It’s no secret that cannabis has a wide variety of medical benefits. What may come as a surprise is that the use of cannabis in animals is nothing new. Cannabis has been used in veterinary medicine for nearly as long as humans for treating common health issues. Thousands of years ago, the ancient Greeks used cannabis to treat horses for colic (a common disorder of the digestive system), inflammation, and even to heal battle wounds!
Veterinarians have recently re-discovered the effects of medical cannabis for pets. We have seen successes in treating many of the same diseases as people. Pets suffering from pain, inflammation, arthritis, cancer, seizures, and gastrointestinal issues have found relief through the use of medical cannabis.
Cannabis affects our bodies and those of our pets through something called the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is made up of a network of receptors in cells throughout the body and is designed to maintain a state of normality. Just like our bodies naturally regulate our temperature and blood sugar, the ECS works to maintain things like memory, appetite, energy level, stress response, immune function, and pain levels. We all literally evolved this system to help us survive in a stressful world.
The ECS actually appears to be “designed” to interact with cannabis. Two of the main active compounds found in cannabis, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol), are very similar to the natural chemicals within the body that control the ECS. So similar, in fact, that they are able to affect how the body functions by binding with ECS receptors.
While the use of cannabis can be very beneficial, we have to be cautious about excessive amounts of THC. While rarely fatal, dogs and cats overdosed with THC may become unresponsive, lose bowel and bladder function, and temporarily be unable to eat or drink. Veterinary care is often required to support these pets until the symptoms subside.
Unlike THC, products containing primarily CBD do not have the same risks of toxicity or overdose. High CBD/low THC products can be made from either hemp or marijuana. Legally speaking, hemp is cannabis that contains less than 0.3% THC – anything over 0.3% is defined as marijuana. CBD dominant medicines are safe, effective, and when derived from hemp are completely legal in all 50 states without a prescription.
The CBD in hemp no different from the compound found in marijuana. As with any natural medicine, the plant of origin and the methods of manufacture are critical to efficacy and safety. Historically, hemp came from “industrial” sources where plant genetics were focused more on fiber production rather than high-quality CBD. Today, however, there are hemp producers growing plants specifically for CBD and using safe methods such as CO2 extraction to produce higher quality medicine.
While there are uses for medical cannabis that do require the use of THC, CBD based products are highly effective for a wide variety of conditions affecting dogs and cats and an equally wide margin of safety. Some of the most common conditions treated are:
- Pain and inflammation
- Gastrointestinal upset (acute or chronic)
- Anxiety and stress
- CBD also has documented anti-cancer effects
Access to products and/or veterinary guidance can be hard to come by for pet owners who live in places without medical or recreational marijuana laws. In these cases, an excellent place to start is with products made from high-quality hemp. Hemp-based CBD products have the advantage of being legal to sell over the counter in all states and are safe as they contain very small amounts of THC. Fortunately, no matter where you live, your pet can still benefit from CBD therapy.