Cannabis for canines? Medicinal pot products a growing trend for Toronto pet owners

Legalized pot is on the horizon in Canada, and humans aren’t the only ones sniffing out its medicinal uses.

Cannabis-based products are being marketed to pets, but research is scanty

Ken Abell sells cannabis-based tinctures for pets at Pacifico medical dispensary on Bloor Street. (Laura DaSilva/CBC )

Legalized pot is on the horizon in Canada, and humans aren't the only ones sniffing out its medicinal uses.

Cannabis-based products for pets are a growing trend in Toronto where owners are seeking out alternatives to help their ailing animals.

A sign saying "New Tricks for Old Dogs" lures curious dog walkers into the Pacifico medical marijuana dispensary on Bloor Street.  They sell tinctures and treats that contain cannabidiol (CBD), a chemical compound in marijuana.

Operations manager Ken Abell says they're so popular he can't keep them on the shelves.

"We've had a lot of people asking for their pets," he said. "I've actually got a disappointed lady today because we're all sold out of the dog treats. They're very popular."

CBC Toronto spoke to three companies in Vancouver making these CBD-based products for pets. They say there is a lot of demand from people looking to move away from traditional medications. 

CBD tinctures are being sold to pet owners with animals suffering from chronic pain and other ailments. (Laura DaSilva/CBC )

But even though the main ingredient is derived from pot, it won't get dogs high.

"We sell straight CBD tinctures with absolutely zero THC. There are no psychotropic effects, only the medicinal benefits of CBD," Abell said.

He explained CBD oil can be used to treat inflammation, mood disorders, seizures and chronic pain in humans, and can help pets with the same problems without the intoxicating effects of THC.

The pet tinctures made by Vancouver-based Apawthecary are the same as the ones sold to people with medical marijuana licences, just flavoured with bacon or seafood to make them more appealing to pets.

A spokesperson said they work with vets to determine recommended dosage amounts and guidelines. 

Are they legal?

Right now, Cannabis-based CBD oil is a controlled substance in Canada and can only be purchased for medicinal purposes with a prescription through the mail from a licensed distributor.

It's illegal for dispensaries like Pacifico to sell medicinal marijuana and over the past year police raids on dispensaries in Toronto have made plenty of headlines. 

The federal government has said it will table legislation aimed at legalizing marijuana in the spring of 2017.

Some pet products that use CBD derived from industrial hemp plants are being sold as supplements, but the regulations surrounding those products are murky. 

CBC Toronto spoke to dispensaries in Toronto and Vancouver about how they go about selling CBD products for pets. All of their protocols were different, as there are no set rules or policy laid out by Ottawa yet. 

At Pacifico, if people want to purchase CBD for their pets, they can bring in proper documentation of their pet's ailments and be sold the products under a "caregiver clause." Owners are not able to purchase products for themselves without a medical marijuana card.

Not enough research

The jury is still out when it comes to medicinal benefits of cannabis for humans, and when it comes to using cannabis-based products for animals, there is very little research.

"At some point in time they may be useful, but I would only recommend them once they've been studied appropriately and we know for sure what the safety profile of these kinds of things are in pets," said Shane Bateman, associate professor at the University of Guelph's Ontario Veterinary College.

Bateman said there are similarities in the pain pathways and the biochemistries in animals and humans, but it's too soon to draw any conclusions.

"Obviously we wouldn't want to use an untested substance in ourselves," he said. "We want to hold the same standards for our pets as well."

Until the legislation around cannabis changes in Canada, it will be difficult for veterinarians to get access to cannabinoid products to even start a clinical trial, Bateman said.

"Because there's no regulation of these products, it's really 'buyer beware,'" he said. "We really don't know what's in them."