Cannabis For Canines: A Look Inside the Budding Industry

By Keri Blakinger 12/21/16

It’s not just people who are on board with the green revolution—sometimes it’s their pets, too. 

A woman petting her dog.

As medical marijuana has gained popularity and cleared legal hurdles across the country, some animal lovers have turned to the plant to help their four-legged friends. 

Maria Ellis Perez, 55, told the New York Times how cannabis chews saved her domesticated pet skunk, Ricochet. “We thought it was her time,” Perez said. But then, after just a few days of using hemp products, the ailing animal’s whole demeanor changed. “She was turning her head and looking up with the good eye. She showed up for breakfast,” Perez said.

Although the FDA hasn’t approved it for pet use and veterinarians can’t prescribe medical marijuana, there are a growing number of companies offering cannabis products geared toward animals.

Denver-based Mary’s Medicinals markets a gel pen that dispenses a cannabis chemical for dogs, while California-based Treatibles sells cannabis chews and San Francisco’s Treatwell offers cannabis tinctures. 

It may seem edgy and possibly illegal, but there’s a key distinction between pet products and their human-geared counterparts. Pet owners aren’t just plucking pot off the plant and handing it over to Fido. They’re finding specific products containing the right cannabis compounds. 

Pot plants contain a number of cannabinoids, but the most commonly known one, THC, is psychoactive in humans but toxic to animals. But CBD (cannabidiol) still has some of weed’s benefits but is safe for pets. 

That’s why some pet products use industrial hemp, which contains CBD but has very low THC levels. And, while marijuana is a Schedule I drug, hemp with less than 0.3% THC is okay to move across state lines. 

Even so, some companies have run into problems with the legalities of marketing cannabis for pets. 

Seattle-based Canna Companion and Canna-Pet both got dinged by the FDA for advertising in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act—but they didn’t get shut down. They just had to rephrase their advertising to make clear that their products are supplements and not pharmaceuticals. 

“It’s not an unusual thing for the supplement industry where the marketer is making claims that might be going too far,” Soren Mogelsvang, CEO of the pharmaceutical company with a licensing agreement to sell Canna-Pet, told Quartz. “We’re all a little guilty of that and were reprimanded by the FDA. We responded to the guidelines and adjusted our marketing materials accordingly.”

Despite the flood of success stories recounted everywhere from the New York Times to Health magazine, some veterinarians are still wary. “We do not have peer-reviewed scientific data to substantiate the use of medical marijuana in dogs at this time,” retired Florida veterinarian Don Morgan told the Tampa Bay Times. “There's just not enough evidence to show anything."

Some professionals are looking to learn more about the products’ possibilities. "We'd like to see more research done to see what the actual benefits are, how they would proceed, what the dosage would be, that it's safe and beneficial," the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Michael San Filippo told the Florida paper. 

"We've certainly seen a lot of evidence that it works, but without the science, we just don't know."

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.