Loopholes Are Slowly Open for This Forbidden Treatment Option

Story at-a-glance -

  • There is a growing demand by pet owners for access to medicinal marijuana for aging and ailing companion animals
  • Companies wishing to offer cannabis-based pet products are faced with a number of legal and other challenges
  • Companies selling hemp-based pet treats are able to operate within the law
  • Research is needed on cannabis for pets so that veterinarians and pet owners can understand more about its benefits and potential risks

By Dr. Becker

According to an article I read recently in the business news publication Quartz:

"With marijuana flourishing into a big business in the US, a new segment of the market catering to aging and ailing pets has been growing under the radar."1

The article discusses the challenges faced by companies that want to provide marijuana for use in pets. Specifically, 1) the legality of marketing and distributing cannabis products for animals is a grey area, 2) to date there is little scientific evidence to support its use in pets, and 3) no industry guidelines exist.

However, despite these concerns there are a growing number of pet guardians actively sourcing cannabis to alleviate pain in their companion animals, and there are companies legally selling a form of cannabis called hemp.

Hemp As a Beneficial Alternative to Marijuana

I recently interviewed Dr. Rob Silver, a holistic veterinarian who is also an authority on the medicinal use of marijuana in pets. It was an eye-opening interview for me, because I've had little opportunity to use cannabis with my veterinary patients and I'm interested in learning more about it.

Dr. Silver discussed the benefits of hemp, a type of cannabis plant from which cannabidiol is derived. Unlike plants grown for use as marijuana, hemp has a very low amount of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) – so low, in fact, that it doesn't deliver a high. It is the cannabidiol, or CBD, in both marijuana and hemp that alleviates pain.

According to Dr. Silver, hemp contains the same level of beneficial phytochemicals as marijuana, and it actually contains larger amounts of other medicinal components. In addition, because the level of THC is so low, hemp does not cause static ataxia, a frightening condition that seems to occur only in dogs that have ingested too much THC.

Companies Are Legally, If Cautiously, Selling Pet Treats with Cannabidiol

The companies currently selling pet treats containing cannabidiol are doing so with caution.

Treatibles, pet treats made from hemp, are produced by the Auntie Dolores company. The company CEO, Julianna Carella, is reluctant to promote the effects of Treatibles or even market the product.

"Honestly, we're hands off with that because we're not doctors and it's not our place to prescribe it in that way," Carella told Quartz.2

Auntie Dolores also doesn't want to invite scrutiny by the FDA, which has recently sent out warning letters to other companies selling cannabis-based products for animals.

Two of those companies, Canna Companion (owned by two veterinarians) and Canna-Pet received warning letters from the FDA stating that their products are "unapproved new animal drugs" and informing them that marketing their products violates the FD&C Act.3

The owners of both companies updated the language in their marketing materials to comply with the request of the FDA.

More Research – and Continued Caution – Is Needed

The use of cannabis in pets, whether it's an extract that contains THC or the high CBD industrial hemp extract, is relatively new on the scene, which means there are very few reliable websites or sources of information to guide pet parents looking for help for their animal companions.

The three hemp-based product lines linked above are provided for information purposes only, as I have no experience with them.

The veterinary community generally agrees that much more cannabis research in pets is needed before we can feel completely comfortable using or recommending it.

"There's a huge amount of research that needs to be done," says Narda Robinson, director of the Center for Comparative and Integrative Medicine at Colorado State University's Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

"I expect there is some effect, but we need rigorous studies. We need to know more about safety and dosing and proper applications."4

If you have a pet you feel might benefit from marijuana or hemp, I recommend first trying to locate a veterinarian with some experience in treating pets with cannabis-based products.

Alternatively, you might try to find a veterinarian with an open mind who is willing, within the constraints of the law, to help you decide if and what type of cannabis product might be beneficial for your pet's specific health problem.

If you decide to proceed without guidance from a veterinarian and have questions, I recommend talking or corresponding with a representative of the company selling the product you're considering offering to your pet.