Medical Marijuana Use in Animals


There has been much renewed discussion about the advent of legalized medical marijuana here in New York State. As you are aware, many states have legalized medical and, in some, recreational use of marijuana.  None of these states have included veterinary use in their laws.  There is no indication that New York is likely to be any different as it begins debate on how to introduce practical legislation on this drug. Clients have often asked, “Can medical marijuana be used in animals?”

It appears the answer is likely to be yes.  Unlike in humans, where there have been many scientific studies of the benefits of the compounds found in this drug, none have been conducted in animals. Therefore, anything we know about its use in animals comes from people’s or veterinarian’s firsthand use, albeit illegally, in patients. This kind of information is known as “anecdotal evidence”.

What do we know?

 Marijuana can be toxic to animals if given in large amounts or in the improper form.

The Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society has reported an increase in animals suffering from marijuana intoxication in those states where its use has been decriminalized.  Signs of intoxication begin with stumbling and incoordination, respiratory and heart rate depression leading to coma and rarely death. There is no antidote. Supportive care usually gets these animals through their ordeals.

There are anecdotal reports of patients sharing their own medical marijuana with their animals suffering from painful diseases such as arthritis and cancer.   Some veterinarians also report seeing favorable responses in these patients.  These individuals are usually using the liquid (tincture) form of the drug added to the animal’s food.  The preferred form is that which reportedly contains compounds leading to more pain relief and not those that cause a “high” (known as the psychotrophic effect). Subjecting animals to smoke or homemade concoctions is not wise or well tolerated.

Two veterinarians in Seattle have started marketing a product known as Canna-pet (  that is purported to contain only the safe compounds of the drug that have none of the psychotrophic effects.  This group claims it is manufactured from hemp and not marijuana so it is legal everywhere.  I could not find reliable third party discussion of the effectiveness of this product. It does seem a promising first step in understanding possible benefits of this drug.

The bottom line: marijuana can be dangerous to our animals. Purified forms may prove helpful in controlling pain and nausea but much research remains to be done.  States making it available for treating people may be wise to consider including animals as well.





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