Humans aren’t the only species with an endocannabinoid system—the means by which the phytochemicals of weed interact with the body. In fact, all animals—even fish and invertebrates—have one. That means all animals can benefit from the effects of cannabis on the body, including our pets. Yes, though we are still exploring how this complex system works in humans, people have started using cannabis on their mammalian besties (particularly dogs and cats) to their benefit, and maybe you should too.
If you think this sounds wild, I’d point out that cannabis is now available in most pet stores, usually in the form of CBD, and for good reasons that we will get into. Cannabinoid therapy can help pets with arthritis, anxiety, cancer, and complications of plain old aging, just as anecdotal (and even some scientific) evidence tells us it can in humans. This range of ailments covers a lot of ground, explaining its newfound popularity as a pet supplement.
While cannabis is a generally safe substance for people, some cannabinoids carry risks of acute intoxication for pets, especially smaller ones, meaning it’s important to approach giving it to them with care and caution—so before you jump in, arm yourself with some basic knowledge.
Why are we giving pets weed anyway?
Around the time CBD entered the public discourse—say, somewhere around 2015—people began to experiment with the stuff to see how their pets reacted, and products started to trickle out. After a 2018 study focusing on dogs with arthritis opened the floodgates, the idea of giving cannabis to pets seemed to suddenly spread everywhere.
Veterinarian and VetCBD founder Dr.Tim Shu talked with Lifehacker over email, providing some insights into the practice, and some basic guidelines to follow when using this type of product on cats and dogs—but fear not, horse girls (and guys), as many other animals are currently being treated with cannabinoids too.
And said treatments is proving crucial for many pets (and pet owners), Dr. Shu says: “If cannabinoids like CBD can provide benefits to animals, we as healthcare professionals have a moral and ethical obligation to explore that potential, understand it, advise on it, and clear the hurdles impeding access to it so we can improve the lives of animals.”
Relief is an option
Some dogs and cats get a lil’ squirt of CBD tincture with their meals to help support a general sense of wellness, while others get bigger doses to treat acute or chronic pain. Still more people keep CBD treats around to give relief to pets dealing with stressful situations like travel, fireworks, vet visits, or house guests.
“Every day we have customers tell us about the impact our products have made in their pets’ lives, and subsequently their lives,” Dr. Shu says.
“It’s not uncommon that pet owners will tell us they were out of options, but CBD was able to dramatically improve their pet’s situation. Cannabinoid therapeutics should, and eventually will be, a part of every veterinarian’s medical toolkit.”
If you think your pet could benefit from the pain or stress relief cannabinoids can provide, start by administering a 1-2mg dose of CBD to see how your they react. You may find that a low dose has a barely noticeable effect, which is much closer to what you want than the mild sedation that 5-10mg can give to pets under 40 pounds. Big breeds will need a lot larger of a dose, and many products have a weight chart (like this one) to help guide you to the correct amount.
Important things to consider
We humans use the terms for weed pretty interchangeably, and all cannabis products are technically cannabinoid based treatments—but when it comes to pets, CBD is the cannabinoid you want to focus on. Miniscule amounts of THC present in full spectrum products, including hemp, are usually NBD, but when you can count the THC in milligrams per dose, it’s not suitable for pets.
Proper labeling and lab testing is key here—no matter what the source cannabis’ classification; all cultivars produce THC, but it’s the amount that matters. Often products marketed for pets will have the THC actively removed, but that’s not necessary if the content is very low to start with. In fact, full spectrum (and even THC containing) products are often touted as the better choice over CBD isolate formulas because they are thought to be more effective.
A lab tested product will tell you the precise amount of cannabinoids per bottle (or treat box) and how to dispense to give your pet the proper dose. This certainty will help you avoid mishaps, though both Dr.Shu and this writer must stress that if you do suspect that your pet has consumed THC and is intoxicated, you definitely want to seek veterinary care, as they might need a little help to get through it.
Owing to the severe lag in research into cannabinoids (for pets and humans alike), you probably have more questions. As a leader in the movement to educate vets on the benefits of CBD treatments for animals, Dr. Shu’s company was fielding so many inquiries, and receiving so much feedback, that they decided to give consumers one more tool to accessing information—a pet CBD hotline.
“We believe that pet owners should have access to the most up-to-date information on cannabinoid therapeutics and how these products can benefit their pets, which is how the hotline came about,” he tells Lifehacker.
You can the hotline even if you haven’t bought anything, and just need to ask about whatever you need to know to make you feel comfortable giving CBD to your pet (or not). Given that many vets aren’t exactly cannabis proficient quite yet, it’s a helpful resource.
“Veterinarians aren’t speaking to [poet owners] about this as they’re restricted by the law, so they’re left to do their own research,” Dr. Shu says.
As with weed and humans, there’s undoubtedly a stigma against the idea that cannabis can help our pets. It’s no secret we cherish our furry friends, and those do use CBD to treat them aren’t trying to get Fido high—they’re trying to give them relief without over-sedating them or triggering other side effects. If you have a senior cat or a really anxious dog, the benefits may lead you to incorporate it into their longterm care, leading them to live a more comfortable life—which should be the goal of any pet owner.
Many people have found significant enough benefits that they give cannabis to their pets as a daily supplement, and I’m one of them. When you stick to CBD, it’s also low-risk, provided you procure your treats and tinctures from a trusted source. Once you get the lay of the land, figuring out when and how much to give your pet will become second nature. Even if you don’t go for the ouid yourself, consider trying it for a pet in need.