Pot for pets is a big business — dispensaries across California offer a range of cannabis-derived products formulated for the four-legged members of your family — think capsules for cats, biscuits for dogs and tinctures, oils and ointments for both.
According to the products’ testimonial-filled websites and pamphlets, the pet-specific formulations can potentially relieve many of the same ailments for which humans consume cannabis, including pain, nausea, anxiety and seizures.
But while its effect on humans is fairly well understood, cannabis’ results in those of the canine and feline persuasion haven’t been well studied — and that’s just one of the reasons veterinarians suggest that pet parents thinking about slipping kitty some kush should consider hitting the pause button.
“There is no research that shows any benefit,” says veterinarian Ken Pawlowski, immediate past president of the California Veterinary Medical Assn. and the organization’s point person on the issue. “We’re not saying that there aren’t any, [only] there is no research out there that demonstrates the benefits or, more importantly, what appropriate doses of what compounds might be indicated.”
He points out that it’s not as simple as extrapolating from weed’s effect on humans. “Dogs have more cannabinoid receptors than any other animal that we know, and therefore are potentially more susceptible to toxicities — and potential benefits if some could be demonstrated,” he said.
There’s another reason your veterinarian likely won’t recommend you dose your dog or cat. “It is illegal under federal law,” Pawlowski said. “As veterinarians, we are not allowed to prescribe or recommend cannabis as a form of treatment,” he said, explaining that although California’s medical marijuana initiative, passed in 1996, provides legal protection under state law for physicians who recommend pot to their patients, that protection doesn’t apply to veterinary medicine. “Were the DEA to come down on a veterinarian, they could theoretically lose their license,” he said.
Since the FDA hasn’t evaluated or approved marijuana or marijuana-derived products marketed for use in animals (though, according to a FAQ at the agency’s website it’s “currently collecting information”), Pawlowski says there’s a lack of oversight when it comes to ingredients or proper dosing. Regardless, more marijuana-derived pet products are coming to a shelf near you, and the buyer should beware.
“It’s like the Wild West out there,” he said. “They might as well be buying something from the kid on the corner, because that’s as much information as anybody has.”
Illegality and lack of research aside, Pawlowski knows that a desperate pet parent will go to great lengths to alleviate a fur baby’s pain and suffering, including exploring cannabis-derived products. So he has two pieces of advice:
Tell your veterinarian
“If clients choose to use these products on their pets, they should make their veterinarian at least aware that they’re choosing to do that,” he said. “Because we don’t know what the interactions are with other medications ... [and] are they getting better or are they just stoned? In some cases that may not be the worst thing, but it’s important to know.”
Cache that stash
And, finally, with Proposition 64 making adult recreational marijuana use legal in the state as of last November, Pawlowski offers a piece of important advice for pot-partaking pet owners: Keep that big bag away from your pets.
“We have a big concern about toxicity,” he said. “A study done in Colorado showed something like a fourfold increase in incidences of toxicity in pets once marijuana was legalized … and there are compounded issues of chocolate toxicity on top of the marijuana toxicity if it [involves] brownies, or xylitol [toxicity] in the case of some sugarless lollipops.” Both substances are toxic to cats and dogs.
For more musings on cannabis culture and commerce, follow me @ARTschorn.