Recently I had a friend take her 14-year-old dog to the vet for a checkup. The vet was amazed that the dog moved like a puppy when a dog so old should have arthritis. When examining the dog’s eyes, the vet exclaimed, “This dog should have cataracts but doesn’t! What do you give this dog?” Her response: “Cannabis.”
While cannabis is still illegal under U.S. federal law and in most states, attitudes toward it are changing and some states have legalized it for medical and even recreational use for humans. Have you ever considered cannabis (also known as marijuana, mary jane, ganja, grass, weed, etc.) for your dog? We all love our dogs and want the best for them. There is evidence to show that cannabis can help treat many illnesses, including:
- Cancer (even cure it in some cases)
- Fatty Tumors
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Deteriorating quality of life
- And more [1, 2]
An Important Thing to Remember
Before we delve into cannabis and dogs, it is important to remember that in the United States , Canada and other countries cannabis is still illegal. While the legality of cannabis is changing in many locations, please obey the laws where you live.
How Does It Work?
Cannabis is made up of cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are chemical compounds in cannabis that produce its effects on the body.  Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)  and cannabidiol (CBD)  are two of the cannabinoids you may have heard of. These cannabinoids bind to receptors within your body that make up the Endocannabinoid System (ECS). All vertebrates, and some invertebrates, have an ECS.
For humans, there are two popular methods of consuming cannabis: smoking it and eating it. Obviously, smoking is not an available option for your dog, so ingesting it is the only option in most cases.
Cannabis can be purchased in states where cannabis is legal in many forms. Everything from cookies to oils and yes, even dog biscuits. The method you choose depends on what works best for you and your dog. Let’s go over some of the methods used.
Edibles are essentially cannabis baked into some type of food you can consume, typically candy-like items. Edibles come in all forms and the cannabis is typically extracted into an ingredient such as butter, then the butter is used when making the edible. When trying an edible, it’s important to purchase one that is safe for your dog. Most edibles are made for human consumption and may contain foods that are not safe for dogs, such as chocolate the sweetener xylitol, which you might overlook. Check the ingredients before giving your dog any portion of an edible.
Oil can be an effective method of dosing your dog. It allows you to measure precisely and administer it easily. Some owners will take their dog’s favorite treat, put a little bit of cannabis oil on it and then give it to the dog. Others prefer to take a small syringe and squirt the dose directly into the dog’s mouth.
Tinctures are liquid extractions of cannabis. Typically, the liquid is vegetable glycerin, hemp oil or some other type of oil. The cannabis is extracted into this oil and then flavorings and possibly other ingredients (such as vitamins) are added to the tincture. Tinctures can be very easy to dose and give your dog. Like oil, owners will add a small amount of the tincture to the dog’s favorite treat or use a syringe to squirt the dose directly into the dog’s mouth.
Topicals may be the appropriate choice for some conditions. This is the one option that is available for dogs that doesn’t involve eating. It has been reported that dogs who suffer from skin allergies, when given a small amount of cannabis salve rubbed over the sensitive skin, would stop the scratching for 4 to 8 hours. Topicals are typically used for skin problems and are not as effective as ingesting cannabis when treating other conditions, such as pain, although, using a topical on a sensitive joint may help relieve some pain. Because they are applied to the skin, the side effects are much less than ingesting cannabis internally. If using a topical you do want to prevent your dog from licking the area where it has been applied. While many topicals made contain natural ingredients, some may contain ingredients that shouldn’t be ingested internally.
When you walk into a marijuana dispensary you will see many products with acronyms like THC, CBD, THCa, CBN, CBG, etc. but what do these acronyms mean? They represent the various types of cannabinoids found in cannabis. While it can be a bit daunting to understand what each one does, let’s touch on three of them that are most common. It should be noted that full plant cannabis (meaning it contains all elements of the plant, not one element such as CBD only) has over 100 cannabinoids, not just THC or CBD.  The ratio of these cannabinoids will vary on the strain (i.e. type) of cannabis.
THC Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC is the most common cannabinoid and is responsible for the “high” that a user feels when ingesting it. It is also an antioxidant and relieves pain, spasms, nausea and more. 
CBD Cannabidiol or CBD is gaining popularity because, unlike THC, it is not psychoactive. In other words, the user does not get “high” from CBD. CBD offers benefits such as relief from pain, inflammation, or anxiety and reduces spasms, inhibits cancerous cell growth, stops seizures and more. 
THCa Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid or THCa is the precursor to THC. When you heat THCa, it converts into THC. THCa is mentioned here because it has significant anti-inflammatory properties and neuroprotective effects but, as long as it is not heated, is non-psychoactive.  THCa can be more difficult to obtain but it is found in states where medical marijuana is available.
