I can honestly say that not a day goes by when I am not asked at least once some question about medical marijuana. Let me first state that, because the Florida Board of veterinary Medicine has not come up with any specific regulation regarding the use of medical marijuana (let’s call it CBD from here on out), I am forbidden from giving instruction on its use or dosing. Having said that, no one is going to be going out punishing vets for answering simple questions about CBD use, safety or efficacy. It has become a very hot button topic and we should all be informed about it because it’s coming to a state near you and the genie is officially out of the bottle. I will do my best to leave my personal opinions about the legalization of marijuana out of this discussion and try to stick the facts (as we know them) of CBD use in dogs and cats. However, the two issues of legalization and medical use are not entirely inseparable. I will say that I have personally never been a marijuana user. Not once. Even in my wilder younger years I was never that wild, so I am concerned about blanket recreational legalization of marijuana because I worry about an entire segment of society that wants to slow down their thought processes, but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe here may be some medical benefit to its use. The pro legalization group has been very effective in lobbying for legalization by framing the argument around the theory that if don’t legalize it we are depriving human cancer patients and epileptics of an effective medication. Please don’t get me wrong and send me hate mail. I DO believe that there are very valid uses medical marijuana and I absolutely support its safe medical use. Two big uses are for cancer patients in relieving pain and increasing appetite, and in controlling epileptic seizures. In efforts to bolster their argument though, it has been proposed, in some form or another, that marijuana is the magic elixir for everything from athletes’ foot to the seven-year itch. The “if it works for one disease it should work for all diseases” argument is a dangerous path to go down because all of this is bleeding over into veterinary medicine and it has potential to cause great harm to our pets.
Let’s break down MJ a little. There are two components that we care about: THC, the psychotropic part that gets you “high”, and CBD, the compound that is the medicinal component. In deciding whether your dog would benefit from medicinal marijuana in any form, you better be very aware of one important fact. THC is very toxic to pets. Period. So, any notion that you may be entertaining of giving your dog an edible, candy, brownie, oil or smoke, is a plan that you should immediately abandon. Marijuana toxicity is something we plan on seeing a lot more of as legalized marijuana in my state of Florida grows. I was at a conference last year and had lunch with a vet from Colorado, where recreational use of marijuana is legal and popular. I asked him if he sees many cases of THC toxicity in dogs. His answer stunned me. “randy, there is not a minute of a day goes by that we do not have at least one dog in our hospital being treated for pot poisoning.” Lack of education and availability of the drug, in forms that dogs find very tasty like brownies and candies is the perfect storm for an epidemic health crisis. Right now, we are smelling smoke but not seeing the fire. Pun intended. Whether or not the drug is even beneficial to dogs at all is still an open one. The broad opinion amongst veterinarians is that there is likely some benefit but, because of the lack of controlled studies into its use, we really have no idea. There are some large studies being conducted now so we are looking forward to some solid clinical data.
In the meantime, the most common question I get is “it safe to give my dog CBD for problem A B C or D?” Again, the short answer is that we really don’t know for sure, but in reality, there is no indication that CBD is a problem. The biggest problem, however, is that you are probably wasting your money and giving a placebo, relying on it to either treat a disease or alleviate pain. There was a study done where the researchers went out and bought a bunch of over the counter CBD pet products. Those products were tested in a lab for actual amount of CBD. Sadly, almost none of the products had anything close to a therapeutic level of CBD. There is no standardized dosing or regulation of these products that you can buy at the feed store or over the internet, so it’s like the wild west out there. People are selling snake oil and desperate pet owners are buying it. I have a friend who is a specialist veterinary orthopedic surgeon, and he said that weekly he has owners declining real proven pain medications for serious surgeries because they want to just give CBD that they bought at a feed store. That’s not good. That’s a dog that is going to be in real pain and not given any thing to alleviate that pain. Until such time as we have standardized dosing and production regulation, we need to be VERY careful about the decisions we are making.
So, what are my predictions for CDB? What does the brave new world of legalized marijuana hold for our pets?
1. We will eventually have clinical data that we can use to make rational treatment decisions.
2. There will always be people selling junk products and junk science.
3. We will probably try treating everything with CBD. We will find a few things it is helpful for and a lot of things it isn’t.
4. There will be a cooling after the initial enthusiasm so many people seem to have now about the value of CBD. Just like we are seeing a decline in the number of dogs on grain free diets, we will see less people believing CBD is a cure all.
5. Veterinarians better be ready to treat a whole bunch of dogs for THC toxicity as more legal marijuana hits the streets.
In the meantime, feel free to ask your veterinarian about what you want to give your dog before you give it. As veterinarians, we are all optimistic about the possibility of having something safe and effective to use as an adjunct to the medications we have now.
~ Dr. Randy Eisel