Cannabis for pets? Are you high?

Have questions? We’ve got answers.

What is cannabis?

Cannabis is a plant made up of hundreds of chemical compounds, including more than 100 cannabinoids, more than 120 terpenes and various bioflavonoids, fatty acids, phenols and sterols. Cannabis plants have different subspecies and within those subspecies, there are numerous different strains. There are two main phytocannabinoids in cannabis: delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and cannabidiol (CBD).

Mary Jane, marijuana, hemp, cannabis… what’s the difference?!

Marijuana traditionally refers to plants that are bred specifically for the production of resin, used for both medical and recreational purposes. Hemp traditionally refers to a plant that has been bred for the fibre of its stalk or the use of its seeds for food purposes, and is legally defined as “a cannabis plant containing less than 0.3% THC in its leaves and flowers”. Cannabis is the general overarching term for any plant within the Cannabis genus, and the term that’s used in current government literature.

And what about the cannabinoids you mentioned – CBD? THC?

CBD and THC are the two main cannabinoids in cannabis. THC typically gives the “high” that people experience. CBD does not produce a euphoric “high” or intoxicating effect. This is because CBD does not affect the same receptors as THC. Their potencies vary from strain to strain and both compounds can have therapeutic effects in animals.

So… are you saying cannabis is safe for pets?

There is an emerging body of evidence that supports cannabis’ therapeutic use in pets – products are being tested for their safety, dosing and efficacy. At this time, there are no approved cannabis products specifically for pets. It is important to note that, although veterinarians cannot prescribe cannabis for pets (more on this below), pet parents are encouraged to discuss its use with their veterinarian. Veterinarians should be involved in all health-related decisions when it comes to their patients. It is their role to provide harm reduction education and consultation. The veterinarian can provide pet parents with information as new studies emerge, help avoid potential drug interactions and provide guidance on how to recognize and reduce the risk of intoxication.

But I heard THC was toxic for dogs?

Dogs have more CB1 receptors in certain areas of the brain than humans do. THC binds directly at the CB1 and CB2 receptors and is responsible for its intoxicating effect. CBD is not a primary ligand for either CB1 or CB2, in fact, it can be an indirect antagonist. There are new studies emerging that suggest that THC can have therapeutic benefits in animals, plus, it contributes to the “entourage effect” (see our next question).

The severity of intoxication symptoms will depend on the dose, the route of administration, whether or not the individual has been previously exposed, and individual variations in sensitivity. Although concerning and sometimes requiring emergency care, most dogs recover from acute THC intoxication.

What’s that thing you mentioned? The “entourage effect”?

Have you heard the saying “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”? This is exactly what is thought to happen with the various compounds within the cannabis plant. The compounds work together to produce a synergistic effect commonly referred to as the “entourage effect.”

An important class of compounds found in cannabis called, terpenes, are thought to contribute to “the entourage effect.” These compounds are the basis of essential oils and are responsible for the characteristic odour of many plants. Research has now shown that many terpenes have physical effects on the body and are believed to play an important role in the therapeutic effects of the cannabis plant.

Can cannabis be helpful as part of our therapeutic toolbox?

In humans, cannabis is used to treat a wide range of conditions and we’re anticipating that we might see similar responses in animals.

Health Canada lists cannabis as potential therapy for the following conditions: chronic pain, cancer pain, neuropathic pain, palliative care, quality of life, nausea and vomiting, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, epilepsy, arthritis,  muscular pain, osteoporosis, glaucoma, hypertension, stress, anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, inflammation, inflammatory skin diseases, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease and more! See the full list here.

How can one plant help with so many conditions?

Cannabis affects the mammalian body through numerous pathways, including those found in the Endocannabinoid System (ECS).The ECS is a complex regulatory system of receptors, neurotransmitters, and enzymes that help to regulate many body functions and maintain a state of homeostasis. It’s actually thought to be the largest receptor system in the mammalian body.

Can a veterinarian legally prescribe cannabis in Canada?

Veterinarians want to be able to authorize medical cannabis as a therapeutic option for their patients, but currently lack a legal pathway enabling them to do so. Veterinarians can only prescribe “Drugs Containing Cannabis” that are approved by Health Canada. Like veterinary prescription drugs, these products would require a DIN (Drug Identification Number). Currently, there are no products available in Canada licensed for animals.

Grey Wolf Animal Health and the Canadian Association of Veterinary Cannabinoid Medicine (CAVCM) are among many groups lobbying toward amendments to the Cannabis Act that would allow Canadian veterinarians to legally prescribe medical cannabis.

But, what about pet products with CBD-derived from hemp that are available online?

With the Cannabis Act effective on October 17, 2018, any products containing cannabis-derived phytocannabinoids, including CBD, and/or THC (regardless of the source) have been moved from the Controlled Drug list to the Prescription Drug List. These products are illegal.

Similar to products manufactured for the human medical or recreational markets and available through legal channels, pet products should be pharmaceutical grade and a certificate of analysis should be available. This ensures that the product has been tested for pesticides, heavy metals, and microcontaminants. As we mentioned, currently, there are no products in Canada licensed for animals.

Grey Wolf is committed to developing a portfolio of safe and effective cannabis products for the well-being of companion animals.

So, how can I get involved?

Grey Wolf is committed to providing veterinary professionals with clinical evidence and education about cannabis as a therapeutic option for their patients. You can become a member of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) or the Canadian Association of Veterinary Cannabinoid Medicine (CAVCM), an organization focused on advocating for fair access and species-specific research of medical cannabis for pets.