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Cannabis oil for pets: what you should know

Cannabis oil for pets: what you should know

Cannabis oil for pets is becoming increasingly popular as treatment for a host of ailments, including arthritis and anxiety. However, because there are very limited studies on pets and no regulations around manufacture, our veterinarians are cautioning against self-medicating.

Cannabis oil for pets:  what is it?

Marijuana, dagga, hemp, THC, CBD (cannabidiol), endocannabinoid system…in the past these terms were either discussed in a hush hush manner or not heard at all. But suddenly we are discussing them more frequently and they’re being widely advertised as miracle cures for everything. At our clinic, there is more and more interest among our clients regarding the pros and cons of these products.

By now, most people are aware of Cannabis plants. There are a number of species of plants in this family and they produce a whole range of exciting compounds with possible medicinal value. The two main molecules that they produce are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is largely responsible for the euphoric or “high” effects seen when using cannabis-based products in a recreational manner. CBD has been shown to work in the endocannabinoid system in the body and there are many claims regarding its medicinal properties, including anxiety reduction, pain control, cancer treatment and epilepsy control.

Cannabis oil for pets: is it safe?

There are very few comprehensive studies to determine the long term effects of CBD as medicine in pets. Due to this limited knowledge of the effects of CBD on the body, particularly its interaction with other medications, we need to practice caution when using it. Studies in the US have shown that samples of CBD-based oil can often be contaminated with pesticides that have been used in the cultivation process. Due to the growing conditions of cannabis, there is a risk of bacterial, mould and fungal contamination in CBD products.

Therefore, although CBD based products appear to be well tolerated and fairly safe for use, this cannot always be guaranteed.

The most prevalent side effect associated with CBD use in dogs is diarrhoea and, in some cases, increases in liver enzymes after chronic use.

But does it work?

The body produces its own endocannabinoids, and their effects can be seen throughout the body. They seem to influence many body functions including metabolism, sleep, inflammation and stress. Cannabinoids produced by plants seem to effect some of the receptors within the body and can have far-ranging effects.

There have been a few small studies showing promising evidence for the use of CBD as medicine in pets in conjunction with other medication to help control pain in arthritic animals. CBD is also showing promise in forming part of the treatment protocols for epileptic patients in combination with conventional medication. The studies do seem to show improvement in symptoms and quality of life.

However, the dosage required for effect is generally higher than what most commercially available products claim. But giving your pet ‘more’ is a dangerous route to take without first discussing this with your veterinarian. It is essential to discuss dosage with your veterinarian as all sorts of health and wellbeing factors must be taken into account before an effective dosage can be calculated.

Cannabis poisoning

Since home based recreational use of cannabis was legalised in South Africa, we have seen an increase in cannabis poisoning cases in dogs and cats. In most cases, the animals were exposed to the cannabis plant in some form or another, including eating it or due to smoke inhalation. In some cases they were exposed to large amounts of CBD oil. Never, ever make your own home remedies for your pets. It is generally the THC component of the leaves or other parts of the plant that causes the poisoning symptoms. Fortunately, the toxic dose is quite high, but dogs have a larger number of cannabinoid receptors in their brain than people and they can be overly sensitive to THC.

The most common symptoms of cannabis over exposure are:
1. Being off balance/wobbly
2. Depression/sleepiness
3. Vomiting
4. Loss of bladder control
5. Increased sensitivity to noise or sound
6. In some cases they may look agitated or nervous.

Most dogs and cats will recover fully from the poisoning but it can prove fatal in some cases. It is essential to declare any potential exposure to the vet so that the correct treatment can be started as soon as possible.

Regulations regarding CBD products in South Africa

Although recreational use of cannabis has been legalised in South Africa and hemp/CBD-based products are also legal there is very little regulation regarding the control and monitoring of standards of production. In studies in the US, it has been shown that many CBD oils do not contain the levels of CBD indicated on the bottle and sometimes have higher levels of THC than declared, which carries a risk of poisoning.

To our knowledge there are currently no products registered for use in animals available in South Africa. Veterinarians may only prescribe medications based on regulations detailed in the Veterinary and Para-Veterinary Act, Medicines and Related Substances Control Act and the Fertilisers, Farm Feeds, Seeds and Remedies Act. Medications registered under these acts have been tested, monitored and controlled, and are deemed to be safe for use in animals.

Thus, because the CBD industry is largely unregulated it is difficult for veterinarians to prescribe CBD safely and reliably to pets until there are registered products available.

What’s the situation right now?

CBD products are showing a lot of promise in the management and treatment of a number of chronic conditions in animals. Unfortunately, there is limited research regarding effects and safety, and a lack of regulation. We are watching this area with great interest and once we can assure our patients and their owners of the safety and efficacy of the available products, we will add them to our treatment programmes.

Due to the possible interactions with other medications and complications related to underlying conditions, it is important to discuss the use of CBD in your pet with your vet before starting treatment. Don’t stop any medication prescribed by your vet before discussing it with your vet.

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