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When Will Medical Marijuana Become Legal for Pets?

More research is needed for therapeutic cannabis products for pets, but the law keeps getting in the way.

medical marijuana for dogs
Medical marijuana for pets is a complicated topic among veterinarians. Photo: Pixabay

Veterinarians are not afraid of dogs. We are wary, cautious, sensible.

So I color-code certain dog charts to warn myself and the staff of a potentially aggressive patient.

One of these yellow caution-stickered pups I have come to understand and respect is a 13-year-old Akita named Iditarod. I’ve been seeing Idie since he was a puppy, and he’s been giving me a simultaneous happy tail wag and a hairy eyeball all his life.

He went after me once. I had touched his hindquarters without asking permission. No harm done.

Last week, old but mentally acute Idie came in for some arthritis and geriatric issues. He entered the exam room, a commanding calm on his big face, and laid his still beautiful, massive, bone-tired body down on the floor. Like a patriarchal lion, he gave me glare, informing me that he was not getting on the exam table. Point taken.

I respectfully examined him on the floor and even took a blood sample from his back leg. I even did a rectal exam as Idie serenely looked out the window and lapped up some cookies.

The exam finished, I spoke with Mrs. LA, the client, about some of Idie’s serious aging issues, and we made a plan. I had shared Idie’s care over the years with a naturopathic veterinarian, and Mrs. LA had asked me to send Idie’s blood work to him.

As Idie rested, gazing at the trees, Mrs. LA said, “I have to tell you something. The other vet has Idie on [whispered voice] medical marijuana, 3 times a day.”

“It’s working wonders,” she gushed.

No kidding — this was the first time this dog had been interested in food instead of my face in 13 years.

How Medical Cannabis Has Been Helping This Dog

Iditarod has been suffering from a possible neurologic condition as well as major orthopedic issues. He has had surgery on both knees, aging hips and episodes of weakness.

Having been helped somewhat by traditional medicine, he is now taking medical cannabis for aches, pains and undiagnosed neurologic symptoms.

The cannabis product also seems to be helping with the dog’s aggression and prey drive.

Mrs. LA, a dedicated and responsible pet lover, has kept Idie separated from her cats all these years for fear Idie would kill them. Of late, Idie appears not to care about the cats.

Is the “medical marijuana” really mellowing his prey drive for vets and small creatures this much, as well as helping him with chronic pain? Mrs. LA thinks so.

Medical Marijuana for dogs
Plenty of research needs to be done to figure out how cannabis products can help our pets. Photo: fenrirthegrey2

Medical Marijuana for Pets Is Illegal

There’s been a lot of veterinary chatter about marijuana and how it can help pets since states have been legalizing both recreational and medical marijuana.

A comprehensive report detailing the health effects of cannabis for people was published by the National Academy of Sciences in January 2017. The uses included help for people with chronic pain, neurologic disorders, anxiety and sleep disturbances, to name a few.

People and vets have naturally been interested in how pets with similar disorders could benefit from the use of cannabis products. Promising research, however, has been stymied or completely stopped because of inconsistent and convoluted laws.

The AVMA warns veterinarians that the Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) position on all derivatives of the marijuana plant are still illegal under the Controlled Substances Act.

As I was researching this article, I walked into a coffee shop in Brooklyn. No joke — on top of the old-school stack of coffee cups was a sign that read “Green Mountain CBD.”

So I could purchase a cannabinoid oil for myself over the coffee counter with no prescription, but I am not allowed to even discuss it with a client. Weird.

Medical marijuana for pets
There have been some promising studies on the use of cannabis compounds for epileptic dogs and dogs suffering from osteoarthritis. Photo: GidonPico


Various cannabis products contain different levels of cannabidiol (CBD) and (tetrahydrocannabinol) THC.

  • CBD, which is non-psychoactive, is considered to have many therapeutic benefits.
  • THC is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that causes euphoria, or a “high.”

Cannabis experts say plant strains exist that produce high levels of CBD (therapeutic) and low levels of THC (psychogenic).

Although these products are considered industrial hemp and are less regulated in some states, the DEA still considers all these products illegal.

Veterinary Research Into Medical Marijuana Is Legally Difficult

Veterinary research requires dedicated doctors, scientists and funding, but that is difficult when you are standing on shaky legal ground.

Often, university researchers join with business interests to test possible products to bring to market, laboriously researching their efficacy and safety.

But if the DEA is saying that all derivatives of the marijuana plant, including CBD, are illegal under the Controlled Substances Act, that is an inhospitable environment for expensive research and testing.

To date, a few courageous investigators have begun some promising studies on the use of cannabis compounds for epileptic dogs and dogs suffering from osteoarthritis. There is also anecdotal evidence from people using products on their own pets. They report cannabis products help pets with pain control as well as neurologic and anxiety disorders.

These dogs’ humans swear by the therapeutic benefits of cannabis products for their pets:

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Safety of Medical Marijuana for Pets

Veterinarians should legally have no experience prescribing marijuana products, but most of us have seen our share of marijuana toxicities. These cases usually turn out fine with supportive care — most dogs who overdose on recreational marijuana are much better in 24 hours.

The biggest challenge with these cases is usually identifying marijuana, and not something more dangerous, as the toxic substance.

People are still embarrassed, untruthful or simply unaware that Snooches is falling over because he got into their personal — or their teenager’s — stash.

Hopefully, with more legalization, people will be more candid about the accidental pet ingestion of pot.

It’s clear that attitudes and legislation concerning the legality and criminality of marijuana are changing. Legal and regulating authorities, however, are messing around, wasting time and legally binding veterinarians not to participate in important research while CBD oils are already on the market.

You can purchase any number of hemp and CBD oils for your pets with your next keystroke. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with what you purchase — it’s just that these products don’t have the benefit of veterinary research and development behind them.

The cannabis caravan has left the station, and pets in need are on board. Veterinarians and research money are left back on the platform. Time to ride into the 21st century, folks.


vet-cross60pThis pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was last reviewed April 18, 2018.

If you have questions or concerns, call your vet, who is best equipped to ensure the health and well-being of your pet. This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. See additional information.