Cannabis and Dogs: Friends or Foes?

Farma loves puppers. You should see us when a service dog visits. Our eyes turn into literal hearts and the cooing begins. Two of Farma’s founders have the sweetest doggos known to man, and they’re the babies of the shop. As dogs get older, they go through many of same things as aging people. This week the universe has brought a downright storm of dog-related inquiries to my inbox. Let me begin by saying I am not a veterinarian, nor has most of my research focused on canine physiology. But this week I decided to dig in and see what there was to see.
All mammals have an endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is the main system with which cannabinoids interact. The ‘high’ you feel when consuming THC is the result of that molecule binding to cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1). CB1 is one of the receptors that makes up the ECS. This is particularly useful in scientific research on cannabinoids. It’s also useful if, say, you’re interested in using medicine developed for humans on your furry friends. Scientists use mice for many experiments aimed at demystifying the ECS. Dogs, too, have been the subject of scientific inquiry. Early studies conducted on the toxicity of cannabis often used dogs in their experiments. This is useful in determining how much cannabis will kill your dog (it’s a lot, at least 3g/kg of THC). Less so for how it can help.
There is exactly one article I could find on the therapeutic use of cannabis for dogs, and it came out this year. Researchers interested in helping elderly dogs with osteoarthritis decided to test hemp-derived CBD. CBD is anti-inflammatory in humans and mice, and it wasn’t a huge jump to think it might be the same in dogs. They administered a tincture to the dogs at two different doses: 2 mg/kg and 5 mg/kg. All the owners were veterinarians themselves. This is important because often these studies show positive bias. A positive bias is a belief that something helped when the data doesn’t show a significant benefit. Researchers wanted to decrease the likelihood of positive bias in the results, and so recruited owners aware of the risk. They found both doses had therapeutic benefits for the dogs. Both dose levels decreased observable pain markers and increased mobility. None of the dogs had any observable negative effects.
The lack of a large body of research means that the results from this study should be taken with a grain of salt. We cannot draw conclusive results from one study. Studies that examine a lower dose level of CBD would be useful. Even the lowest dose these researchers tested would be about 20 mg in a 60 lb dog. If nothing else, that amount of CBD can be expensive. The benefits observed in the study are promising, and will hopefully spur more veterinary research.
Now, what about THC? There haven’t been any scientific studies that look at the therapeutic use of THC in dogs. Yet, anecdotal reports show small amounts of THC could be beneficial. Huge amounts can be dangerous (more than 40mg/kg). In some parts of the brain dogs have many times the cannabinoid receptors than humans do. This could make them much more sensitive to THC than we are. Most dogs recover from an overdose of THC with no long-term side effects, but if they ingest too much there is a risk they could become catatonic. In the meantime, keep your edibles locked away and for adult human consumption only.
Please consult with your vet before giving your dog any cannabis product! Just like in humans, cannabinoids can interact with other drugs your dog is taking. Your vet should be aware of everything that’s going into your dog’s body. They want make the best decisions for the well-being of your fur baby, and so do you.

Zoe Sigman