by Robert Reed, DVM, MSES, MPA
The passage of Prop 64 made it legal for Californians to possess marijuana for personal use and rekindled interest in a topic that has been on many people’s minds for some time. With increasingly widespread acceptance of marijuana as a medicine for humans, they wonder if it can be used to benefit their pets. In fact, many Cannabis containing products have already reached the pet market claiming just that. While this article does not fully address the validity of those claims, it should provide some history to help explain why we ask the question.
Reports suggest that Cannabis use goes back 12,000 years, which if true, would make it one of humanity’s oldest cultivated crops. Plant remnants have been found in archaeological sites that date back to 3000 B.C. in Siberia and to 2500 B.C. in China. The oldest written record of Cannabis comes from China in 2727 B.C. The plant appeared in South Asia between 2000 and 1000 B.C. and Cannabis became widely used in India. It was later carried to Europe through the Middle East—ancient Greeks and Romans were familiar with it—and it showed up in Britain during the 5th century after the Anglo-Saxon invasion. Cannabis seeds were found in Viking ships that date to the 9th century. It first appeared in the western hemisphere in the 16th century when Spaniards imported it to Chile, and in the early British colonies in the 17th century.
During most of its long history, Cannabis seems to have been universally valued for both industrial and medicinal uses. Apparently, it wasn’t until late in the modern era that people began to believe anything negative about it. The idea of marijuana as an evil drug is a fairly recent construction, and for most of the 20th century conversations around Cannabis focused mainly on how to control it rather than understand it, with laws that seemed to reflect societal fears and political values more than medical research and historic evidence (see sidebar “A History of Cannabis in America”).
Regardless of the motivation behind existing laws, we hope to believe they exist to protect us and our pets from harm. And, in reality, we have little concrete data on which to support an overhaul of current regulations. Medical professionals, including veterinarians, are trained to base decisions on information that comes through documented research. Unfortunately, evidence of proven medical benefit to pets from Cannabis is still lacking. That isn’t to say that benefits don’t exist, only that research proving them has not been published. We have a lot more information on how to address the toxic effects of marijuana than we do on its therapeutic uses, and we don’t expect new information any time soon. Veterinary researchers are prohibited by federal law from possessing the material required to investigate it, and from promoting any findings that endorse the medical use of Cannabis (see sidebar “Agencies Regulating Veterinary Use of Cannabis”).
As long as they steer clear of actions that could be construed as abuse, pet owners in legal possession of marijuana are not prohibited from giving it to their pets. Unfortunately, veterinarians can offer very little specific guidance. The present lack of helpful data and the existence of clearly defined regulatory restrictions put us in a difficult spot. We want to do our best for both our patients and our clients, but even if a veterinarian believes marijuana can provide medical benefit to your pet, he or she is not allowed to tell you.
Current market dynamics suggest the number of Cannabis containing products for pets will continue to increase, and on-line testimonials from happy pet owners are readily available. The best advice I can offer is to arm yourself with as much reliable information as you can collect, and to proceed with caution (see sidebar “Key Points in Understanding Cannabis Use in Pets”).
VCA Rancho Mirage Animal Hospital located at 71-075 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage, CA. 760-346-6103. Visit
Medical Marijuana & Your Pet, The Definitive Guide by Robert J. Silver, DVM, MS
Available online at: http://potforpets.info/
Pages: 146 pages; color, ISBN: 978-1-4834-3734-7 (sc), ISBN: 978-1-4834-3733-0 (e), Publication: October 31, 2015