As pet parents, we’re constantly questioning whether health trends in the human world can (and should!) be applied to our pups too. So if the recent increase in the legalization of marijuana—to date, more than half of states in the U.S. have legalized the drug in some form—has got you wondering if cannabis is safe for dogs, you’re not alone.
Believe it or not, pot for pups is a growing trend: In the last three years, several companies including Canna-Pet, Canna Companion, Austin + Kat, Therabis, and Treatibles have started selling cannabis-infused treats for dogs. According to cannabis industry analytics firm MJ Freeway, sales of cannabis pet products nationwide have doubled in the last two years.
But before you start having visions of you and your pup getting stoned on the sofa together (if that’s your thing) it’s important to know that cannabis doggy treats don’t actually get your pup high. First, you have to understand the difference between marijuana and hemp: “What we call marijuana has high levels of THC, the compound that produces a euphoric feeling, and low levels of fiber and seed oil," explains Dr. Robert Silver, DVM, president of the Veterinary Botanical Medicine Association. "What’s known as hemp has low levels of THC and high levels of fiber, seed oil, and a compound called cannabidiol, CBD.”
Cannabis doggy treats are made with hemp (which is why they won’t get your pup stoned) and their star ingredient is CBD, which is marketed by cannabis treat companies as the silver bullet for issues such as pain, joint problems, digestive issues, and even mood and anxiety disorders.
Currently, there’s little to no medical literature to support these claims, notes Silver. “We only know what pet owners are reporting,” he says. “People find that it helps their pets with issues like pain, limping, and anxiety or behavioral problems. Some even say their dogs seem happier and that it helps older dogs have a better appetite.”
According to Silver, problems related to cannabis treats are rare. “We have data showing that out of 3 million administrations of hemp products to pets, there were maybe three adverse reactions,” he says. “In general, it’s pretty safe.”
Where things get dangerous is when pets accidentally ingest THC-containing marijuana, whether by getting into their owners’ stashes or snatching a pot-laced brownie from the kitchen counter. A 2012 study found that the number of dogs treated for marijuana overdoses at two Colorado veterinary hospitals quadrupled in five years after the legalization of medical marijuana in the state. Dogs are very sensitive to THC, notes Silver.
The American Veterinary Medical Association does not have an official stance on the use of medical marijuana for pets but has noted that “with pet owners already using the drug as medicine, veterinarians need to join the debate.” The Food and Drug Administration has not approved cannabis for pets, noting that “marijuana needs to be further studied to assess the safety and effectiveness for medical use in animals.”
Veterinarians are not permitted to write prescriptions for cannabis products, and in states where marijuana is illegal, it’s unlikely they’ll even discuss the idea with you. Last year, a proposed state law to legalize medical marijuana for pets with chronic illnesses in Nevada was shot down. Most people purchase cannabis treats online, though more pet stores are beginning to sell them.
No matter where you buy the treats, the laws surrounding their legality are murky. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), cannabis treats are federally illegal. However, the DEA hasn’t been strictly enforcing the law so far, which is how so many companies have been getting away with selling them Plus, proponents of the products argue that they should be legal since they are derived from hemp, which contains less than 1 percent of THC.
The bottom line? Regardless of where you live, the legal status and safety of cannabis-infused dog treats is uncertain, so talk to your vet before feeding them to your pup. Alternatively, you could try a different herbal approach: According to Silver, turmeric has potent pain-relieving and anti-cancer properties for dogs, and it can help with mental issues such as dementia. He also recommends milk thistle, a plant that can help stave off liver disease.