What Should I use?
It can depend upon what you are attempting to treat. If you are looking to treat a condition that is caused by inflammation, then THCa may be a good choice. If THCa is not available or you are looking to treat other conditions, I recommend using a mix of THC and CBD. If possible, use a product that has a 1:1 ratio of THC to CBD (1 to 1 ratio means for every 1mg of THC there is also 1mg of CBD). Having a 1:1 ratio will get you a good amount of both cannabinoids. If you’re really limited in your options, using something that has mostly THC is just fine. Finding the best ratio takes trial and error.
(Using CBD with THC can help reduce the “high” that THC causes, which is a plus when giving cannabis to a dog. )
If possible, experiment with different ratios and different strains of cannabis. This can be the most effective way to find what works best for your dog.
I should add that I am confident in my abilities and experience with cannabis to give it to my dog. I have been using cannabis medically for over five years now and have done a lot of research on the topic.
Someone with less experience or confidence should be sure to read the following information closely.
Finding the Correct Dosage
Dosing a dog can be the trickiest part of giving a dog cannabis. Depending upon your chosen delivery method and how you obtain your cannabis, this can be very difficult to gauge and it will take trial and error before finding the appropriate dose.
Some states, such as Colorado, have certain requirements on their products you purchase and you’re able to know how many cannabinoids are within the product. Other states lack these requirements, so the dosage is more of a guess.
When you start to dose your dog, start with the smallest dose possible and then work your way up. As a guide, start with .5 to 1mg. You want to use the dose that has the most benefit for your dog with the least amount of “side effects” for your dog. While many humans enjoy “getting high”, it can be an unpleasant experience for your dog and our purpose is to help the dog, not get the dog stoned.
An important thing to remember is when you give your dog a dose, it may take two hours before any effects are felt by the dog and these effects can last for several hours. If you believe that dog is not receiving any benefits from the cannabis, increase the dosage slightly but only after two hours has passed or wait until the next day to try a slightly higher dose.
If you see the dog start displaying unusual behavior, this may be signs of an overdose.
When an Overdose Happens
Too much cannabis can be unpleasant experience for both humans and dogs. Symptoms of overdose are just what you may expect. The dog will look a little spacey and may get a bit wobbly. Or dogs can develop a syndrome called static ataxia which basically means that when the dog standing still, it can start to tip over but catch itself before it falls down. In other words, the dog’s equilibrium is off.
Of course, we do not want to see a dog in this condition. This is why it is recommended to start off with the smallest possible dose and work your way up. With this said, it is very possible that you will overdose your dog when trying to find the right dose.
If your dog appears to be overdosed, should you go to an emergency clinic? Use your best judgment on this. If the dog is a bit wobbly and a little spacey, then just monitor your dog and the dog should be okay. If the dog is having trouble standing up or is not eating or drinking, then it may be time to take your dog to the vet.
Toxicity of Cannabis
Due to the legal status of cannabis there have not been many studies on the effects of cannabis on dogs. Much more research is needed on all the topics I’ve covered above. With that said, there are a few studies we can reference. In 1972 a scientist writing for the journal Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology noted that “In dogs and monkeys, single oral doses of Δ9-THC and Δ8-THC between 3000 and 9000 mg/kg were nonlethal.” To give you an idea of how much THC that is, consider that the normal adult human dose is 10mg. The average edible contains 50mg to 300mg for the entire product (some states limit THC in edibles to 100mg or less). In other words, the scientist gave the dog a dose 300 times stronger than what a human would use or the total of 10 of the strongest edibles found in many legal cannabis markets. Nevertheless, even at that level, the dose was not lethal.
In 2012 a study was published in the Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care followed 125 dogs in Colorado that ingested marijuana from 2005 to 2010. The authors wrote that, “Ingestion of baked goods made with medical grade tetrahydrocannabinol butter resulted in 2 deaths.  As it turns out, a Schipperke and a Cocker Spaniel died after consuming a large quantity of cannabis edibles. One dog had eaten an entire pound of THC-laced brownies. The other had eaten one pound of THC-infused butter. Any dog ingesting that much of either would become sick, regardless of whether the brownies or butter contained cannabis or not. Sadly, these dogs did not die from cannabis toxicity; they asphyxiated on their own vomit when they threw up after consuming the edibles. 
It should be noted that in the above cases, the dogs consumed the edibles without the owner’s knowledge. Both deaths could have been prevented if the edibles had been properly stored. And that fact brings up a very important point: if you have cannabis products at home, be sure to keep them out of reach of your pets (and children and any unsuspecting adult).
