenses and the number of dogs suffering from marijuana poisoning. So obviously it’s not as simple as feeding Fido a handful of your favourite strain.
While there are already some veterinary medical marijuana edibles and ointments on the market, the FDA only regulates how companies market these products, and not the efficacy of the products themselves.
Until the veterinary community knows more about how weed affects animals, medicating your fluffy family members with marijuana could be problematic. If you’re really concerned about your pet’s health and quality of life, consult with your vet before trying these alternative treatments.
Hopefully, as with human treatments, medical marijuana will make strides in the veterinary world. Until that time, the evidence of its effects on pets remains largely out-dated or anecdotal.
But I do wish I could go back in time and ask my great-grandfather about his hemp horses’ favorite snacks – horse d’oeuvres, perhaps?
If your dog or cat has gotten into your stash, here are some signs that you should take them to the vet immediately:
- Excessive panting, anxiety, and agitation
- Stumbling, staggering, or ‘drunk’ walking
- Drooling, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Extreme lethargy
- ‘Dribbling’ urine, or loss of bladder control
- Trembling, jerking, or seizures
- Extreme reactions to noises, movements, and other stimulation