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(Image: The Spinoff)
(Image: The Spinoff)

SocietyAugust 30, 2020

‘Can my dog get high?’ and other questions about cannabis pet products

(Image: The Spinoff)
(Image: The Spinoff)

People aren’t the only ones who can partake in pot. Mirjam Guesgen delves into the world of weed for pets. 

What’s a weed pet product?

Medicines, supplements and foods for pets (mostly dogs and cats) made from parts of the cannabis plant.

What do they look like?

There’s a veritable bounty of weed products for pets including weed doggy biscuits, edible oils, pills and lotions.

Who sells them?

They can be found at pet stores in the US and Canada ranging from bougie to run-of-the-mill. They are also sold directly to fur-baby parents online. Heck, even Martha Stewart is jumping on the pet pot bandwagon. One New Zealand company has signalled it’s launching a range of pet cannabis products.

And people buy them?

Sure do. Between 2018 and 2019 pet products made up $14.6 million in sales for regulated cannabis retailers in the US.

What do they do?

The medicines and supplements claim to be able to relieve a pet’s anxiety, soothe itchy skin, ease their pain, control seizures and treat cancer.

And no, they aren’t for getting Fido or Fluffy high (save that for the catnip).

When it comes to food, hemp seed and seed oil is pretty similar to flaxseed. They’re a protein and omega-3 and 6 boost.

How do the supplements work?

Three letters: CBD*. It’s one of the two main components of cannabis, the other being THC.

CBD is the non-mind/mood altering one as opposed to THC, which is psychoactive (changes how the brain works and therefore changes mood and behaviour).

Both compounds act on a bunch of chemical receptors in the brain and rest of the body called the endocannabinoid system (other animals have these too). Researchers think these are responsible for the inflammation dampening, pain relief effects but they’re not yet clear exactly how.

*If you want the full names they’re cannabidiol and delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol.

In May, Helius Group announced New Zealand’s first medicinal cannabis pets’ product range, Helius Animal Health, but so far no products are available to buy. (Photo: supplied)

Do they work though?

It’s hard to say. Although there’s a tonne of scientific studies looking at cannabis’ use in people for anything from schizophrenia to chronic pain, there’s less than a handful of studies on pets.

One study suggested that CBD oil can reduce chronic pain in dogs with osteoarthritis. But the difference between CBD and placebo (a drug with no benefit whatsoever) was small. Another showed that epileptic dogs who were given CBD oil had on average a third fewer seizures than a different group of dogs on a placebo.

There are other studies out there that aren’t really scientifically sound. Mostly because they don’t include a placebo or they’re run by cannabis companies or some other scientific dodginess.

It’s also tricky to say that what works in people, rats or mice would also work in pets because of their different biology.

Are they safe?

The American Veterinary Medical Association have their concerns. Mostly because there’s not much information out there and cannabis might interact with other drugs Fluffy or Fido might be taking.

The get-you-high stuff (THC) can be dangerous for pets. Not because it’s poisonous but because wobbly stoned pets could fall down stairs or throw up and then choke on their own vomit. Not fun.

Is any of this stuff legal in Aotearoa?

Nope. Even foods like hemp seed or oil can’t be sold as pet products.

That’s because there are different laws around cannabis for people and animals. Just because we can get hemp seeds chucked into our smoothies or be prescribed medicinal cannabis doesn’t mean your pet can.

Can vets prescribe cannabis products for pets?

Yes. But they have to make a case to the government to import them. Those drugs can then only be used for pets under that vet’s direct care and the products can’t be advertised for sale.

How often does that happen?

So far never.

And what if cannabis becomes legal for people?

Based on the current bill, probably not much will change for pets.

Any cannabis medicines for pets would first need to be approved by the government. That’s the case for any animal medicine whether it’s made from cannabis or in a lab. To be approved a company would need to show that the product is safe and effective for its intended user (ie dogs or cats).

When it comes to pet supplements or foods like hemp seeds for pets it’s hard to know. That depends on regulations specific to animals so the government would need to look at those alongside the human ones.

Keep going!