There's simply no doubt about it. Cannabis has hit the mainstream here in Canada and in most parts of North America. As a societal development, some of us love it and some of us hate it. The reasons are as many and varied as there are leaves on a tree. What we do know for sure is that, at least in humans, cannabis can play a huge role in dealing with the symptoms and in some cases, even in the healing of many diseases. But is it any good for our dogs?
From what we can tell so far, the answer is yes and no. Emergency veterinarians have seen their share of dogs suffering from THC intoxication. If you don't know what THC (short for tetrahydrocannabinol) is, let me explain in brief. THC is the intoxicant chemical in the cannabis plant. It's the stuff that makes you "high", and for dogs, it can be quite poisonous. Even in small doses, THC intoxication in dogs can lead to uncontrollable urination, heavy panting, enlarged pupils, vomiting, the inability to control their limbs (shaking legs), and in the worst cases, fainting, irregular heart rhythms, and apparently, as was the case for two small dogs from Colorado who ate more than a pound of edible cannabis each and asphyxiated on their own vomit, even death.
Does that mean that cannabis is absolutely out of the question for our pets? Well, not necessarily. Cannabis has a number of chemicals that act on the endocannabinoid system - a system of bodily receptors that exist in nearly every living creature on the planet, and one of the most promising among them is CBD (short for cannabidiol).
You may have heard of this one. Used for the treatment of ailments like cancer, epilepsy, a number of eating disorders and more, CBD is proving to be a therapeutic powerhouse, easing and even eliminating symptoms that could often be life-threatening. Cannabis plants cultivated to grow with high levels of CBD are non-psychoactive, meaning that ingestion will not result in the same euphoria or "high" as other varieties of cannabis. We have a pretty good idea of just how useful this is for humans, but can it help our dogs?
Early studies point to a resounding yes. When used for conditions like arthritis, epilepsy, cancer, and even anxiety, proponents of CBD treatments swear by it's usefulness with their pets. When all other pharmaceutical avenues have failed, pet owners turn to CBD treatments as a final resort. What's more, with cannabis legalization in Canada looming just over the horizon, chances are that the number of people willing to look into CBD as a treatment for their unwell dogs will only increase.
It is important to note that the purchase of cannabis by the general public for non-medical purposes remains illegal in Canada (with the date for commercial legalization set for July of 2018), and that the research into the use of CBD treatments for dogs is still in the early stages. If you decide that CBD treatments are the way to go for you and your dog, or you feel you are simply out of options, use caution. Due to the continued illegality of cannabis, finding a reliable, CBD-only source of this medicine is risky business at best.
Finally, it is critical that you talk about this avenue of treatment with your veterinarian, as they will be able to direct you on reasonable dosages and safe use with your pet. And if you do decide to go this route, never leave your dog unattended after administering treatment. It could be the difference between life and death.
Camille Salter is the founder of All Dogs Toronto and a certified, knowledge-assessed dog trainer (CPDT-KA). She is the author of two books on dog behavior: Pandemic Puppy, and Decoding the Dog Park.