Is THC Safe For Our Pets?
In a word, yes. THC is being used therapeutically at an exponential rate for good reason. With a long list of effective healing properties, it comes as no surprise this is attracting more and more attention as research is released. As with any powerful treatment, we must approach THC with a well-rounded mindset understanding how it works and what to expect.
WHAT IS THC?
Scientists have discovered over 114 unique components called cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. The two most prevalent cannabinoids are CBD and THC.
CBD gets more attention than THC because the healing properties of CBD have no psychoactive component. In other words, CBD doesn’t impair the mind. As far as THC goes, conversations haven’t been reviewed with as much enthusiasm despite numerous studies showing safety and efficacy in treating cancer and other chronic conditions. The public is still incredibly wary because of the ‘high’ associated with THC.
THC IN HEMP
According to current federal regulations, hemp extract must contain less than .3% THC. Your dog would literally get a stomach ache before even putting a dent in the psychoactive effect of cannabidiol (CBD oil).
THC IN MARIJUANA
There are some cases where dogs and cats may benefit from higher levels of THC. Keep in mind, products containing more than .3% THC are classified as marijuana. According to Dr. Trina Hazzah, with graduated THC increase over time, our pets are able to successfully manage the psychoactive effects.
BENEFITS OF THC
The benefits of THC can not be overstated. THC is an essential part of the plant with its own unique healing properties and a strong synergistic relationship to the other cannabinoids.
The entourage effect describes the complex balance of all the different elements of the cannabis plant. They all work together to amplify each other’s effects and create a multi-target therapy capable of healing many different ailments at once.
- Analgesic (pain management) Anti-cancer
- Anti-nausea Sedative
- Neuroprotective Reduction of intraocular pressure
- Bronchodilator Promote sleep
- Gastrointestinal support Appetite stimulant
THC toxicity is a term that’s always up in the air. When searching ‘Cannabis for Pets’ on Google, it’s one of the first things that come up in the search results. Reports of pets getting into their pet parent’s ‘stash’ often prompt headlines that claim there was a THC overdose and make it look as if there is no possibility for therapeutic use. It’s important to note that accidental dosing isn’t the same as therapeutic use.
IS THC ACTUALLY TOXIC?
The word toxicity conjures fears of poisonous chemicals, contaminants, and dangerous side effects. To most people, toxicity means, ‘may cause death’, when in reality, the effects of THC in our pets are overwhelmingly beneficial and safe despite the ‘intoxicating’ effects.
There is clinical research that provides evidence as to the safety of cannabis and THC, even at extremely high doses. One of the clearest examples proving THC’s relative safety in comparison to other common medications is from a study from The Mason Research Institute.
In this clinical study, scientists were determined to find the lethal dose of THC in rats, dogs, and chimpanzees. They experimented using 3000 mg/kg, up to 9000 mg per single dose. This sounds like a lot of THC because it is an incredibly high dose that would never even be utilized therapeutically. The only way to get that much THC into the animals was through concentrated IV injections.
Not only is this a cruel experiment, it’s also completely out of proportion with what we, or our pets, would actually consume. Even accidental dosing isn’t this high.
To put this into context, one dose of our Heal tincture contains approximately 0.9 mg of THC. That means they were experimenting with a dosage 10,000 times higher than what we recommend for our more serious cases. Can you imagine what would happen if you took 10,000 times the recommended dose of your medications? It would be miraculous if there were no adverse effects, nevermind a chance for survival. You would overdose immediately.
Despite those unfavorable odds, this study reported no instances of death in their canine test subjects even at those astronomical doses, proving that THC is incredibly safe, despite the concern with the psychoactive effects of the compound.
TOO MUCH THC?
Of course, there’s a dosage that would be considered to be ‘too much.’ The dosages applied in that experiment are significantly over the recommended therapeutic dose for any condition. More is not necessarily better.
As with any medication our goal is to find the right dose, not the highest dose possible. Dogs have more receptors for cannabinoids than humans, which means they are hyper-sensitive to all its effects, including the psychoactive ones. This can be extremely uncomfortable and even traumatic for a dog if implemented incorrectly.
Dogs also show different responses to THC than humans do.
Some of the visible effects of high doses of THC in dogs include:
- Urinary incontinence
- Cooler body temperature
- Excessive salivation
- Changes in heart rate
And most commonly …
- Static Ataxia.
Static ataxia is a term used to describe the physical state dogs get into when they have a lot of THC. Regardless of how serious it sounds, static ataxia is not particularly dangerous.
Unlike humans, dogs who ingest THC can show a dramatic loss of coordination, balance, and motor function. They tend to stagger as they walk, sway while standing, keep a wide gate, and a rigid stance.
We don’t generally see these kinds of effects with animals who are treated with a hemp extract except at super-high doses. But, this effect has occurred in the past with very old dogs the first time they received a dose.
Dogs that are treated with a product containing more THC may be more prone to static ataxia and other side effects, but usually, those effects are dampened over time and can be avoided by starting on a low dose and increasing the amount gradually.