In another case, a Chihuahua in New Zealand experienced hypothermia due to the blood vessels dilating (cannabis can dilate blood vessels, which is why you get red eyes when you use cannabis) and radiating its body heat away from the dog.  This isn’t as much of an issue in larger dogs but can be an issue in tiny dogs like a Chihuahua. It should be noted that the Chihuahua recovered without any issues.
While cannabis itself is very safe, the side effects from the edibles can potentially be dangerous to your dog. The bottom line is when giving cannabis to your dog, always monitor the effects afterward. Never leave a dog alone after giving it cannabis.
It is also very important to point something out, if you are unsure if your dog has gotten into your cannabis stash or gotten into something else and is acting weirdly, take your dog to the vet! Cannabis overdose can mimic antifreeze poisoning, which can be deadly to dogs. It’s better to be safe than sorry when you are unsure.
I Cannot Access Cannabis; What Should I Do?
If you live in an area that does not have safe and legal access to cannabis medication, there is still hope. There are products available that are CBD-only products. These products are made from hemp, which is legal anywhere in the world. While I believe using the whole-plant medicine is better than CBD alone, CBD-only products can have beneficial effects. Various hemp oil products are available on the market today, but the key when buying these products is to do research on them. Many of these products are grown from industrial hemp, which, if not tested, may contain heavy metals and other toxins.  In addition, there are differences between hemp oil and CBD oil.  Be sure you’re purchasing a product that does contain CBD.
A good way to find reliable products is to find user reviews and read them carefully. Was the product lab tested? A good example is “Treatibles,” CBD-infused dog treats. These treats are made using medical grade hemp, not industrial hemp, they are lab tested to ensure no contaminants and they have received favorable user reviews.  (Please note that I have no experience with Treatibles and I am not making a recommendation.)
Is Cannabis Right for Your Dog?
This decision is ultimately up to you. While I have provided an overview this is something that you have to decide. Do remember that obtaining cannabis illegally has severe consequences in many locations, so use it only if you have safe, legal access to it. Otherwise, I would use a CBD-only product.
Let me share with you my story that involves my dog, a Havanese named Sundance. When he was neutered, his vet gave me several syringes of medication for pain relief, saying that it was the equivalent of ibuprofen for dogs. I didn’t think much of it until later that night. As I observed Sundance resting, it appeared he was barely breathing. Definitely not his normal breathing pattern! The next day, after his breathing had returned to normal, I was reluctant to give him this medicine again, but I could see some signs of discomfort. As a cannabis patient myself, I had a tincture of THCa on hand. I gave him a small dose and within an hour he was his normal self again, with no ill effects. Then a few months later he injured his leg when he slipped in snow. Again, I gave him THCa and eased his discomfort. My story illustrates how a little bit of cannabis helped ease his discomfort without the side effects of other medications.
What about a dog that is very sick? I spoke with a dog owner named Barry, whose 9-year-old lab had been diagnosed with cancer. Due to the cost of the cancer medication, the side effects and the dog’s age, Barry decided to give the dog cannabis to ease the dog’s discomfort before having to say goodbye to his beloved dog. Barry started giving the dog a small dose of cannabis oil each morning and evening. Remarkably, the dog started to improve markedly within a couple days of starting the oil. Barry continued to give the oil to the dog and several months later took the dog in for a checkup. The vet examined the dog and to his amazement, found no signs of cancer. While cannabis will certainly not always cure cancer, there is no doubt in my mind that cannabis can help improve many dogs’ quality of life.
Talk with Your Vet
I would recommend talking with your vet about cannabis medication. Depending upon where you live the vet may be reluctant to talk about cannabis. Also, there may be laws and/or professional ethic requirements that limit their ability to talk about using cannabis medications due to the legal status of cannabis.
If your vet is willing to talk about cannabis medications it’s very likely that your vet will tell you that they do not know very much, if anything, on cannabis medicine and dogs. But, by asking them, you get the conversation started. As more people ask about cannabis medication for their dog, more vets will start to become educated on the topic which will benefit everyone.
Again, I want to remind you. When you are treating your pet with cannabis, always use the lowest dose that is effect and to start slow and small. This is for the benefit of you and your dog. Always monitor your dog after you have given them any cannabis. If you are concerned that your dog has ingested too much cannabis, then take your dog to the vet.
Share Your Experience
If you have tried cannabis for your dog, or know someone who has, then please leave a comment below about your experience. By sharing your experience, we can improve our knowledge on how cannabis affects dogs.
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