Life / Health

Pot under the collar: Why medical cannabis is going to the dogs

The drug shows promise, but veterinarians warn pet owners not to take matters into their own hands

Veterinarians regularly deal with sick pets who have gotten into their owners' stash, veterinarian Kathleen Alcock says.

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Veterinarians regularly deal with sick pets who have gotten into their owners' stash, veterinarian Kathleen Alcock says.

Thanks to easy access at the dispensaries popping up on every street corner, city-dwellers across Canada are turning to cannabis to soothe their creaky old bones.

And if it works for you, why not for an elderly or ailing pet?

If you’re going on anecdotes and Internet testimonials, cannabis is great for pooches’ pain and other complaints. But experts don’t recommend it.
 
Tamara Hirsh, owner of Pacifico, stocks Apawthecary brand cannabis-infused dog treats and tinctures at her dispensaries in Toronto and Hamilton, Ont.

She claims there are no side effects.

“You can really take any dose,” she said. “We recommend you start low and go slow.”

“It works a lot like it does in people,” for seizures, pain and arthritis, Hirsh said. “It’s instant relief. We can barely keep it on the shelf.”

Half a dropper of the tincture contains 120 mg of cannabidiol, or CBD, one of the major active compounds in cannabis.   

That’s roughly the same dose a human using the drug for insomnia or epilepsy would take.  
 
The doggie products don’t have THC, the chemical responsible for marijuana’s high. CBD is not mind-altering, and some studies have shown it helps ease anxiety, seizures and nausea.  
 
CBD also has fewer side effects than THC, but they’re poorly understood. And like most medications, it can be toxic in high doses. Animal studies suggest the danger zone is anything above 30 mg of CBD per kilogram of body weight.

But we don’t know.
 
And that’s the problem, explained Dr. Kathleen Alcock, a veterinarian at the Downtown Animal Hospital in Toronto. Alcock has a longstanding interest in pain medicine and has been looking into getting licensed to dispense medical cannabis to pets. (Currently, the College of Veterinarians of Ontario does not allow it).

Alcock she was firm about feeding Fido products from a dispensary: Don’t do it.    

“This is not a do-no-harm thing,” she said. “It certainly shouldn’t be sold over the counter.”

Alcock said she sees about one case of cannabis poisoning per month. Cats and dogs are “exquisitely sensitive” to it, and she said they get twitchy and “sedated to the point of respiratory failure” after getting into their human’s stash. Even one cookie or one joint can cause serious problems.
 
It’s not clear what chemical – CBD, THC, or something else – is causing these effects, Alcock added: “The answer is, we don’t know. The studies haven’t been done.”  

She didn’t buy the claim that there are no side effects, or that it’s not possible to overdose.
 
“The long and the short of it is, any time you’re using a medication, call your vet,” Alcock said. Otherwise, “You could be looking at an emergency visit or a dead pet.”

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