VETERINARIANS AND THC
Most conventional veterinary colleges teach very little about whole plant medicine, nevermind cannabis and the endocannabinoid system. Due to the lack of education regarding cannabis, as well as the strict laws regarding a veterinarian’s ability to advise on cannabis, many vets refuse to even discuss it as an option for their patients.
LACK OF INFORMATION
Typically, veterinarians will say that they don’t have enough information from clinical trials to discuss or recommend, but that is changing quickly. Since 2018, there have been significant advances in clinical research by reputable scientific institutions around the world. There is still a long way to go before the veterinary space begins introducing cannabis as medicine, but these studies show evidence that has accumulated for decades. It’s like we were putting a puzzle together all this time, but we are just now actually seeing what the picture looks like.
Here’s a great double-blind, peer-reviewed study from February 2020 that looks at the effects of products containing different ratios of CBD to THC on dogs.
Due to the abundant amount of evidence as well as pressure from the public, veterinarians are growing more open-minded and comfortable with cannabis as an alternative therapy.
At present, veterinarians who know a good deal about cannabis medicine have actively gone out and learned in their own private time. In the future, training in cannabis medicine will become a necessary part of their training.
WHY ARE VETERINARIANS SCARED?
When we raised our concerns over the safety of cannabis and THC to Dr. Gary Richter MS, DVM, CVA, CVC, a leading voice in cannabis medicine for pets, his response mirrored our experience.
“Life-threatening risks for dogs from medical cannabis are exceedingly rare,” Richter says. “Toxicity more often occurs when a pet has eaten a product that contains chocolate, coffee, or raisins. Even if the THC toxicity is not excessive, they can sometimes have problems due to these other ingredients.”
When veterinarians’ main experience with cannabis is dogs who have been unintentionally exposed to cannabis and consumed human doses of THC along with other truly harmful substances, it is no surprise they are hesitant to recommend it as treatment.
VETS WHO EMBRACE THC, CBD, AND CANNABIS AS A WHOLE?
Dr. Trina Hazzah, DVM, DACVIM, CVCH. has been immersing herself in cannabis medicine for years now. Dr. Hazzah has been practicing with Chinese herbal medicine and cannabis medicine while working as an oncologist at Los Angeles VCA Animal Hospital.
She is a huge advocate for a healthy diet and the use of cannabis as an alternative to damaging cancer treatments.
“I always say to people, what’s the worst that can happen — they stare at the wall for a while if they get too much?” says Dr. Hazzah. “But, what’s the worst that my chemo can do? Much worse than that. And you can use cannabis to help balance the side effects of chemotherapy and other western treatment.”
Again, to clarify, CBD Dog Health does not sell any products which contain enough THC to cause a high in animals. This doctor is working with cases where she is treating patients with up to 100 mg of THC in a dose and doing it completely safe.
TIPS TO KEEP IN MIND
- Ensure you are using a high-quality product.
- When dosing with higher levels of THC, start low, and slowly increase the dose.
- Monitor your pet closely and keep a journal to record the effects.
- Consult with an expert or veterinarian.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Cannabis is complicated; we are still in the beginning stages discovering everything it does and how it works. As research continues, we should begin to see additional revelations be unlocked. For now, we know and understand the safety and efficacy of cannabis.
For most conditions, the .3% THC found in a full-spectrum extract, like the one we use at CBD Dog Health, is all a dog or cat needs. It’s not enough THC to cause any psychoactive side effects and is perfectly safe.
It’s possible for pets to be exposed to too much THC. Usually, this happens accidentally when pets get into something they shouldn’t have. This is risky for older pets who may react badly to the intense stress caused by the psychoactive effects of THC. That’s why it’s important to dose therapeutically, ‘low and slow.’
If you suspect your pet may benefit from higher levels of THC and you live in one of the states where marijuana products are currently legal, that is a great option. You can work with a medical cannabis professional to design a safe and effective dosing regimen that will heal your pet naturally.
About Angela Ardolino
Angela Ardolino is a holistic pet expert who has been caring for animals for over 20 years. Angela owns and operates Fire Flake Farm, her animal rescue farm, as well as two locations of a natural pet salon and shop, Beautify the Beast. She’s also the founder of CBD Dog Health, which offers high quality, all-natural cannabis health and wellness products. As well as the founder of MycoDog, a sustainable mushroom tincture line designed for dogs.
To see Angela on her rescue farm today, surrounded by animals, is to truly see her in her element. Looking at this furry, joyful family you would never suspect that Angela and her pets were once full of aches, pains and anxiety. Angela is the mother to Odie (15-year-old mini-schnauzer), Nina (10-year-old Doberman), Jolene (9-year-old mutt), Maza (9-year-old mutt), Rhemi (10-year-old poodle), multiple ducks, roosters, chickens and geese, plus pigs Ellie and Penelope, Brenda the one-legged pigeon, and the many dogs that she fosters from time-to-time at Fire Flake Farm.