Nova Scotia·Q&A

What you need to know about giving pot to your sick pooch

More research is needed to determine whether giving sick pets pot helps or hurts them, according to a Nova Scotia veterinarian who has seen an increase in the number of animals brought to his practice after consuming the drug.

Vet says more pet owners are turning to cannabis to treat their ailing animals

Dr. Andrew Morrison said he can't give out prescriptions for cannabis products, but he encourages pet owners to tell their vets if their animals have ingested the drug. (Steve Berry/CBC)

More research is needed to determine whether giving sick pets pot helps or hurts them, according to a Nova Scotia veterinarian who has seen an increase in the number of animals brought to his practice after consuming the drug.

Right now, it's illegal for a vet to prescribe cannabis products, although there's research underway that could change that. Canopy Growth Corp. has been given the green light by Health Canada to research the affect a compound in cannabis called CBD has on treating anxious animals.

While the THC in marijuana can get people high, CBD doesn't have the same psychoactive properties and is often consumed in oil form.

Dr. Andrew Morrison, a veterinarian with Complete Care Hospital for Pets in Lake Echo, spoke with CBC's Information Morning Nova Scotia host, Portia Clark, about what pet owners need to know when it comes to pot.

Their conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

What are people using marijuana or CBD on their pets for?

A lot of them are going to be around anxiety issues or perhaps seizures. Some have even tried it for chronic pain, vomiting and nausea that's associated with chemotherapies and those kinds of things. That is all completely off the books and on their own risk.

Right, because we actually have no legal way to do that at the moment. Once it became legalized for medical use, that was only for humans and then obviously the recreational use is not for your pets, hopefully. So we're limited because we don't actually have a product licensed for us to dispense and we have no way to do that off-label as we do with some other medications at this point.

Morrison said people come to his clinic to ask about giving their pets marijuana almost every week, and he expects to see more and more of it. (Submitted by Complete Care Hospital for Pets)

If it's not on the books, as you say, how are pet owners going about this?

A lot of people are talking about using CBD oils or hemp products, those kinds of things. And some of them you can buy online or at various markets but they're not regulated, they're not tested. So if something says it's a hemp product, it means it has less than 0.3 per cent THC in it. It may or may not have CBD in it and nobody's really testing to see what's in it.

So people are buying the human products and experimenting on their own with their animals.

Why are people doing this? Aren't there legitimate medicines available that veterinarians do prescribe?

Some of them may not be effective for their individual animal or as effective that they'd like, or maybe they just heard a story from somebody and they'd like to try it out. Maybe somebody said, "Hey it worked for my dog, it could work for your dog."

What are the risks of that?

Again, that's something that's not really very well studied. Most of the things that we have seen are related to toxicity from the THC levels, so dogs that have come in and have eaten somebody's stash or they ate the magic brownies and then they've had too much. And of course, they come in with sleepiness and drowsiness or inco-ordination, vomiting.

The CBD hasn't really been studied very well, and only recently Health Canada has essentially allowed a study to start with one of the cannabis producers into CBD for anxiety in pets.

Have you heard of any serious side effects?

We've found at really high doses the animals generally still survive, so it tends not to be lethal. But it certainly makes them quite uncomfortable and it's quite difficult to deal with, especially if you've got a dog who's vomiting and peeing all over the place. It can certainly be quite disorienting for them, especially since they didn't choose to do that.

Cannabis products, such as CBD oil, are becoming more common to treat animals that have anxiety issues or seizures, said Morrison. (Caitlin Taylor/Western College of Veterinary Medicine)

What will you be looking for out of the Health Canada-approved study, and how long could it take to get some results?

We're probably looking at several years. The information isn't really available publicly too much on it because they've just simply announced that they've been given permission, but not how they're going to do the study and even what species they're going to do it on, though I would assume it would be on dogs, probably because that's where the biggest market is going to be.

What's the advice that you can give to pet owners if you can't write a prescription?

Essentially, we can't give them any advice legally because we have no evidence to base it on. What we encourage people to do though is to tell us if they're using it so we can add it to the record. We don't know how the two compounds in this drug will interact with other drugs, so it's sometimes useful to know that they're doing something else ... We just need to know that they're taking it so that we can look at the mix that's going into the animal.

With files from CBC Radio's Information Morning Nova Scotia

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