Posted Apr 22, 2019, 1:35 pm
My family and I were on vacation in Florida recently and took
advantage of a free afternoon to do some gift shopping for local
memorabilia â€“ not your ordinary T-shirts and key chains. Our adventure
took us to St. Armandâ€™s Key, part of Sarasota, and the many unique shops
While meandering between shops around the outdoor circle, my
daughter, 14, was often quick to ask the locals, â€śCan I pet your dog?â€ť
She was missing her dog, Belle, who was being boarded back home and
thought it would be a good idea to get her something too.
In our efforts to find Belle a gift, we stumbled upon the most unlikely of shops â€“ a store that proudly advertised CBD (cannabidiol)
for you and your pets. CBD is a chemical derived from the cannabis
plant, but it does not contain THC, the chemical in pot that makes
people high. Nonetheless, CBD appears to be the molecule of the moment
after the Food and Drug Administration approved a drug in June 2018 that contains a CBD derivative to treat some forms of epilepsy.
Now, in all honesty, I was quite hesitant to make my way in, but
there were quite a few dogs and their owners entering and exiting with
various products â€“ not all appearing to be CBD-related. So, I looked at
my wife and said, â€śWhy not?â€ť
As a board-certified toxicologist
at a major veterinary diagnostic laboratory, I have had experience
working with a broad spectrum of poisoning incidents in all types of
animals, including our companions. Recently, our lab has seen an
increase in the number of positive tests for marijuana in dogs, many of
whom may have accidentally ingested edible forms of marijuana. The
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has reported a
more than 700 percent increase in calls related to marijuana to its poison center in 2019.
As a dad and as a toxicologist, I welcomed the idea of answering my
daughterâ€™s questions about CBD and other chemicals in marijuana that are
making their way to our pets. But, of course, I had to start with
providing her with some context.
Several items caught my daughterâ€™s attention and, of course, she
chuckled with amusement. In that moment, though, she began to ask some
great questions: â€śWhat is CBD and hemp, and why would people give it to
I first reminded her of the most recent election. In 2018, we saw the
number of states that legalized marijuana for medical and recreational
use expand to 33,
including our home state, Michigan. Because of this legalization, there
was also a marked expansion in the quantity and types of
marijuana-related products available to people and pets, including hemp
and CBD oils and pet treats.
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So, what is the difference and significance of these products? Marijuana â€“ also known as Cannabis sativa
â€“ is comprised of somewhere between 66 and 113 different cannabinoid
compounds. Of these, recreational use of marijuana is sought after for
the psychotropic â€śhighâ€ť produced by delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol,
or THC. Humans either smoke marijuana or convert it into butters or
oils for baked products â€“ most notable of these are the often joked
about â€śbrowniesâ€ť â€“ or other edibles such as candy, or they may use the
These edible formulations are more problematic for our household
companion animals as these are more likely to contain higher
concentrations of THC. And, they often include other ingredients that
may independently cause harm to your pet such as chocolate, sugar and xylitol, a sugar substitute.
We have received cases at the veterinary diagnostic laboratory in
which animals have been either inadvertently or intentionally exposed to
THC is known to be toxic to dogs. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, common signs of marijuana toxicosis
that owners may notice include inactivity; incoordination; dilated
pupils; increased sensitivity to motion, sound or touch;
hypersalivation; and urinary incontinence. A veterinary exam can reveal
depression of the central nervous system and an abnormally slow heart
rate. Less common signs include restlessness, aggression, slow
breathing, low blood pressure, an abnormally fast heart rate, and rapid,
involuntary eye movements. In rare cases, animals can have seizures or
Hemp differs from
marijuana in that it has a significantly lower THC content with
predominantly more CBD. In a sense, this lessens the chances that an
individual or pet will experience the negative side effects of THC, as
CBD doesnâ€™t exert the same psychoactive potential. However, there are no
regulations on the chemical makeup of hemp products and therefore no
way of really knowing, apart from relying on manufacturersâ€™ labels for
batch-to-batch variability in THC content. Additionally, very little is
known regarding the long-term health effects of chronic exposure to
these products, or about their use in conjunction with other
Last, many CBD oils have claims of even higher purity than hemp.
Similarly, though, these products are not regulated and therefore may
still exhibit variability in chemical makeup. Additionally, many of the
claims about cannabinoidsâ€™ effectiveness are anecdotal and have not yet
been scientifically proven. This means that doctors of humans and
animals remain somewhat skeptical about the potential benefits to their
So, why do people give these products to their pets?
For marijuana itself, my answer to my daughter was blunt. It is
simply ignorance, or an abusive behavior that spawns from negligence.
There are no good reasons to give your pet a â€śhighâ€ť regardless of
whether the product is legal for human medical or recreational purposes.
Pets are not people. Many prescription and over the counter drugs as
well as foods that are safe for humans are not safe for pets. For
example, alcohol is also toxic to pets and while some owners may think
itâ€™s funny to let their pets drink their beer or liquor, it can in fact
be quite dangerous for the animal.
As for hemp and CBD oils â€“ as a toxicologist, I am skeptical at best.
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It is difficult to watch our pets suffer through anxiety or pain from
ailments such as cancer. However, although these products have been
touted for their therapeutic potential, none of them have gone through
the rigor of an FDA approval. Anecdotal findings and limited case studies in humans do not constitute the wealth of information that is needed to establish these products as â€śsafeâ€ť for our pets.
For people, there is an inclination to deem products that originate
from plants as being â€śnatural,â€ť and thus rather arbitrarily â€śsafe.â€ť
This, too, can be harmful. Simply put, â€śnaturalâ€ť does not always equal
There is something to be said about the doctor-patient relationship
in treating the whole patient â€“ this goes for pets and their
veterinarians as well. When we choose to use supplements, this needs to
be disclosed to a licensed professional so as to allow for conversations
about risks and continued health monitoring. It is not wise to bypass
our trained professionals for the ill-trained Dr. Google.
As I continue to see more of these products show up in veterinary
diagnostic samples, our interpretations will continually be guided by
future scientific studies and case-based outcomes. Hopefully, a fuller
understanding of these products and their associated benefits and risks
will be had.
As for Belle â€“ we purchased her a brightly colored new collar.
John P. Buchweitz is the Toxicology and Nutrition Section Chief at Michigan State University
This story originally appeared on The Conversation.