Is Cannabis and CBD Safe for Animals? A Look at the Evidence

14th April 2021

While we have all heard stories about pet owners choosing to treat the ailments of their furry friends with CBD products, products designed specifically for this purpose are easily available for purchase both online and in brick-and-mortar stores. However, it remains unclear whether these products are safe enough to be giving to our pets.

As medical cannabis use is skyrocketing globally, some people are also convinced that their pets would also benefit from the properties of the plant. While there is a collection of convincing anecdotal evidence available, there is little clinical literature on the subject of pets and CBD – or pets and cannabis, for that matter.

Therefore, it is crucial to recognise and be aware of the potential side effects that our little friends might face after consuming cannabis.

As it is often described in humans, some believe that CBD could offer a safer alternative to other medications that we may have to give to our pets. For example, some pet owners describe administering CBD to their pets to help with pain, anxiety, and even epilepsy.

In comparison to THC, CBD is not psychoactive – meaning that it doesn’t cause a ‘high’ – and has been found to have some promising benefits in relieving some conditions, including those listed above. However, there has been little to no research conducted on the impact of medical cannabis on animals.

While the differences between animals (such as dogs) and humans are well-known, our pets can suffer from health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, just like us.

One example is that of epilepsy. A CBD-based medication called Epidyolex has been approved for use in cases of treatment-resistant epilepsy in the UK. Studies have shown that CBD can help to significantly reduce seizures in humans. Furthermore, some studies and experts have found that CBD may also be beneficial to animals suffering from seizures and epilepsy.

In addition, a preliminary study in the US found that 89% of dogs that were administered CBD as part of a clinical trial experienced a reduction in seizures.

While some see these findings as promising news, the reality is that it’s still way too early to say CBD is 100% safe for animals.

In the UK, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) classes CBD products for pets as veterinary medicines and therefore states that they require marketing authorisation before they should be sold or administered. As yet, no products have been authorised by the VMD.

Is cannabis toxic for animals?

Cannabis is not only toxic but, at a higher dose, could be lethal for animals. It doesn’t matter if we hurt them intentionally or not. Smoking or consuming cannabis near our pets has its risks.

They can easily be intoxicated by inhaling second-hand smoke, eating edibles, or any form of cannabis – extra care is required when pets are around cannabis.

THC, which is the most common psychoactive cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant, is believed to be the cannabis component that is toxic to animals.

Obviously, the animal’s weight, health status, and age all affect the impact cannabis could have on them, but cannabis is generally very dangerous.

According to the VCA, dogs have more cannabinoid receptors, such as CB1 and CB2, in their brains than humans do. These receptors can be found on cell surfaces in the body.

While CB2 is believed to regulate inflammation, CB1, which is concentrated in the brain, central nervous system, and some other organs, is apparently responsible for most of the effects of the cannabis.

Regardless of the amount of THC that got into the animals’ system, the effects might still be more dramatic and potentially more toxic when compared to us.

Moreover, as discussed, dogs have more cannabinoid receptors, therefore it’s easier for them to overdose, leading to fatal consequences.

Another issue might have a severe impact on animals: only humans have a prefrontal cortex. It’s in the brain, and it enables rational thinking.

Basically, if humans smoke cannabis, they would be able to realise what is happening. On the other hand, animals would be frightened and anxious as they wouldn’t understand why they cannot move, run, or even stand still.

According to Pet Poison Health Line, in dogs and cats poisoned by marijuana, clinical signs can be seen within minutes to hours.

They, therefore, put together a list of overdose symptoms every pet owner should be aware of, including dazed expression, glassy eyes, incoordination, slow response times, and dribbling urine, vomiting, drooling, changes in heart rate, vocalization, neurological stimulation, hyperactivity, or even coma.

In a nutshell, animals don’t find cannabis consumption funny, and it could harm them significantly.

Depending on further studies, however, it could be the case that cannabis extracts with THC removed may help to alleviate some conditions in animals. It is important to always discuss with your vet before administering any non-prescribed medical products to your pet.

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